All pictures are courtesy of Yllka!
Many times when I post on my Instagram account from South Sudan, I use the hashtag # Kosovo Girl in Africa hoping someone else will also be here and we can share info and tips on what to visit and how to get a visa and all the other particular details a Kosovo Girl needs to know. Instagram was also the social network where I got in touch with Yllka Lota. Of course, the conversation started was – you guessed right (if you did :P) – visas. This is the central point around almost all travel-related conversations Kosovo citizens have. 20 years after the war, 11 years after independence, more than a year after the ratification of the demarcation agreement with Montenegro which was said from EU high officials to be the last step on visa liberalization, Kosovo citizens still need to go through the painful process of applying for a Schengen visa to visit the Schengen Area.
Anyways, let’s stop for a while whining about it as we can’t change anything here, can we? Let’s read this interview with Yllka, the other Kosovo Girl in Africa, who made us proud while being part of the Great African Caravan. Learn more about the project and her experience.
1. Tell us something about you but not the random things – share something you’ve never shared with anyone; something funny, sad, embarrassing or anything that goes off-limits (until now, of course).
I’m Yllka Lota , an actress from Gjakova, and my superpower is that I can pee anywhere 😛
In the beginning of the journey when we were camping in the wild I used to be afraid to pee in the bushes, so, two of my friends made some songs to help me pee.
And then, after 7 months of camping I can pee anywhere:P (when we were walking along the Nile one night, in Cairo, I managed to pee on the road while my friends formed a wall around me :P)
2. You embarked on the Great African Caravan in August 2018. What is it? How did you find out about it and what was the process of being one of the 12 international artists?
GAC is a project involving people from different countries mixing art and travel, using different art forms to bring people together and look beyond our differences.
This is the idea of Unborder.
I was part of GAC since August 2016, even though I met the team in person only in September 2018. For 2 years we used to have weekly team meetings online as we planned the project.
Before the GAC there were many travelling projects happening in India that i couldn’t be part of because I was not allowed to go on a Kosovo passport. So later when my friend invited me to join a project travelling across Africa, I jumped at the opportunity. I was part this from when it was barely more than a dream.
As the theme of the project, UNBORDER, was to break/look beyond borders – the story of Kosovo and the challenges of travelling as a Kosovar made me fit into the philosophy. Being a travelling artist, the chance to travel through a continent and meet local artists was inspiring.
3. What passport/travel document did you use during your travels and was it a problem at any time?
I have been travelling on my regular Kosovo passport. While planning for the project I considered applying for an Albanian passport to make it easier at the border crossings. But, part of the aim of the project was to highlight how different border crossings are depending on where you come from so I decided to travel on my Kosovo passport. During this journey stress and insecurity was there most of the time.
4. The first country where the Caravan started is South Africa where Kosovo citizens in possession of a Kosovo passport and living in Kosovo cannot enter. Did you manage to go? If yes, how?
What do you think 😛 ? We tried almost everything. I tried to talk to people in my government, while the team was talking to embassies and people in SA but nothing worked. So no SA for me this time 🙁 I went straight to Mozambique and met the team in Zimbabwe.
5. Twelve countries in 200 days sounds so much fun and like enough days. Do you wish you had more time in any of the countries or would you reschedule the trip?
Sounds like a lot of time, but when you are travelling and meeting various artists and create, time goes really fast. I would like to go back to most of the countries. For example Tanzania for the memories, Sudan for the people I’ve met. Zambia for the friendships I made. Kenya for sure because I was sick during our stay there. Maybe someday
I’ll go back to as many of the countries as I can.
6. The whole trip is a wonderful and unforgettable experience, I’m sure. But what will remain with you “until death parts you”?
As they say “Shoku i mirë, në ditë të vështirë” (Good friend at difficult times). As you can imagine on a journey like this, there were many disagreements, arguments, and confusions. But when things got tough, people really stuck together as a team.
7. Was there any specific situation where you felt/were treated differently because of your nationality (either privileged or discriminated against)?
Travelling as a non-African in Africa can be interesting. Being called “mzungu” in the streets, how sometimes people talk to you ignoring any Africans who are with you.
But when it comes to travelling as a Kosovar in particular, the border crossings usually were difficult. For example, at the Zimbabwe/Zambia crossing, we got delayed by over an hour as the officer struggled with the computer system to find the passport code and figure out what to do. But the process was easier because I was travelling as a part of team from many different countries.
Similarly in Tanzania, the officer was confused with my passport and had to check a few times. I might have been the rare Kosovar to travel the continent by road, I think more Kosovars travel to Tanzania by air.
8. During your travels, how often did you have to tell people where Kosovo is and other basic information?
Countless times. Here is how a lot of my first interactions go.
Stranger/local: Hi. welcome to my country. what is your name?
Yllka: Hi. Thank you. My name is Yllka.
S: (giving up trying to pronounce it correctly) So where are you from?
S: (confused) Aaaaa.. Russia?
The reaction with Russia is funny because I can’t even travel to Russia because of the diplomatic relations. Lets hope it will change soon.
So then I have to give a brief history cum geography lesson. Breakup of Yugoslavia. The Balkans. etc… I even made a video about it. you can check it out at :P.
9. What was your most “Aww” moment during this project?
We had a few such moments. But I will tell you my Sudan “Aww” moments. We went to see the pyramids of Meroe and then decided to look for a camping spot near the pyramids. After getting stuck in the sand and driving about, we saw one of the most beautiful moonrise as we set up our camps.
The next evening as we drove towards Dongola, we drove through the most beautiful sunset. The night sky on the empty road was clear and beautiful. We stopped by to lie down the center of the road and stare at the stars. As we were getting ready to leave we saw the most beautiful moonrise over the horizon. We all fell silent and just stared as the moon came up. I had tears in my eyes.
10. Africa is dangerous and poor. That’s what many people say (people who might not even have visited it or are aware that Africa is a continent and not a single country). Tell us your point of view!
Africa is diverse and beautiful. There is poverty and crime like anywhere else in the world but there is a lot to Africa beyond that.
There were times during the last 7 months where we had no money or we were stuck and dependent on others. Who started as strangers, showed us unlimited generosity, and kindness and are now friends.
That is why I would suggest that people explore for themselves and not think Africa is only poverty and war.
11. You were with 11 international artists. How was traveling with them like?
I feel lucky to be part of such a diverse group.
Sometimes it is tough having 11 minds in one place but it creates beautiful memories, learning different things about them and myself.
A group diverse brings challenges for some simple things. If we take the example of just food – everyone has a different preference. Some want rice, some pasta and others bread. Once we have compromised on something we still have the decision of how spicy it should be. There were 6 Indians so sometimes I ate really spicy food :). Also as half the team was vegetarian, and meat was usually more expensive most of our meals were without meat.
Having such a diverse group at a border crossing certainly made it a little easier when we submitted our passports as a group for processing. I got a couple of “what is this passport” questions but being with a group helped.
12. If you were to go back to the beginning of the trip, would you do anything differently?
Yes. Many things. This was like a pilot project. We were learning about different aspects of a project like this. I would have tried harder. I would go to South Africa, dead or Alive :P.
I learnt more about myself than the continent due to the limited time and money. I would have like to know more about the stories of the people, the politics and the countries. I would go a bit further out of my comfort zone than I did.
Maybe I would take a smaller luggage :P.