I have just emerged from what has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life - DebConf in Kosovo. DebConf is the annual conference of Debian contributors from all around the world. This was my first time attending a DebConf, which presented a great opportunity for me to explore different cultures and foods, along with making many new friends in the Debian community, as it featured 210 attendees from 38 countries.

DebConf 22 group photo.

I registered and applied for a bursary, which was accepted by the DebConf bursary team. I also applied for the Kosovo visa, and after a long and frustrating process of obtaining the visa, I arrived at the DebConf venue on July 10, 2022, as detailed in my previous post. Securing the Kosovo visa was a significant achievement before DebConf, and I am deeply grateful to the organizers for their dedicated efforts. Without their assistance, it would not have been possible for us Indians to participate in the event.

The Venue

The DebConf venue was the Innovation and Training Park in Prizren, Kosovo. Upon our arrival at the ITP campus, we were greeted by breathtaking views of mountains and a clear blue sky in every direction, showcasing the stunning natural beauty of the location. The picturesque setting was so captivating that even a random photo taken there would turn out beautifully. The historical significance of the campus, formerly a German military base until December 2019, piqued the interest of many attendees, sparking discussions about the site’s past.

In the city of Prizren, a notable feature is the bridge over the Lumbardhi river, which is also depicted in the DebConf 22 logo. This bridge is a must-visit spot in Prizren, offering a picturesque setting. Additionally, there is a castle in the area that provides panoramic views of the charming city of Prizren, although regrettably, I missed the opportunity to visit it.

The DebCamp took place from July 10 to July 16, 2022, followed by DebConf from July 17 to July 24, 2022. The attendance during DebCamp was relatively lower compared to DebConf, with most participants arriving for the main event. By the time DebConf commenced, I had already acclimated to the campus surroundings, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the experience.

Food

As a non-meat eater, my primary concern before arriving at the venue was the availability of suitable food, given that I had read online about Kosovo’s meat-centric culinary culture. During my initial lunch, I found myself limited to multiple plates of Veg Pasta, as most of the offerings featured meat. However, over the next few days, the availability of vegetarian options improved significantly, and I began to relish the diverse vegetarian dishes on offer. The introduction of bean soup, vegetable soup, lentils, and rice during lunchtime expanded the vegetarian menu, exceeding my expectations. I found the food to be delightful, with highlights including the delectable coconut and chocolate pastries served at dinner, along with the mouthwatering Al-Baklava dessert. Fresh fruits like watermelon, apples, musk melon, and peaches were served regularly.

Despite the initial positive experience, the food did become somewhat repetitive after a while, slightly diminishing the overall enjoyment. Nevertheless, considering the limited vegetarian variety typically found in Kosovo, I still found the offerings to be satisfactory.

On the topic of drinking water, the only available option was plastic bottles in the restaurant. In my view, this practice contributes significantly to plastic waste and is not environmentally friendly. While locals mentioned that tap water is potable, implementing water filters in the dorms or providing water coolers could offer a more sustainable solution.

DebConf

When the DebConf started on 17th July, new attendees started arriving in bigger numbers. Here I made many friends in the hacklab or when sitting over the lunch. As far as I remember, the most discussed topic was politics. They were very enthusiastic about telling their country’s history and the politics and asking me about the Indian culture, food etc.

The people were very nice and I had a great time with the Debian community. The people were from very diverse backgrounds with each one having their unique stories on their involvement with Debian. On the other hand, there were people new to Debian which gave me opportunities for my advocacy of the Free Software Philosophy.

The participants ranged from Google or Canonical employees to college students and high school students. I met many students from Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, for whom DebConf must have been a valuable opportunity. Given that Debian is inclusive of all, there were numerous individuals from the non-technical side of Debian. I appreciated the diversity among attendees, including those who were not proficient in English.

I attended talks that piqued my interest, although the simultaneous scheduling of three tracks meant I missed out on some. The distance between the dining area, hacklab, and accommodation posed a challenge, especially in the mountainous terrain, making navigation around the campus a bit arduous.

There was a noisy hacklab and a silent hacklab. I used to hangout at the noisy hacklab as that gave me chance to meet new people. The noisy hacklab had free of charge coffee, while beer and water were given on the paid basis. Attendees could volunteer to be a bartender brewing and serving beer and coffee in the hacklab. Engaging in card games at the hacklab proved to be a source of enjoyable moments. I also gained insights from Karl of the video team, who shared the demanding nature of their travel and equipment logistics, a facet of DebConf previously unknown to me.

My time in the accommodation was primarily for rest and hygiene purposes, as the thin walls prompted a reminder via email on the DebConf mailing list to maintain quiet in the dorms. Despite this, the rooms were spacious, well-air-conditioned, and eventually equipped with a reliable Wi-Fi connection by the start of DebConf.

I volunteered for various tasks with the video team, serving as a talk meister in one session - responsible for introducing the speaker and facilitating audience questions - and as a camera operator in two talks.

Cheese and Wine Party

The Cheese and Wine Party is a tradition at DebConf where attendees bring food from their respective regions to share with others. I contributed Dal Samosas, a popular snack from my hometown in India, which was generally well-received at the event. During the party, I sampled Pastis, a French alcoholic beverage with a distinct fennel flavor, and found it enjoyable. As the Cheese and Wine Party took place after dinner, I didn’t indulge too much. Nonetheless, I engaged in delightful conversations with numerous attendees and had a fun time at the event.

Dal Samosa at a shop in India. Credits: Ravi Dwivedi, CC BY-SA 4.0

DayTrip

The Day Trip was organized by DebConf to allow attendees to take a break from their schedules and explore various locations in Kosovo. You can find all the Day Trip options here.

I opted for Tour A: a bus tour of Eastern Kosovo, which included visits to Gadime Cave, Ulpiana Ancient City, Gracanica Monastery, the Bear Sanctuary, and Artana (Novoberda) Fortress. My impression was that the day trip attempted to cover a lot of places, leading to a somewhat rushed experience. Nevertheless, the locations were stunning and definitely worth visiting in Kosovo. The tour unexpectedly involved hiking in the Bear Sanctuary. Despite the sunny and hot weather, it was a tiring yet rewarding trip, offering picturesque sights.

The tour guide was exceptional, providing informative commentary and ensuring that everyone kept up with the group. Additional guides joined us at the Marble Cave and Gracanica Monastery. The guide at the Marble Cave spoke in Albanian, with our tour guide translating into English. All the guides displayed great enthusiasm while sharing insights about the sites, making it a day filled with a wealth of knowledge. Due to a slight delay in our schedule, we couldn’t fully explore the Gracanica Monastery and had to hurriedly return to our destination after a brief visit.

Some photos from DayTrip taken by me:

Gracanica Lake
Gracanica Monestary
Beautiful views seen from the Bear Sanctuary

Conference Dinner

The Conference Dinner took place at the Alegria Hotel, located outside the DebConf venue. Unfortunately, the food options were disappointing for non-meat eaters and vegans, as the restaurant only offered rice and a few snacks. However, during the dinner, I enjoyed the dish called Flija. Despite the limited food choices, I had the pleasure of good company at the conference dinner, making the experience enjoyable.

Keysigning

In Debian, individuals engage in key signing to establish a web of trust, a practice that typically includes an ID verification process. During key signing, participants often request to see your passport to confirm your identity. It was interesting for me to witness the passports of individuals from various countries during these key signing sessions. Following the ID verification and confirmation of your key fingerprint, participants proceed to sign your keys. Tobi assisted me in setting up caff, streamlining the key signing process and eliminating the need for manual intervention.

Goodbye Kosovo

In conclusion, my trip to Kosovo was truly exceptional and unforgettable. As I write this, I have already departed from Kosovo, but I am eager to return someday. The experience was incredibly rewarding, and I am grateful to all the organizers, sponsors, and individuals who contributed to making my time at DebConf 22 in Kosovo so enjoyable.

Attending a DebConf is a valuable learning opportunity that encompasses diverse aspects such as people, cultures, food, opinions, and the technical aspects of Debian. Reflecting on my experience has been a rewarding challenge, given the wealth of memories and insights to share.

I am excited about the prospect of meeting everyone at the next edition of DebConf, which will be hosted in my home country, India.

Update on 06-August-2022: I got the reimbursement of all my travel expenses related to DebConf22 in just 4 days of filling the reimbursement form. So quick!