I entered a house in Queensway, London, and the pungent smell of dust quickly struck my inexperienced lungs. Being from Prishtina, one must think that my lungs are pretty used to wear and tear by the exhausting polluted air of this tired city. Indeed, my lungs were so used to being fatigued, however, I was not at all accustomed to dusty indoors.
If Albanians in Kosovo are known for something besides their patriotism, Besa, their identity crisis (and some other not so nice things), they’re certainly known for their clean houses. What does this say about our culture, really?! Does it mean we’re neat people?! I don’t think so! Not when looking at the outdoors for which garbage is like pollen in spring, except it’s there all year round.
I understood I was so used to clean houses that I felt deep remorse for the old man who showed up at the top of the narrow stairway. I understood then that the house was way older than me and way older than the old man. I’d later often see dates engraved in London’s buildings, speaking of its culture and history in many ways. “1864” meant not much to me until I reflected on how long ago that is; the exquisite piece of architecture was built 153 years ago.
When in London, I sat to eat breakfast in Hyde Park and realized I was truly lucky. I had time in London in which I could only wander and observe, a city which in my perception never gives you that opportunity unless you’re a millionaire, and I’m not speaking about small millions, I’m speaking big money.
And then, I thought about the value of money in London because really, it’s expensive to live there. A cousin of mine, who lived there for more than 20 years mentioned that in the 90s, London had been perfect – with wages similar to today’s but prices 3 times smaller. I could only imagine all the extra food I’d buy! (writing this on an empty stomach) And coffee… warm, sweet delicious Starbucks mocha.
But then again, it’s all about lifestyle because when I entered that dusty apartment in Queensway, I knew it was a house turned semi-hotel or something the like – probably for financial reasons.
When the old man asked me, “Where are you from?”
“Kosovo, it’s in the Balkans”, I answered feeling the need to specify the location of Kosovo as the country is not well-known.
“Oh, I think I’ve been there…In Kosovo”, he semi-shouted.
“I am sorry to tell you that I’m fully booked madam, but you can surely check across the street!” he spoke with a sense of urgency from the top of the stairway.
There was no reception in the small house claiming to be a hotel and they had no free rooms. I don’t know if my lungs could have borne the unpleasant dustiness there anyway. The heavy door closing behind me left the over-aged inside of that hotel in the past and now I could only look at the fancy architecture of the outside. It made me think about how much it resembled people and their vanity.