Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Right Now in Tirana: Walking in the Rain, Far from Home

I’m in the common room of the hostel, a tourist in my old town, a visitor come to look upon a home that doesn’t exist here anymore. I’m surrounded by off season, odd locale backpackers, a haphazard collection of drifters and penny pinchers and adventurers looking for something off the track of Paris or Venice or Budapest, and so we all find ourselves in the Balkans. The resident cat is pressed, a purring nest of fur and warm, against the side of my leg while I type. It’s been raining for days; it’s that Tirana winter again, a thing that is not so much a festive snowy frosty experience but a damp and dreary situation that isn’t that cold except for the wet, that constant wet.

Since it's not so cold the doors are open to the garden where the mandarins are heavy on the trees, soaked in rain, and I can see the hostel workers huddled in solidarity around a joint, under the eave, watching the same rain slide endlessly over and over the leaves and the mandarins and pound onto the ground. All around me conversations start and stop about this bus or that train or that last trip or the next, do you know how long it takes to get to _________, what currency do they use in _________, do you want to split a load of laundry so we can all enjoy clean socks and underwear for the first time in too long of a time? Syria and refugees and various political and military maneuvers weave in and out of plan making, and the requisite hostel weirdo chimes in with socially inappropriate comments that border on the uncomfortable and often trample right into what the fuck did he just say territories.

Somehow it’s been two and a half weeks since I came to this hostel, with an idea in my head of what I wanted to do with Tirana because I had forgotten that Tirana decides what she does with you, always remember that, and I hadn't. I’ve taken to sleeping in until about 10:00 a.m., crawling out of my warm (comfortable! Strangely so comfortable!) bed in pajamas and knee socks before tramping down the stairs to be fed my breakfast at the kitchen table. I feel like a child, coddled by the adults who cook for me and wash my towels and inquire as to my sleep and ask after my plans and greet me at the door after the day's wanderings like a student come home from school to an expectant mother. Between the rain and the cold and the unexpected turns Tirana has taken, I welcome this situation. I give into long lazy afternoons and unintended surprise naps that sneak up on me when I’m “just going to rest for a second”. I sprawl on bathtubs turned into lounge chairs in the garden and look up through the waxy green of the broad leaves and count the mandarins, listening to birds and feeling the wind on my face, curled up in borrowed blankets and recently purchased thrift store sweaters. I take showers at four p.m., because it seems the best time to get around to it. I’m writing again, something that stopped unexpectedly as it always does and just as regularly slipped back in like an outside cat after a ramble. I climb the precarious ladder up to the roof that is all blues and whites and tile and crisp air, and I look out over the roofs and imagine the people in those houses. The call to prayer winds its way through the eaves up to me sometimes. I always find my old neighborhood and rest my eyes on it for a second. 

People I have met from other countries have trickled in and out of this place, surprise reunions that have been more satisfying than some of the planned reunions I had here in Tirana. I spend time in conversation with them about their journeys but even more than that I spend hours each day, rain or shine, walking. I leave the hostel in the late morning, stepping every time into a swarm of old men and stern faced bartering, the daily pop up market of second hand treasures. The men stand expectantly over their wares, laid out so carefully on dirty white sheets- here, a splay of watches with various ailments, sparkling in the sun if there is any, there a neat long line of battered shoes, worn soft and wrinkled across the toes, the tops flopped over and submissive to the hands that slide over them and make their judgments. The jackets and sweaters hang on swayed ropes pinned to walls; a heaped bin of cell phones overflows beneath them and beyond that old paintings and copper pots and the kind of trinkets one might find in a grandmother's house. I walk through this new to me part of town, through the road called "bicycle street" because it is filled with repair shops and bike stores and more old men on their knees with tools and inner tubes and chains and grease, laughing and doing dirty work for not very much money. I cross the park into more familiar places, to the majority of town that I have tramped across, back down my old streets.

And once I'm in my old places, I somehow feel less sure of where I'm going- I slow down, I certainly wander, I get lost in thought and then I'm just lost, down a random street, getting my bearings. I sometimes stop dead in my tracks, accosted by so many ghosts of memories that I feel I can’t walk through them, so I just stand and let them batter me with an amorphous insistence; they reach in soft fingers and touch even softer parts and I close my eyes and ask for them to please stop. They don’t and then they do, and they slide away and off me and I can walk again. I seek out my old street dog and he is still there and he remembers me but I catch my heart in my throat at how terrible he looks and I think he will probably die soon but maybe I’m just being sentimental. I pet his matted fur and ignore the bones that jut like braille that begs over and over “please take me home please take me home please take me home.” I stand up to walk away and he comes after me a bit, halfheartedly. 

I’ve walked and walked and walked all over this place, retracing my steps and remembering my missteps and I have more than once found myself unable to turn down a street or go back to a place quite yet, but over the past weeks I’ve managed to cover them all. I remember and am grateful that more than anything else Tirana is where I started to learn how to do what I’m doing now- how to live and work overseas and to throw myself into new places and learn new names and routines and find a home and then pick up and leave it again because I want to see as much as I can.

I have about 6-ish uncertain weeks to go before this visa on my new job comes through, and with seven weeks and where I currently am in the Balkans I should theoretically be able to see places I’ve never been and explore into Bulgaria and Romania, see more of Serbia, volunteer, explore. But right now, all I want is to stay in this safe warm place with cold wooden floors and an endless parade of strangers and familiars and stories coming in and out, with conversations in the garden and mornings on the roof and coffee in the park, late night Skype dates and early morning English lessons and books in an afternoon bed.  

Dear reader, I have been officially and wholeheartedly taking a rest. This traveler has earned the adjective weary, not forever but finally for right now. On the horizon is Sweden and a new job and another chance to take up the challenge of starting over and building from scratch, but right now in Tirana I am just waiting for the motivation to move to come upon me. It always does. 

I was walking far from home
Where the names were not burned along the wall
Saw a building, high as heaven
But the door was so small, door was so small

I saw sickness bloom in fruit trees
I saw blood and a bit of it was mine

I was walking far from home
And I found your face mingled in the crowd

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