We lay over in Tirane another day, so Ben can do his washing. That’s four days for me without walking . . . I wonder how I’ll go when we fire up again tomorrow.
Last night at the Sky bar a Canadian woman tells Ben that Australians and Canadians are the only two nationalities that need visas for Macedonia. He wakes (late and slowly) and goes online – it’s true! And all because Australia, like Canada, persists in calling Macedonia The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Five day wait for visas. No visas issued at the border.
So Ben, with Charis in tow, heads out into Tirane to find the elusive Macedonian Embassy where . . . the ambassador himself stamps visas into our passports.
I must say, I was quite pleased with the diplomatic stand-off. It meant we would cross the mountains of Albania (four days) and drop straight into Greece – and, though cool, this meant sticking to warmer climes.
Yet the mountains it is. All the way. I tell Ben today, when I am startled by the whiteness of the alps on the Macedonian patch of our map, that I am not here for extreme sport . . .
He said he knows.
It’s been wonderful accessing Tirane through Charis and Shaina’s eyes, like borrowing a pair of glasses to help me see. I headed out today alone to find a set of drinking glasses for Charis, because I broke one at the sink and she’s running low. I returned home unreasonably pleased with myself, having found a kitchenware shop in a city that has few street names and no numbering.
I did the Tirane Shuffle, walking slowly into chaotic traffic and finding my way across the road through the spaces. I passed old men sitting on makeshift stools on a filthy footpath, concentrating hard on a game of square lines marked on cardboard, moving rocks as counters.
I sank a little deeper into myself in relation to this city of . . . of . . . funny how stories generate compassion . . . why not compassion anyway?
I try and imagine a people stripped of their language and traditions, religious or otherwise, for 50 years. Not so long in the scheme of things, though a lifetime if it’s your generation.
I have begun to think of Albanians as ‘the awakeners’. The ones returning to life. I wonder, as with the Croatians, if the fresh air brings with it freedoms they might never have known if not for the annihilation of all that was.
As I return home with my shopping today, glancing into a great big hole in the road filled with rubbish and dirty water (is anybody in there?), I think of death and of the infinite souls who have already died in human history. Every one, dead. Time and place are irrelevant. I am not special. I too will die. Everyone I know will die. This is our story.
And it doesn’t mean anything.
Nothing. Means. Anything.
Not even the bath that warms my bones.
A bath two days running.