From the Vault

In a class full of 25 unmotivated students who are 18 or 19 years old, when I can’t get anyone to pay attention or do any work, I need to find some way of making light of the situation so I don’t do one of the many things running through my brain (throwing chairs, smashing mobile phones, cursing all of the students to eternal damnation, or bursting into tears at the madness of it all.)

One of these things is to make up sentences, using the unit vocabulary, to make fun of Mr. Rees. (Mr. Rees is a very mean man, but Mr. Howard is a very generous man.) Mr. Rees has created an invisible friend to talk to when none of the students answer any of his questions. He tilts his head to down to listen to his imaginary friend What’s that Aliriza? Yes, very good, Aliriza, you’re such a smart student. Yes you should practice speaking, since you have a speaking exam! When there isn’t a lot of material to cover for a class, and when I’ve already lost them to their mobile phones or sleep, I’ll often branch into strange tangents to take up lots of time.

One of the readings we did a few days ago was about how somebody’s travel plans had gone awry. The reading was titled Nightmare Journeys. So I asked the students what a nightmare was: BAD SLEEP, TEACHER, BAD SLEEP. What could a nightmare journey be? Well, I lost them there. I thought about using this opportunity to talk to launch into a long story that none of the students would understand, about various nightmare journeys I’ve had. A tale the telling of which would greatly amuse me. But I decided that since it was a good story, I didn’t want to waste it on them.

I’ve been thinking about posting some of my stories here from my travels in the Balkans in 2010. Since I was thinking about this one a few days ago but refused to waste it on my mongoloid students, I’ll post it here. From my journals from the November 2010…

A strange trip from Kotor – Podgorica – Prishtina – Skopje

After a day and a half in rainy Kotor, Montenegro, it was time to leave. I’d gone swimming in the freezing Bay of Kotor (people thought I was crazy, but they didn’t know I’ve swum in Lake Superior!) and climbed the 1500 steps to the top of the fortress. My next stop was Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. I hadn’t heard good things, so I’d just planned on a few hours there before getting on the night bus to Prishtina, Kosovo. I boarded the little mini bus to Podgorica with about 8 other people around 3pm, and lay down in the back seat for a quick nap. It’s only a 2 hour ride to Podgorica. I woke up after about an hour, and all the other passengers had gotten off at earlier stops. The bus driver pulled into a gas station, and he was in there for a while. A good 30 minutes. I wondered if he’d forgotten about me. He got back in, turned on the radio and lit a cigarette. I soon saw signs for Herceg Novi, which is back on the Bay of Kotor, quite a ways from Podgorica, and by my calculations, we should have been near our destination by then. I walked to the front of the bus to ask when we would be there. He turned around in shock and asked “where you going?” I said Podgorica. He said “No Podgorica, finished! Get off, wait 20 minutes and get on bus to Podgorica.” He pulled to the side of the road by an auto shop. I waited for a while, and figured I was screwed. Started walking in the direction of Herceg Novi, hoping I’d get there by dark and catch another bus. Thankfully I saw the bus the driver had told me to get on, and flagged it down. It slammed on the brakes and I got in, and had to pay another 8 euros for a second bus ticket to Podgorica. By this time I was supposed to already be in Podgorica, and my new bus was a 3 hour ride. I’d be cutting my night bus close.

Finally made it to Podgorica. Sat down and had a stew with questionable ingredients. Had a beer. Got on bus. I hate night buses – and I would get there at 4am or something ridiculous.

Pouring rain, along flooded one lane winding mountain roads. The windows were all fogged up and both rows of passengers spent the journey leaning into the aisle or peering over the seats at the treacherous roads ahead. The border crossing took about an hour – 2 lane road with trucks parked in one lane, then massive buses have to pass each other using the other lane. Stopping, backing up, then passport control, then stopping for snacks and a smoke break. A long border crossing. At one point I realized my watch had stopped and I didn’t actually know what time it was. Hmm… It seemed like time had been going rather slowly.

The bus finally rolled into Prishtina at about 4:30am. I got a taxi into the center, and was there by about 4:45. There was nobody on the streets, just a lot of crows, making a deafening noise. Every five minutes or so the skies would blacken when the thousands of crows exchanged branch positions. None of the cafes opened until about 7am, and it was raining pretty steadily. I huddled myself on a park bench underneath my umbrella and waited.

Eventually, at about 6:15, 2 guys doing the same came up to me and struck up a conversation. They had been at the disco, but one of them had locked his keys in his flat and couldn’t get in. The other kept him company so he wouldn’t get mugged, and they waited for the flatmates to wake up. Around 7, we walked to a cafe for espresso. Val is a student of psychology, and Ilyr is finishing medical school. Ilyr has begun learning German, because his dream is to finish medical school and work in Germany. Val has some modeling opportunities in Amsterdam or Paris. But his family is moving to Michigan in 3 months, so he doesn’t know what to do. He wants to live his own lifestyle, but can’t do so openly with his traditional Albanian family.

Ilyr and I began talking history. He told me all about the Albanians. The Illyrians were the first ones in the region, the first Albanians. The Slavs came later, and the Illyrians were the dominant party. But the Serbs took over, and began sending Serbs en masse into Albania and Kosovo. That Dubrovnik was originally an Albanian city. In 1389 it wasn’t just the Serbs who fought the Turks, but a coalition of Serbs and Albanians, and it was an Albanian who killed Murad.

They also told me all about the Albanian language, that it is most similar to Greek. And many Serbian cities still have Albanian names, proof that the Albanians were there first. The Serbs just like to make up fairy tales and call them their history. I get the same story everywhere I go in the Balkans, it’s just that the victims and perpetrators switch roles depending on who’s talking.

They then moved on to contemporary Kosovo. 70% of the country is under 30, and unemployment is the highest in Europe – supposedly higher than Bosnia’s 46%. In the next 10 years, all of Kosovo’s educated youths will make a mass exodus from the country, because it has nothing.

Kosovo is very traditional, very old fashioned. You can’t have an open lifestyle, you can’t have a private life, they told me. Both of them were gay, but neither had come out to their family or friends. They told stories of others who had come out, been ostracized, lived on the streets, and eventually got asylum and went to the states. There was a story of the Albanian version of “Big Brother” and an episode where one character came out to his family. Albanians found his house and burned it down. They think it’s easier to be gay in the Middle East, because there premarital sex isn’t permitted. So homosexuality is sometimes seen as a necessary release of sexual tensions. But in Albania, sex before marraige isn’t so taboo, but homosexuality is. Val and Ilyr’s friends are very homophobic, and they just have to play along with it. Ilyr’s medical textbooks say that homosexuality is a mental disability.

It was all in all a very strange encounter. I was running on little to no sleep, just the nervous, feverish sleep of the night bus and my nap that cost me a bus to Podgorica. Due to heavy rains, muddy roads, exhaustion and little to do, I got on the 12:30 bus to Skopje. This one was fairly uneventful. It was boiling hot and the heat was pumping. I had to sit next to an old guy who breathed loudly and smelled like onions. He was basically a smelly space heater. But I got to Skopje just fine, got ripped off by a cab driver, and went to the hostel, where I was hoping to meet up with Matt, my wandering buddy from my Sarajevo hostel family.

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