The Story Behind the Museum

August 15, 2018

Today’s Wednesday Wisdom comes from Bekim Xhemili, a local ethnologist in Prishtinë/Priština, Kosovo. 12 years ago, he helped establish the Ethnological Museum starting from a 4-month internship with UNDP support.

Located at the very heart of Prishtinë/Priština’s old town, Bekim welcomes us through the two courtyards leading towards the Museum. The smell of ancient wood and earthy clay fills our lungs, stirring a sense of wonder.

Bekim smiles and gently holds up intricate, 19th century ancient copper dish. “They tell the whole story,” he explains inside the traditional kitchen-dining room, also referred as the fire room.

His visitors usually “expect something unusual, like a unique building.” But, he states, “they are typical old Kosovar city buildings with Ottoman influence, similar to architecture across Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia,” and other Balkan countries. What’s truly special is “the story behind the Museum.”

Bekim sits in a room covered with richly decorated wooden art crafts and intricate textiles. “Anthropology is quite big,” he pauses. Even after giving multiple tours, he grins with his relentless thirst for learning: “As much as we study, we say that we know nothing.

Bekim recalls when he was an intern for the Museum. “UNDP was the start,” describing that he received 100€ a month from the Active Labour Market Programme. He was 23. “[People] didn’t think that I’d still be at the job today. [But] my colleagues and I continued, and didn’t stop.

We step out of the Museum and enter his office around the corner. He celebrated his birthday turning 35 last week. “One of the best things is the staff. We say we grew up with the Museum. We were very successful [because] with small money, we did big stuff.

Bekim remembers how difficult it was as a student to get books and literature. He remembers not being taken seriously by librarians and teachers: “Oh, just come tomorrow,” they’d say. Now he gives tours to students himself.

Passion is often challenged by reality. Bekim recalls the socioeconomic barriers he faced before his internship as a young graduate: “I know many people that studied Ethnology and cannot find a job. They work in boutiques, pharmacies… even some of them have nothing to do at all.

We do not get rich by being an ethnologist, but our minds get richer through travel,” says Bekim.

He admits he isn’t as energetic, producing new ideas as he was in his early 20s, but a flame of hope and perseverance still fiercely shines in his thoughtful eyes: “Things are moving. It takes time, but it’s not that there’s no progress at all.

The Museum receives up to 20,000 visitors every year. While numbers may not be as high as other destinations, the quality of re-telling the story of the indigenous family matters most for him: “The history is the same history, but the way of telling the tour is different.”

Many individuals such as Bekim are chasing after their passions, overcoming socioeconomic challenges in the process. For those of you who want to visit, the Museum is located at Zija Prishtina street, Prishtinë/Priština.

Story and photos by Sari Ohsada (with first photo provided by the Ethnological Museum)