A man came to the Hostel I was volunteering at. We spoke for a bit sitting on opposite ends of the room. He did most of the chatting and at one point said,
“You just don’t know how foolish it is to be doing what you’re doing. You can run around and act like a child now because you’re young, but soon reality will hit you and you will realise it would have been better to have started your career and made money to take care of yourself.”
After talking some more, it was revealed that this man was unsatisfied with his personal life, feeling unhappy and empty with his own career choices, relationships, and quality of life. Of course, I said nothing of this, only simply thought to myself, “How strange, that someone who is so unhappy is telling me how to be happy.” Obviously this is a form of false logic, but I read once that we should take advice from those we aspire to be. So far, all the people I’ve admired have all given up the “normal” life and the things that are “common sense” to pursue what they really wanted. None of them had regrets.
A wonderful couchsurfing host in Kiev told me,
“I can find you tons of managers who wish they could quit their job to go traveling, but I can’t find you a single traveler who wants to quit traveling and become a manager.”
And while I don’t necessarily propagate that everyone has this innate sense of wanderlust, there are endless single-row lines of men and women who are dying to themselves everyday for the sake of normality and unoriginality all awhile trying to convince themselves that it’s what they want, or what they ought to want. This guy was just one of millions.
As for myself, I spent most of my winter in Albania volunteering in a cold Hostel with little to no heating, and where temperatures drop to -9 at night. Ha, at one point the water was frozen in the faucet. No water, no HOT water. Believe it or not, this is actually a tame beast compared to Kosovo, which was -24 a week ago, or Ukraine which can sometimes hit -30.
(Yes, those are orange and lemon trees. Nothing like fresh fruit picked in the morning sun). I worked at reception mostly, and I met some of the most beautiful people there. So many of them have come through to this little Narnia despite the frozen roads- cyclists from Scotland, France, Austria, and Switzerland, Motorcyclists from Germany, gap year students from the US and UK, world travellers from Singapore, the Latvian-Irish woman who taught me about bluntness, and a lot of vacationers from Italy and Macedonia, and more. All of them have been incredibly interesting, with all sorts of stories from their personal journeys. I have made several friends here, and as always find it difficult to say goodbye. HSP problems, heh heh.
I realised, after spending time with specific guests here, that travel is an eyeglass which we use to gaze into the great open spaces of ourselves. It is sobering how clearly you begin to see yourself- the good and bad, the pride and the shame, the complications and simplicities- you cannot hide from you. This is terrifying, but oddly relieving as well.
I went paragliding over the edge of a mountain. We were picked up in Tirana and drove south to Berat, and up, up, up a mountain, the road shaving down to a sliver, and I do believe I was more afraid of falling off the edge than the actual gliding. Not to mention that the jeep broke down half way up! Oil was boiling and gurgling out the engine like a bubbling geyser.
I volunteered to be the first to go, though my legs were shaking and my lungs were unsteady with fear. When explaining the coming events, I was told to just run, to book it towards the edge of the cliff. I was geared up and clipped onto the front of the host; my whole body was shouting, “Hell no!” but we pushed on anyway until the wind, like invisible hands stretched from above descended and plucked me off of my feet. Where my feet once had met the earth, they now met nothing, and they kicked in the air- I was flying. I wish I could say my landing was graceful, but in reality I tumbled like a weed. Face first, mud on my clothes, but I jumped up and gave a shout into the frigid air, “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” because I flew. And through this experience and others, I learned something important about possibilities: They are endless.
Only through traveling have I come to this conclusion; the vast expanse, the stars shine bright, and they come out to play, to brag and revel in their prideful glow. On quiet nights, I can look into their eyes and I feel them, I can hear their breathing, and in unison we sigh together- a sort of choreographic dance, basking in all the glory we share between us. Every second, a new opportunity presents itself to be, requesting that we take it gently. And we do.
If I had to give one serious complaint about Albania, it would be the sexist attitude that remains questioned. Unlike America where sexism is at least acknowledged as wrong (“I’m not sexist but…..”) here it isn’t an issue. One guy, when discussing acceptable age gaps in relationships, remarked that a woman should never be older than the man because the man must lead the woman, and how she should never have any authority over her husband. It seems that Christian, Catholic, Islam, and Orthodox fundamentalism still have a firm grip on perspectives on gender in many of the Balken countries.
Winter depression has kicked in, a few weeks ago, as it does every year. The only difference between this year and the previous ones is that I will have to live on without inviting old friends over to me during its occupancy; no cup of tea at the table, or no monopoly fight or community cooking. This is a new experience for me, but I have survived thus far by going to Ballet performances (4.00 Euro tickets?), reading some wonderful books, and watching TV series huddled under blankets, hiding from the cold winds outside. And with a big mug of hot chocolate in my hands, I sit cozy until the spring comes around when I can absorb the sunlight and use the new energy to move up North come this March.
Peace out people, stay warm. I hear it’s also quite cold back in New Jersey, but the Knight Riders are probably still running around “scaring horses and old people.” Till next time, here are some bonus photos: