I got stuck last year in trying to write about my second trip to Albania in September. I kept notes in my journal but couldn’t motivate myself to polish them up and actually write something about it. I was flipping through the journal a bit, laughing at my stories and decided I’d just write up my notes to myself just to get the stories out there. So from the journal (with a few stories omitted and the language cleaned up a bit):
September 14, 2012
Notes on Albania thus far: Was in Shkoder for 3 days for this meeting that really made no sense for me to go to. Organization is nonsensical and doesn’t really work. Hanging out with Peace Corps dongs who think they’re saving the world. Saw people protesting the blood feud in Shkoder – 12 have died this summer. Met owner of a bar/restaurant who lived in San Francisco for a while racking up gambling debts and had to move his family back here and is completely nuts and glad I don’t have to spend more time with him.
Got Furgon to Koman early in morning. Jeans smell so bad I could smell them when I was walking to the furgon. Feel gross. Watched the sunrise form the Shkoder cafe waiting for the furgon to leave, sipping an espresso, watching a bum crawl out of a news stand where he slept that night, putting on his sweet hobo coat, packing his hobo bag, walking down the road with his hobo stick.
On Furgon reflecting on all of the ways I could die that day. No guard rail on winding mountain roads. Driver might be drunk. Brakes could fail. Could run into furgon in front of us and tumble down the mountain. Could hit rock in the road and puncture gas tank and explode. Koman ferry could sink.
On the boat back up to Bajram Curri I met 2 goons, one from Colorado and one from Finland. Rode up on the tiny boat with 2 motorcycles and a goat. We shall sink for sure.
So now I am back in Rragam. I was on the Furgon with Denis and we walked up to the house from Valbone. Good lord that’s a long walk, I can’t believe they do it every day. So Ardit and Aurela are gone, back to school in Tirana, but maybe I can meet them when I go down.
I sat down and Denis’ mom and whoever the other woman is start saying things and smiling to see me again, and I took out the pictures I’d printed off for them and gave them a bag of Mehmet Efendi Turk Kahvesi and they gave me a coffee and two glasses of rakia. Then Denis and I went for a walk to a cousin’s house down the way. Another stone house with wood shingle roof.
Crazy old man says hello and his name and gives me a rakia, telling me cheers in English and then cheers in Albanian (gezuar or something like that). I tell Denis to tell him that I am an American and I live in Istanbul. He was happy until he heard the bit about Istanbul he seems mad that I live in Turkey. Old rifle hanging on the wall, flies everywhere, bucket of slop on the ground that appears to be discarded chicken meat.
Old man gave me a rolled unfiltered cigarette and another rakia. Strong drink and strong cigarette. Must take everything they give me lest I appear ungrateful. Crazy crazy old man.
Then they all went outside because they were herding the sheep in the corral to milk them. I try to take a photo of this and the old man went nuts, says “no, no, no photo” and something about the Soviet Union, and I figure he thinks I’m a Russian spy or something, but then he said I could take a photo if I give him a euro. I just said “no problem no problem” and tried to assess the situation as best I could.
Then walking away, Denis says that the old man is crazy and just drinks rakia all day. We walked to another cousin’s house and sat, then walked a bit. I was walking with Denis’ father who is missing half an index finger and half a thumb. Then we got back to the house, the men sat in the room, women preparing the meal. Eat meal. Denis’ mother keeps pointing to my finger and telling me that I need to find an Albanian girl and I say no, no, I’m fine as it is. I think she said something about me giving Denis my laptop and my watch – not that I’ve shown anyone my laptop but they probably went through my bag.
I’m so paranoid that I’m going to get the shits again but I hope that with just today and tomorrow that by the time the shits come I’ll be out of the village and down in the city or somewhere where it will be more pleasant to deal with.
Interesting trip a second time around. Really there’s no need for it. I should have just left the experience where it was and not come a second time. But maybe it will make them remember me as more than a standard tourist they see. But if anything my time at the meeting in Shkoder and now up here keeps me from wanting to do a summer camp here because I don’t want to deal with the organization nonsense, it would be expensive for me. I think the area is better off with less tourism and construction going on, its appeal is how untouched it all is and I don’t want to see it ruined. I don’t need to come back with any sort of organization – if I want to come back I’ll do it in my own time.
All the food – leftover potatoes, eggs, bread, tomatoes, peppers… little electricity and no fridge so all the food just goes into a little cupboard with lots of flies.
September 15, 2012
Stressful being in house with the family when there aren’t the kids to talk to because then the mother just assaults me. Insistent on my either giving Denis my watch or giving Denis or Aurela a laptop. Maybe when I was here before and I was using my laptop to charge my phone and Ardit saw, I assume he said I had a laptop and so this means that I’m wealthy.
So the mother is just in my face shouting “Aurela laptop!” and doesn’t seem to be joking in any way about it – it’s not an environment that I like sticking around in. They can’t fathom someone who has money to travel and buy a laptop but isn’t wealthy.
So I got up at 6:30 when people got up, the mother yelled at me, I had coffee and rakia and decided to not have the breakfast that was just the soggy vegetables from the night before in the cupboard. The thought of it kind of turned my stomach to be honest.
So I walked down with some old man – Lugash, not sure his relation to the family, my guess is an uncle of Denis. We walked to Valbone and I continued down the road, he stayed at the cafe where Denis logs in a few hours.
I walked through Valbone, took some pictures, am now at the journey to Valbone guest house that the woman from the Balkan Peace Park Project told me to go talk to and tell about the meeting. But they’re busy working and I don’t want to just tell them in one sentence about the meeting, so I’m chilling, having a beer and waiting, if they want to they can come and talk to me. Eventually will walk back up to Valbone, sit in a cafe and eat lunch and get a beer, then head back up to the house where the mother will tell me to give them all of my things.
… I can’t be bothered with these guest house people. Cool things they do, marking trails, leading tourists around, live up here year round, teach in the school. American woman, Albanian husband I think. But I just want to tell them about the meeting, have a conversation, having come from Istanbul and walked 2 hours down here and waited an hour to talk to them, I’m just going to leave.
I walked down to a lake – the James lake or something like that, read my book for a while. Then wanted to skip stones on the lake so I jumped down off of the rocks and sank into knee deep mud that stunk like a swamp. So I wacked my jeans on a rock to try to get the swamp mud off them and walked back to Valbone to the cafe where Denis works and wanted to get lunch there. But Denis didn’t understand me and just said “go to house.” So I went back down the road to another cafe and sat down. Guy came around and I asked if I could see a menu. “No.” What? Why not? “Italiano?” No.
So I stood up and went inside to see what there was. I said I wanted soup. No soup. Rice? No rice. So I had french fries, salad and beer. Walked slowly back up to the house. Am now getting assaulted by old woman to buy Aurela a laptop. Me and other old woman have coffee cups upside down for me to read her fortune. She doesn’t speak a word of English and I can’t read coffee grounds. Hilarious.
Now my jeans smell like a swamp. My socks too, which are now in my bag, so I fear that my entire bag will soon smell like swamp. The women here, chopping wood and carrying huge pots of water around remind me of the Borat line about his wife – Very good on plow! One of the women here is truly built like a wrestler.
Dinner – peppers are so soggy because the woman fills them with butter before she cooks them. They made curds for me because I don’t eat cheese. I didn’t want curds but I had to eat more of them and was harassed about buying Aurela a laptop.