January 2nd 2023
Travelling in the balkans with modern, liberal, Western values can often at times be difficult. For me it is not so much a culture shock, as a constant calculation of what I can, can't, or should do. Without offering my own opinions, I want to share four short moments of conflict from my last days in Albania.
1 - Above is a stray cat lying on the street. It lays dead, it's body stiff. It's small heart will never make it into the new year. Did it like being petted by strangers, or was it afraid and kept away? Does anyone know this cat, or is no one mourning? How many like it are there that I don't see? It's time of death lines up with the sounds and chaos of New Year's fireworks.
2 - I met another stray dog on the same day. Alive, but obese. The type of obese that should be called abuse, especially for a stray dog. As it happens, I saw him yesterday too. But today, a tight ribbon has been tied around his body, constricting his abdomen. Someone's idea of a New Year's joke, probably. If I had not have encountered the dog again, what would happen?
3 - In my hostel in Tirana, I was pulled aside by a staff member to have a private word. They tell me a Serbian man has checked in for the night. Because the staff have seen my camera, they are worried it will get stolen by the Serb. The owner of the hostel is so afraid, they move me to a private room. They do not know the Serb's name, nor his attitude. They say he asked about someone's laptop, and that it is suspicious. I later share a 6 hour bus with this Serb. He sees my phone and asks about it. It turns out he is a computational informatics engineer, and likes tech. We share a conversation for the whole journey. He is the most interesting person I have met so far.
4 - I pay for a entrance ticket to a castle in the North. The man selling tickets asks me where I am from. "England", I say. "No, but where you really from?" he replies. "England England". "But where your family from?". "I am part Egyptian, if that's what you want", is all I can spare. "As Salam Alaikum" he offers. I shrug my shoulders, I don't want to be put into whatever neat box he clearly wants me to be in. "You Muslim?" he asks. "No", I say. "Yeah" he exclaims, and goes to high five me.