Every year, as students of Albanian language in Belgrade, Serbia, we get the opportunity to go on seminar of the Albanian language, literature and culture in Tirana. First time I went there was in September 2013. At that time, it was much harder to persuade my parents, family and friends that the situation in Albania is normal, that no one will kill me, kidnap me nor anything similar will happen and that my stay there will be safe.
People kept asking me: “What are you going to do there? Why would anyone want to go to Albania?” and so on.
I have to admit that I have had a small amount of fear in myself, but I wanted to prove to myself and others that we are wrong and I wanted to break all the prejudices that exist in relation with this country.
I went on this trip with my colleagues, travelling by bus through Pristina, which was also terrifying for people from my surrounding. It took us 9 hours to reach Tirana. When we were passing through Albania, I was amazed by the mountains, with scarce vegetation and I have imagined our great-grandfathers crossing these mountains in the First World War.
On the way to Tirana I have counted the bunkers next to the highway that were built during the Enver Hoxha ruling. Later we found out that 600 000 bunkers were built. As we were entering Tirana, there was an industrial zone next to the highway, with glass and modern buildings and a big black eagle at the first roundabout. The bus left us in the city center, since there is no main bus station. We were accommodated in a student dormitory near the city center, that looks like our “Studentski grad” – a student campus in Belgrade. My first impression of the city was that it has a nice climate and since it is full with palm trees, it made me feel like I was at the sea.
At first I was afraid to say where I came from. But when I noticed how everyone were kind and hospitable, I decided to speak about my birthplace. So, at the first market, I started speaking in Albanian, and after a few minutes when the seller asked me “where are you from?”, I told him that I was from Serbia. He was positively surprised and continued telling me the story of his son who works in Kikinda in the north of Serbia.
For the first time, I really saw so many similarities…
After that, it was easier for me to communicate on the street, in the shops, everywhere. That first year, we did not establish contact with our peers since we were at the college with other foreigners who came to learn the Albanian language.
And at that time, everyone was still on vacation, so besides us, there were no other students at the Faculty. I liked the food too. We dined in a cozy old restaurant, where we tried the traditional Albanian dish – tavedheu – made from liver, goat cheese and tomato. It was fantastic. The cuisine is mostly under the influence of Italy and Turkey, just like it is in our country.
Everyday life is pretty much the same. In Tirana there are a lot of cafes that are full with people during the day. Everyone is drinking a lot of coffee, just like Serbians do. The streets in the city center are similar to Italian ones, but the buildings are built in a communist style with many cables hanging everywhere. Back then (still today) you could eat and drink for a small price.
Even though it was my first time in Albania, I didn’t see any difference in everyday life of the Albanian and Serbian people. We have similar, if not the same habits, so when I came back, there was no story to tell…