i had to separate this in several parts because it is kind of long and it gave me a lot of impressions. once i opened these trip’s memories, they all wanted to be written, hence the breaks. anyway, you can either enjoy or read perez hilton’s blog. http://www.perezhilton.com/
“see” my grandma says “you overslept again and the bus has already left. can’t go anywhere now.”
she has on a very selfsatisfied smile and since i have not heard the alarm go off, suspicions appear on my face. but no, she wouldn’t know how to turn off the alarm of my cell.
“Grandma,” I say ” I’ll just take my bags and go to the stop. If I find a bus, I’ll go. If not I’ll come right back. Promise”
“But there are fires over there.” She says. “look at what’s happening in Greece. It is all burning up. And you are all alone. Not even a friend for the road.”
she is right. it is burning up in Greece, and in Albania too. but i want to go. my friends already have a room, there is a club for dancing, and the bus goes straight to the village. or almost. and i still look albanian enough not to be harassed by the locals. I grab my bag with two pair of underwear, one dress, one beach dress, bathing suit, bangles and big earrings, cell phone, camera and Paolo Coehlo’s “The Devil and Miss Prym”. and yes, some money. as generous as my compatriots are, the money must always be paid in the end.
“ah i know. she filled up your mind with ideas. it is all her fault” she being my uncle’s wife and my grandma’s daughter-in-law. always a bit frivolous that one. a good woman of course, but she is not 15 anymore. she told me to go and have fun and enjoy my vacation a bit more than just hanging around with my grandma 24/7.
“i will be back before you know it, i promise” – i kiss her wrinked cheek and hug her wiry shoulders. she actually has tears in her eyes as she kisses me back fiercely. i have never had my grandmother kiss me so much. and she actually stops berating me and sees me to the end of the small street where my childhood happened so many years ago. but i want to go, so i strengthen my heart and walk away.
i catch a cab to the bus station that is almost outside the city. it takes a while to find it since nobody seems to be sure about where it is. there are no signs, and noone to ask. i have tried since last night to find the exact location by calling all my friends but they only express their perplexity at my going alone, on the bus. not even a car? what am i going to do there anyway? granted the beach is a paradise but that’s it. especially if i am going only for a day.
i piece together information and ask until we find the right place. the cab driver makes sure i am ok before he leaves. sweet man.
i find out from the next bus driver that the bus which would make the stop i needed had already left at 6.15AM. unless i break down my route, i will never get there. teh bus driver, a young and handsome man, feels sorry for me and finds me a private van driver, a boisterous man in his 50-ies who thinks he is very funny. for whatever reason, he asks me to sit up front with him. a tiny and silent man in his 60-ies joins us. the van is packed with 15 people.
I look at the passing scenery with interest. it is and it is not old Albania. i mean there is a highway for part of the trip, but there are people passing all the time, sometimes accompanied by children, sometimes accompanied by sheep. and the Benzes fly by. our driver keeps on talking and putting his seat belt on anytime he sees the road check points. he has this down to an art. right before the road check point comes up, he takes the seatbelt and tucks it under his thigh, only to push it aside as soon as we leave the cops behind.
there is some sadness about the little thin man next to me that makes me ask everytime if he is ok. he seems to cower in the corner of the seat, keeping his knees well away from my own and trying not to touch my shoulder, while the van driver is forever trying to “casually” touch me. well, i try to stay away from the driver and ask the old man about his destination. he unfolds a picture of a man in his thirties, unsmiling and defiantly looking at the camera, with strong features and the deep tan only a villager could have.
“my son” he says “i go to visit his family in Shkozet.”
“marshallah” i say ” looks very handsome”
“he died a month ago. his truck overturned. he did the chromium beat. made some money but always working, day and night. moved the family to Shkozet, to be near his job. and look what happened. left four children and a young wife behind.”
his lips are shivering. what do i say now? i am not good at consolation.
“eh, poor man who died.” the driver gives his two cents. “the wife will find a boyfriend before the year is out, mark my words. these young peasants, they can’t stay long without a man.”
i actually look at him openmouthed. now there is really nothing for me to say. thankfully, the old man acts like he never heard a word and tells me about the son’s family. he lives in Dibra himself and takes the trip every 15 days. brings money and food to his grandchildren. the whole van is listening now.
“what village are you from in Dibra?” some passanger asks from behind us. “my last name is X, my wife comes from the Y family in Z village” the old man answers. the ensuing conversation about discovering common cousins, alleviates his mind somewhat, until it is his turn to stop.
“thank you, daughter and good luck” he says, shakes my hand solemnly and jumps off after handing his fare to the driver. i greet him too and send my wishes after him. we pick up another man a bit further down.
“jump in” the driver hisses “the cops will stop us”
“no worries man ” the new passanger says. ” you will not have cop trouble”
“well, how do you know? if they catch me, we will all be late.”
“i am one, so they will let us go, no worries.”
the driver changes his tune 180 degrees. he becomes his “nice” self again, shares gum with us and stops trying to touch me by “mistake”. we continue our trip with his gufaws, the children’s cries and other passangers complaints about not having enough space or air. it is stifling inside. passangers come out, passangers climb in every half an hour or so. we pick up two more cops in uniform just out of Fier. they will stop in Fier at the police station.
“how come you are out in the sun with no car?” the driver asks, still his bonhomme self.
“we don’t get cars. we always hitch rides to our checkpoint.”
“what do you mean?” this from me.
“there is only one car on the station and the chief uses that for his beat. so we hitch the rides and the state reimburses us.”
huh? oh well, it is a different life.
we leave them in Fier. just outside, a man and his two huge water kegs get in. apparently it is very difficult and expensive to get drinking water in his village, so he prefers to go and fill up everyday at a stream half an hour away, then travels back with his kegs. when he is nearing his village, he flips out a cell phone and calls his family men to meet him up at the stop and help him carry the kegs. at the stop a little disagreement with the driver over the price ensues, but ends without bloodshed.
then we are off again to Vlora. the driver has promised to take me to the local bus station and after dropping his other passangers in Vlora’s center, he does so. unfortunately, by asking, i have discovered that his wife is from the family of my grandmother’s niece’s husband, so he cannot hit on me anymore, and since the car is empty, i have slid too far for him too touch me.
“so, are you married or what?” he finally asks.
“well, I do have somebody. we’re getting engaged when i get back” i say, trying to think fast. not true, but it might stop his thinking. yeah right!
“so you have a relationship right?”
“of course we have a relationship. we’ll be husband and wife someday.”
” no, no, i mean a ‘relationship’.”
“well we will be married soon and that is all i will say on the matter.” i stay quiet for awhile.
“how old are you?” he asks again.
” your meat is still strong.” he says touching my forearm and actually trying it like he was testing a dog or a horse. hmm.
“I guess it must be Vlora’s genes.” i say “you are older than my father but you still look very well kept”
dunno why this shuts hum up, but of course, i lose my offer of a free trip. i hand out my fare freely, wish him luck and jump off the car in relief.
i have only been in Vlora twice as a little child, so i remember nothing. but I can see that it is building at a crazy rate. there is cement dust and sand everywhere. i try to see if i can spot any cousins, but none actually turn up. the faces are almost familiar though and the dialect is simply like coming home. the same familiar twang, the droll humor, the stubborn words, and the proud caddence just brings me my childhood back.
i ask about the bus to Dhermi and they point me to the cafe where the bus conductor is holding court, knocking back one or two beers with the driver and some friends. they view me suspiciously, but the receipt is very seriously written and handed to me.
“do not lose it” cautions the conductor. “and stay here because we’ll leave at one”
“good.” i say and smile. “i have time for a drink.”
i think it is the smile that confuses them, so i leave the merry group to their beer and go inside the cafe. the woman in it is very pleasant, pretty and tough. she has a roundened body and upturned nose over beautiful meaty lips. but her hazel eyes watch everything and they let you know that no monkey business takes place in her cafe.
we get to talking and she tells me about her daughters and son. the oldest studies in Tirana and the middle daughter will be a high school senior this year. she is proud of them, the tough hardworking mother who still looks like a college student herself. the son is also shaping up nicely, getting good grades in school and helping mom and dad after hours. the husband is a good husband, does not sleep around with floozies and brings all his money home. now he does go out with friends once in a while, but that is alright. those friends have helped him in tight corners. in these troubled times, people need friends.
we actually have a very nice conversation and i forget how hungry i am. only as the bus is getting ready to leave, i feel the hunger cramps but it is too late to do anything about it. i just make do with water, and try to immerse myself in Miss Prym’s dealings with the devil.
but the road beckons.