High above the city of Prizren, Kosovo, the call to prayer is heavily distorted by the rocks and hills around me. The deep tones as it begins are transformed into the voice of an ancient beast, and as they reach me my first thoughts are of a Kraken-like creature that must have just been released upon the world. The fact that Kosovo is nowhere near the open water makes this otherwise sound assessment of the situation highly fallacious, and I laugh at myself for considering it, allowing my mind to wonder what different sort of monster this might be. Finally, the call goes up and I recognize it for what it is.
Coming through an ancient archway, I see the city spread out below me. The call is now rising up from mosques all over the city and blending into a sweet chorus that echoes all around. As the pitch climbs, the singing begins to resemble the wailing of lost souls, searching for a light in the darkness to find their way home. And is this not precisely what they are? Is this call not a cry to the faithful to awaken and seek the grace and forgiveness of God? To take time out of the struggle of their daily lives and face their creator and their lord and commune with Him as He has commanded? What a powerful message this sends, even to those who do not share the specifics of this faith.
I sit now among the ruins of the medieval fortress of Kalaja and look out at the city. The breeze here is a welcome companion, even as it incessantly rustles the pages of my notebook. The noon sun is unforgiving. It casts no shadow and leaves me little refuge from its powerful rays, but the wind is blowing mercifully and cools my sensitive, northern European skin. I watch people cross the bridges below, moving from old city to new, while the minarets keep watch over everything in their domain. The red roofs are an endless sea that stretch out to the foothills on the outskirts of town, giving access to the mountains beyond. And these mountains kiss the clouds above, drape themselves in them and wear them fashionably as a Rockefeller would don a cape. Patches of snow still cap the peaks to the south, the remnants of a winter that seems impossibly far gone given the heat that has arrived with late spring.
This scene calls to mind a song from Les Misérables, my favourite musical (unless you count Labyrinth, then it’s a close second). Cosette’s song, ‘Castle in a Cloud’, rings in my ears, the only verse I know repeating over and over:
There is a room that’s full of toys,
There are a hundred boys and girls.
Nobody shouts or talks too loud,
Not in my castle on a cloud.
Good gracious me, how I’ve always hated that song. It never fails to remind me of that episode of The Twilight Zone (also a chapter in the Twilight Zone movie) where a child holds people hostage, forcing them to act like his family and do everything he wants. If they refuse or complain too much, he takes their mouths away or has simply has them destroyed in some gruesome fashion. ‘Nobody shouts or talks too loud,’ Cosette sings, and I think, ‘Because they are scared of her.’ My parents explained that for Cosette there had always been shouting and anger around her, and she just wanted a peaceful life. I understood that, it still just sounded creepy the way she said it.
But as I sit here in this ruined castle, almost among the clouds itself, if not on them, I cannot help but sympathize with Cosette. From here you can’t see the Turkish KFOR patrols (what few there are). From here you can’t see Serbs or Albanians, Muslims or Christians. From here you can’t see ethnic, religious or political tensions of any kind. From here you can only see the city. From here you can only see the river with its bridges, connecting two sides and making them one. From here you can only see buildings, even the mosques and churches blending into the background of houses, cafés and storefronts. From here you can only see people. You cannot see their differences, what separates them from one another, what angers or scares them. From here you can only see life as it winds its way through city streets and makes its way forward one step at a time.