The City of Robbers: A Story of Hope
“I have no hope…, There is no hope here,” said the young man as I stood there in the center square surrounded by the tiled roofs stretching up the mountains
“This place is a trap, there is nowhere to go and no way to get out.”
Nothing seems more dismal than the history of the city of Kaçanik, Kosovo. The perilous roadways were perfect for pillager outposts which gave the city its name after the Albanian bandits who used it as a hideout. It reached to the heights of the mountains resembling the imagination of a guarded fortress dreamt by J.R.R. Tolkien himself. Songs are still sung of the courage and bravery of the people of Kaçanik for defending themselves against the Ottoman invasions.
However, in defeat, the city has been under the rule of a different people since the Roman empire. The young man we spoke to had lived in Kaçanik his entire life, and it was one of the first times Kaçanik was visited by Americans since the American military triumphed in the 1999 Kosovo War. In an effort to celebrate Kosovo and the new hope for this birthing nation, the Ten2 project partnered with an NGO to bring hope to Kaçanik.
The young man, I will call Franz, related the hopelessness of life in the city.
The next day I asked him, “Hey Franz, do remember that sign that was in the café we had coffee in earlier? What did it say?” He responded, “Be around the people that force you to go to the next level.” Simultaneously, the Ten2 clean-up team began picking up trash around the same part of the city and I responded,
“Right! Let me force you to go to the next level. Why don’t you go pick up the trash on the sidewalk next to the river here?” He replied, “why would I? The next day all of the trash will just come back.” I responded, “then pick it up the next day.” He looked at me with disapproval and confusion and I exclaimed, “That’s my job!” and he was bewildered. I related,
“My job is to do anything I can to share hope with you and the people of Kaçanik because I have hope.”
He smiled remembering his previous statement and then accused, “But why aren’t they cleaning up the river? Look how dirty it is!” I stated, “Well they don’t have the equipment to clean it yet, but wouldn’t you want a clean street and a dirty river rather than a dirty street and a dirty river?”
He nodded in consideration, and I replied, “Surely any sensible person would rather have something clean over something dirty! It is the same way with changing a culture, wouldn’t you rather have a good culture over a bad one?” I asked him, “do you know how that starts?”
He thought a moment and motioned for me to answer. So, I said, “it is the same as picking up trash, starting by changing one person at a time. You must go one by one.” I grabbed three brooms handed him one and we began sweeping up the trash, one by one. The last day, Franz gave me the hardest hug he could give and said, “I am going to miss you so much!” I said the same and asked him to promise me that he will always seek out hope and maybe even pick up some trash once in a while and he smiled and promised. Stepping up the stairs to enter into the bus, he stopped me and said, “Remember! One by one!” The city of robbers became the city of hope.
- Coleman Jones, Ten2 2021 Participant & Storyteller