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Journey to Flushe-Arrez

After working all summer in Rreshen and seeing very little of Albania, apart from the occasional trip to Tirana it was decided that I would go to visit our other main centre halfway up the northern mountains in Fushe-Arrez (literally “Field of Wal nuts”). It was also decided that I would go on the public bus, bearing in mind my increasing confidence in getting about and an improvement in my language ability.

Unfortunately the bus did not leave from the centre of Rreshen, as the main Tirana- Kukes road turns north just before reaching Rreshen. I walked with my bag to the main road, where I could catch the bus. I had dressed down, in an attempt to blend in a little better (this never actually works, people can always tell that you are foreign, although it is still good practice as it reduces the amount of undue attention that you receive). I waited with a small group of people for quite a while looking down the valley for the bus.

The bus finally came up the valley, although describing it as a bus was a compliment. It was rickety and rusty and falling apart and, even worse, it was absolutely packed with people. It stopped but it was very clear that the driver had no intention of letting anyone get on; he had only stopped to drop people off. However I was very insistent about getting on and I climbed onto the step. People already on the bus wrapped their arms around me and held me on as the door closed behind me. We were off.

The interior of the bus was like some disaster scene. Parts of the bus were hanging off, someone was carrying a fireplace and there were several sacks of potatoes as well as some chickens. The road was very bumpy and if it hadn’t been for the crowd of people I would have been thrown about all over the place. A little further along the road the bus stopped again and some people got off. I was finally able to get onto the bus properly. With no alternative I upended my holdall and sat on it in the central aisle. Another stop further on and I was finally able to get a seat, after clambering over the potatoes first. The man in the next seat was wearing a Russian hat and he was the spitting image of Boris Yeltsin.

The seat was comfortable but a little bouncy. Disconcertingly there were holes in the floor of the bus near my feet and I could see the road passing underneath. ‘Boris’ and I soon struck up a conversation in Albanian and he proceeded to tell me about his family and where he lived.

At one point the bus stopped and reversed and then shunted forward again before continuing. The bend had been so tight in the road that this was the only way around it. This also caused some alarm as it was high up in the mountains with a precipice on one side and a wall of rock on the other. One error and we would have crashed into the mountainside or fallen off the edge. At another point there was a hole blown in the road and I could see the bottom of the valley through the holes in the bus! The local roads ministry had blown up the road in an attempt to get funding to repair the road with.

And so we proceeded for three hours deeper and deeper into the Albanian mountains, with the road surface getting worse and worse. Finally the bus arrived in Fushe-Arrez and it was a relief to get off the bus although it was now dark. I didn’t know where I was going and had to locate the “English Flat”.

“Ku eshte shtepi Anglais?” I asked to a multitude of blank stares.

“Une e di, une e di.” Finally someone came forth from the crowd and led me to the place I was looking for. After a long time on the road it was wonderful to be in the company of people I knew.

Richard Horton
FELBERG branch in Częstochowa

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