Trip Start Jul 23, 2007
27Trip End Aug 23, 2007
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Sunday was literally a day of rest. Half the team went to visit a couple of families, but the families my half were meant to be visiting were out. So... we played uno, card games, watched Chocolat and went on the internet. On the way to Trev and Kaye's Lucy and I had to get some mint and parsley for them from the market. Didnt realise the language might be a problem until we got there and didnt know what to ask for! Managed to get by though by picking up random bunches of herbs and sniffing them. Late afternoon, most of us decided to walk to The Lake, situated just West of Kruje at the bottom of the hill. It was all dried up, but made some interesting photos, and Kaye, ever prepared, had brought biscuits and coke for a picnic.
Monday was my last day (sob!) We met at the church in the morning, and Trev gave us an extensive background history to Kruja at our request, which was really interesting. While it is said that 95% of Albanians (dont quote me on that) are muslim, very few actually practice it. When the Ottomans took over, they basically said anyone who wasn't a muslim had to pay extra taxes, so most people said what the Ottomans wanted to hear. Much more prolific particulary in Kruje is Bektash, and ancient mix of mysticism, Islam, supersticion and witchcraft. Kruje used to be the capital of Albania, so it was a central part of the country. They believe in curses - Trev has received several death theats and curses over the last 9 years- and hang garlic and teddy bears with spike in them (!) from their houses, and mount rams horns over doors to ward off bad luck. There is a strong spirit of intimidation, historically everyone was trying to get power over everyone else, as in most cultures, but Albanians perhaps use less subtle ways.
There have been several prophecies over Kruje over the years, and some believe it to be the keyhole to the Western Balkans. Trev in particular believes that if Kruje becomes Christian, the rest of Albania and the Western Balkans will follow. Interestingly, Turkey is the only place Albanians can go without a visa- apparently they love them there, so this could be a real opportunity. Anyway after our history lesson and another prayer session, we all went up to the castle for our last team lunch together. We went to a traditional Albanian house museum afterwards which was fascinating to learn more of the local culture. At one point, you'd be able to tell a person's heritage simply from the clothes they were wearing.
We walked through the Old Bazaar one last time, but I managed to avoid buying any mass produced souvenirs. The team prayed for me, then I boarded the bus back to Tirana. It was really hard to say goodbye to everyone- we've been through a lot over the last 2 weeks, and it was such a fantastic team. I was staying with Rodina, who had recently moved to Tirana from Kruja but had been visiting Kruje over the last week. I had been given the name of the bus stop, so showed it to the bus driver, and hoped he'd understood that I wanted him to shout when I got there! He did, but I got of the bus with no more than a pointed direction towards a main road- no sign of Rodina. I wandered around, then figured the best idea would be to call her mobile- fortunately I'd got it before I left- and as she didnt know what time I was arriving, she hadnt come to meet me. Armed with the knowledge that she would be there 'as soon as possible', i perched on a ledge by the main road, in the most visible place possible. Needless to say, an English girl just sitting by a big roundabout with a huge rucksack draws quite a few stares, including one man who asked me in 4 different languages 'What is your name?'. I figured the best solution would be ingorance- for all he knew, I could be from some far flung Pacific island and not speak a word of English... Anyway it worked and he gave up eventually.
Rodina got there 35 minutes later, and we took the bus back to her apartment/bedsit. She apologetically told me she'd already made plans for the evening and was going out with a friend, but left me some salad and bread for dinner. She's really living on the breadline there so I was very grateful! I sat outside on her balcony for as long as the light lasted (Tirana has no electricity between 7 and 9pm. No chance of a shower- she didnt even have one! Just a tap, from which no water came. I was asleep by the time she returned.