>UNMIK .. viva la revolucion!
UNMIK – United Nations Mission in Kosovo. I didn’t get a Kosovo stamp on my passport. They wouldn’t put a Serbian stamp, that’s for damn sure. I got an UNMIK stamp. Since 1999, Kosovo has officially been a UN protectorate. I understand why, but it’s kinda weird that an organization officially owns a country. Even the Kosovar’s passports don’t say Kosovo, they say UNMIK. And they need a visa to travel anywhere they go. Even within the EU. It’s ridiculous that a country so beautiful and full of life and vitality is denied so much:
No water or electricity past 10pm.
Dilapidated hospitals (I had to go to the hospital one night when I realized I had a urinary tract infection. You know how they took a blood sample? Not with a needle from my arm, but with a RAZOR BLADE on my FINGER TIP!)
Serbian bullet holes, NATO bombs, and land mines still speckle homes, buildings, architectural façades, mountain tops, and dirt roads.
UN trucks, KFOR tanks, and American troops roam around with massive machine guns cocked and loaded, patrolling the streets. the locals love them because they offer protection (probably the only country that actually loves Americans outside of the US, hehe. They even named a massive street after Bill Clinton!), but for me, it was jarring to see so many tanks on such small streets. it reminded me of being in lebanon 3 years ago. i really felt the warzone effect …
i knew kosovo was going to mean something so special to me. arriving on the bus from skopje, i realized i was at the official half-way point of my trip. 5 cities eating my dust. 5 cities lay on the road ahead.
and everything that everybody told me about kosovo before i went there was wrong. it wasn’t dangerous in the slightest, i have never felt so safe. it was beautiful and illuminated and sumptuous. and everyone was so incredibly nice and delightful to me. shop owners and hotel clerks and burek-restaurant-owners and bank tellers and bartenders…all so pleasant and accomodating.
i have a few serbian friends who warned me against going, saying that albanians are harsh and cruel and criminals and full of hatred and blah blah fucking blah. all lies.
when i told gizmo (yes, THAT gizmo from my trip to vienna in 2005, you can read about our encounter here. we actually talk quite regularly these days) that i was going to his home country, he told me to contact his cousin Toni who lives there. he said Toni would show me around and take care of me. my first instinct was, ‘no. first of all, this toni guy could be some sicko with a third eye who keeps canadian gals chained up in his basement. plus, i don’t wanna contact some complete stranger and insist he show me around. also….i dunno, that’s just not my style!’
but i had made friends in every single city i’d been to so far because i was staying in hostels. but kosovo has no hostels, only hotels, so i knew i’d meet no one. i might get lonely or bored or sick (as my hospital trip proved) and might need a friend. so a few days before i arrived in pristina (the capital of kosovo), i gave in and emailed toni. gizmo had already told toni i’d be arriving, so he knew who i was when i emailed him. i simply asked for advice on nice places to check out. but toni insisted we meet up when i arrived. okay, no problem. sounds like fun.
turns out, toni (short for Driton…isn’t that a cool name?!) is a television presenter on a nationwide tv station. in kosovo, he’s actually quite famous (as i would witness later on when we would just be out at pizza joints or at cafés and people would approach him, starstruck and googley-eyed).
so i met up with him outside his studio.
i just didn’t know whether to sleep with him or stuff him into a bong and smoke him.
i’m pretty sure you can guess what i did with our time together, as the photos below will attest to.
and Driton was the sweetest, most caring guy i’ve come across in a long time (don’t let his adorable uni-brow fool you). not only did he pay for EVERYTHING (by western standards, everything in kosovo is dirt cheap but these people don’t make a third of what londoners make. my hospital bill came up to €40. i didn’t bat an eye, but Toni nearly shat a brick at the price. didn’t matter, because the hospital administrator recognized him from TV and voided the bill) but he took me to small towns like Kaçaniku and Prizren (his home town, kinda sounds like ‘prison’ doesn’t it?), places i never would have been able to visit without him (almost no one speaks english in kosovo).
he took me on film shoots with the network, introduced me to directors and presenters and massive albanian rockstars (i had no clue who any of them were, but still, it was pretty cool)…but i really started to worry about keeping my emotions in check when he took me to Prizren and introduced me to his entire family. i met his lovely mum, his giddy dad, his pleasant brother and sweet sister-in-law. they were all so great to me and broke bread with me over local prizren cheeses, cucumbers, and tomato slices. we slept at his family home that night. i dreamt of mountains with houses chipped into the plateaus, turkish bath houses with water trickling in between my toes, and Toni running his fingers over the scar on my right shoulder, asking me “oo, how did you get this?”
most guys don’t do that after 4 days. most guys don’t rush you to the hospital when you, embarrassed and mortified beyond belief, admit that you have a painful bladder infection and need drugs just so you can pee again.
most guys will just sulk and roll their eyes in the corner while you fumble in english for doctors and surgeons to understand you. most guys get pissed off that they have to wait for you in such a god forsaken place when they could be out clubbing it with the gliterrati. most guys get uncomfortable and never call you again.
most guys don’t stare into your eyes like there’s a secret being kept behind the iris and they’re dying for the reveal. most guys don’t brush away the tears from your eyes. most guys don’t give you a diamond-stud-earring after 4 days.
what was most surprising was that, by all intents and purposes, Toni doesn’t fit into what i would usually call ‘my type.’ i tend to go for blonde-hair-blue-eyed boys. the aformentioned unibrow wasn’t scoring him any points. he’s also a chain smoker. and, as much as i hate to admit this, as an atheist, engaging in an affair with a muslim is the last thing i thought i would ever do. finally (this kinda freaks me out to admit this but i realized it too late . . . ew ew ew!), toni bears a striking resemblance to my father when he was toni’s age … ICK ICK ICK!
but none of that mattered. it didn’t even factor in.
i stayed 2 days longer than i had scheduled for kosovo to be with toni. when i officially had to leave for montenegro, i realized that we would probably never see each other again. he lives and works in pristina, i live and work in london. i don’t have the time or funds to return. he doesn’t have the time or funds to visit me.
as i welled up in front of the bus station, he said that he knew we would see each other again, that he could feel it. that it had been a long time since he’d had an experience like this, and it was on another level. running his fingers through my hair, he told me how beautiful i was.
i’ve heard words like this before. too many times before. so i won’t expect anything.
but here’s something interesting that i have been made fully aware of – every single time i go on long backpacking trips, i have an affair.
every. single. time.
i don’t know what it is, do i give off different vibes and hormones when i’ve got a 15kg bag strapped to my back? who knows. but i think i’ve come to the conclusion that i don’t go travelling to see the world. i go travelling because of the passion it always bestows upon my life.
i can’t wait to tell gizmo all about this … i sure am working my way through that family, aren’t i!! just call me the local bike.