Heritage Lab workshop, a girly group, too many cows and many languages … and three days of heritage interpretation

Heritage Lab workshop, a girly group, too many cows and many languages … and three days of heritage interpretation

I was privileged to spend few days in Kosovo, leading a three-day workshop within a 12-day training course called “Heritage Lab” organized by Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB) Kosovo.

CHwB is non-governmental organisation dedicated to rescuing and preserving cultural heritage affected by conflict, neglect or through human or natural disasters. They work in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Their work focuses on restoration and education and I have been lucky enough to work on projects they support on two separate occasions. First was my work with the Balkan Museum Network that supported by CHwB and now the opportunity to be a part of the “Heritage Lab” Workshop involved with a massive conservation/restoration and interpretive project in Letnice, Kosovo.

Heritage Lab workshop brought together students from different academic fields who all want to learn about and carry out very specific conservation work on a historic building. The students come from such diverse fields as architecture, cultural heritage, sociology, anthropology and ethnology. The workshop consisted of practical work and lectures by foreign and local experts in the field of Conservation – specifically the revitalization of historic buildings and storytelling and signage.

My role was to empower group of students (btw we were all ladies a.k.a the Girly group) with an idea of heritage interpretation, interpretive planning, storytelling and design of the interpretive panels. Sounds a lot? It was! I was troubled when going there, whom? how? when? where? etc.

But you know what? It went really well. My girls were great; even if I, unfortunately, was not able to remember their names (caused by a mixture of my personal problem with names and very unfamiliar language). They were open to the idea of revealing different meanings, involving emotions in interpretation and just trying to look at heritage through different eyes. First a bit shy with their English, they were soon chatting in English among themselves.

My workshops are always as active as possible.  I have put a lot of effort into connecting theory with practice and work hard to give students the methodology and tools to continue working after I leave. And the greatest compliment that I heard in these three days was “It doesn’t feel like learning with you!” Well, that is my ultimate goal. That is also why I did not let them call me professor. Wherever have you seen a professor with a unicorn t-shirt?!

The heritage site that we worked on is a small village called Letnice. The village is an hour and half south of Pristina, near Macedonian border. Mainly populated with Croatian minority, it has gone through a lot of changes in recent years.  The population is mainly made up of elderly Croatian speakers who have found themselves in a new country surrounded by Albanian speaking neighbors and who are now learning Albanian. So imagine their delight, when they found out that I speak mediocre version of former Serbo-Croatian language and so I became an unofficial translator of Heritage Lab.

The stories of Kosovo are really difficult to find. Disputes, conflicts, wars and politicians made sure that there is almost no written information and living witnesses are very careful what they say. So even if the real story; that of an isolated minority whose culture survived in the middle of another world, was there in front of us, there is still no right time to tackle it.  So when interpreting the mill that is owned by a Croatian family, instead of focusing on individuals and their backgrounds, we chose universal concepts of people’s connection to the land.  Everyone, no matter what their heritage, uses natural resources to survive.  By the end of day three, the students had the outline of a range of stories that follow a theme line of how snow meets wheat. I felt really proud of what we accomplished together in only three days.

And I bet you are all wondering “what’s with the cows?” Well, it simply that I am deathly afraid of them and While doing an exercise with my students outside, the cows decided they wanted to join in the fun. My pulse went to 200 and my knees felt like pudding. But then a  5year-old child chased them away and I started to feel really foolish.

(Photos by Janja Sivec, CHwB Kosovo, Foton Hasani)