Saturday, 4 June 2011

Village People

One of the really nice things about sticking around in a country for a slightly extended period is that you end up being adopted by local families, and with families come family traditions, and with family traditions come food and travel. So last Sunday Kayla and I were bundled off with Tina (my language teacher) and various other members of her family to take a trip out to the village for a walk and some Fli. More on the Fli later.

First things first, travel. We got to take the authentic Albanian approach to mass travel which was most definitely a first for both Kayla and I. If you've ever suffered through a long bus journey or a trip in a mini bus, just be grateful you had seats. Because we didn't. Why have seats when you can have mattresses on the floor in the back of a minivan? Here we are, packed in and ready for our countryside jaunt. At various points in the journey there were between 5 and 10 of us, sprawled out on mattresses, getting really comfortable with each others feet.

So we set off into the hills for a nice day out
in the sunshine. We stopped off at a friends house which is right next to a little stream/river which we got to adventure over on what I can confirm is most definitely a bridge. Compared to some of the other "bridges" I've seen here, this one is a feat of engineering genius. Then we were back in the van for the next leg of our journey. We stopped again, this time because we'd reached the point where the river crossed paths with the road. We all got out, had a nice little look at the river, got back in the van and drove through the river. That was not the plan of action I had been expecting. It wasn't deep, less than a foot, but enough to be slightly concerned that our mattresses might be about to get damp. They didn't, and the crossing-the-river exercise was repeated several more times before we reached our destination. The other exciting thing was that as it had got so hot in the (unventilated) back of the van, the sliding side door was opened as we drove so we got to see the countryside and the river close up. It's not something I've experienced before, or particularly expect to again, but I honestly loved it. It felt so outrageously opposed to all my ingrained health and safety expectations, I felt utterly wild.

And then there was the Fli. Fli is an
Albanian speciality food, mostly made during the summer because you have to make it over an open fire and it takes hours and hours and hours. It's basically lots and lots and lots of layers of a thick pancake batter cooked one at a time and layered up, which is why it takes so long. It's good, especially with some cheese and roasted peppers. We set down some blankets in the grass and gathered around to feed up, still sitting by the river that we'd just crossed again. It was great! And as we were the guests, we got to go first, which I appreciated.

After Fli came the walk up into the mountain which was at times beautiful, steep, terrifying, and wet. We crossed the river again, on foot, which was exciting and only a little treacherous. After that we went barefoot which added to the feeling I already had that I was in Lord of the Rings, climbing through dell and over mountain. No shoes complimented the hobbit effect, although to clariy, less hairy. We drew the line at carrying on when I had visions of having to ring my boss to tell I'd fallen into a river and half drowned and needed some medical attention. That's not a phone call I'm about to make. So we pootled back, had another drink by the river, and then all clambered back in to the van for the trip home. The nice thing about sitting on mattresses is that lying down on them is pretty comfy too which means sleep is much easier to come by...

But the experience of being bundled into the back of the van made me thinkg quite seriously about another part of the legacy around here - being a refugee. A couple of people mentioned it as they looked in on us, and the stories began to flow of being squashed into small spaces with three times as many people as we had, or of being transported by tractor for the three day journey into the relative saftey of the villages. The family we were with had spent 10 weeks away from their home with various other people all packed into places far too small for so many people. The teenagers who were little children at the time remember sleeping curled up in tiny spaces and being protected by mothers who were leaving husbands and fathers and just hoping it would be alright. The girls who were small but are older now are developing a new appreciation for their mums who spent weeks barely sleeping, sitting up because there wasn't enough space to lie down and because being awake was the only way to protect their precious cargo.

It all made me understand better why war leaves no winners. These children will never forget what they were put through, and their children and their children's children will know these stories. And on the other side, the young Serbs who were sent off to fight for no good reason will remember what they were part of, and their children will know and their children's children will know, and they will have to work out how to live with that. I suppose this isn't news to anyone, but war is no good, and it makes me really cross. So pray for wars to end, and pray for the children, and thank God that Jesus is the one who brings peace.

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