It is sometimes the way in travel, when travel becomes its opposite: you roll and roll and then dawdle to a halt in the middle of nowhere. — Paul Theroux
I can scarcely believe it! About 11 months ago I arrived in Albania, thinking to spend a few weeks. Before I knew it, a few weeks became a month, a month became the winter, and then the winter came and went and I was still here thawing out in the crisp Albanian spring.
I can’t begin to summarize my time here, but suffice it to say the people met and the memories made, were singular and enriching beyond comparison. Nor can I claim to have learned Albanian or to have “figured out” the Albanian people. No, this tiny country in an oft overlooked corner of Europe is a paradoxical gem of abundant hospitality, passionate people, and tremendous civil dysfunction that adds up to something unique and altogether marvelous despite the fits of hair-wrenching frustration.
Not to say that Albania is rosy and dandy as it is, but I’m not qualified to comment on matters of “Progress”. It was humbling to observe the struggle of a rich traditional culture’s values clashing–or melding–with the western value system they want to be accepted into. After over 500 years of occupation, the Albanian people finally have their own state, yet perhaps never before has their cultural identity been under such a siege. Though, if there’s one constant in the history of the remarkably resilient Albanian people, there will always be proud Albanians.
Today though I’m rolling again. Rolling eastwards and northwards, aiming for the Danube River somewhere in Bulgaria. Perhaps I’ll finish last year’s goal and paddle my way to the Black Sea across Europe. But first I have to roll through Northern Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.
Like any rooted person, I acquired extra stuff during my stay here. That’s just the nature of rooted life. When you have space to spare it slowly fills up, as if by some undiscovered law of nature: over time rooted people accumulate more stuff. However, human-powered nomadic life abhors the accumlation of stuff. Every extra gram of stuff is a gram draining your energy, and eventually a drain on your finances as you buy more hamburgers to fuel your way.
Thankfully, I enjoy the ruthless purging of extraneous stuff. The entire process is carthatic, almost spiritual. It’s an act of meditation, a preparing of oneself for the shift in mindset from stasis to motion.
So, adieu, for now, Albania. The blue Danube is calling my name from over the mountains, and I’ve got to take the call.