Albania was the last country on Balkan peninsula that I haven’t visited so far. I would say that it has nothing to do with prejudices, yet I had my own idea of how Albania looks, but until now there were no roads that would take me there. And as you can imagine – it has nothing to do with how it looks in reality.
First time I’ve heard about Albanians was when I was 10, in Ulcinj, Montenegro. We were at one crowded beach and next to us, on the towels, there was a family with three kids. Kids were running around in swimsuits, filled with sand, as kids usually do. At some point, they were eating sandwiches that were falling from their hands so they would pick it up and continue to eat. Someone said: look at them, they are so dirty, that’s because they are Albanians.
They were probably Albanians from Montenegro, but that image of “dirty Albanian” stayed in my head for years. In the meantime, I met a lot of Albanians – from Serbia and from Kosovo, but I remembered this story from Ulcinj when I sat in the airplane to Tirana. I realized that my image of Albania is closely related to that memory from my childhood. I imagined that Albania is dirty.
So many roads, so many connections
With all our neighboring countries we always had some connections. We had reasons to visit it or to hear and know something about those countries, so we would go to Budapest or visit Zagreb, Sarajevo, Ljubljana. We would go skiing in Bansko in Bulgaria or just spend years and years on the Montenegrin coast. But there were no roads that took us to Albania.
Sure, it’s impossible not to mention Kosovo as one of the major obstacles on the way to Albania, still – I was wondering how is it possible to know so little about one country that is so close to ours? I have heard about the oppressive regime in Albania, but I couldn’t say for sure how long it lasted.
…And then, I came to Tirana
We landed at Nënë Tereza Airport in Tirana, and although it was November, you could smell the sea. There were palms all over Tirana and I fell in love this city the moment I entered one street filled with bars with young people. You could feel that energy of young people, who just happened be born in one, not that progressive country. We shared that thought, we shared that feeling: that we are the ones going forward while our countries are pulling us backward.
There, between hours of talking one wonderful thing happened. A friendship. I cannot remember when was the last time I met someone and got connected so easily. One Albanian guy and one Serbian girl become very close friends that warm November night in Tirana.
Right away we start organizing our weekend in Belgrade – what we are going to do, where we are going to eat and will those two days be enough?
On my way back I was only thinking about new generations, those who will have a chance to meet through RYCO programs, those who will have friends Albanians or Serbs from an early age. I wish I’ve met my friend earlier, I wish I’ve visited Albania when I was younger. I wish I had a chance to break my prejudices before.
There were no roads before, but we are making them today. That friendship, that is our new road.
Just give us a chance, just give us a space to meet each other. We’ll show you what we are capable of.