If you don’t feel safe…

by tkos on August 16, 2012

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“There’s not really much about” I mention to Kimmi, as we cycle just a few meters apart through the barren roads of northern Albania. Small towns separated by 40km to 50km of highway make this leg of the journey pretty straightforward and uneventful. The weekend means that cars are few and far between and for us that’s just perfect. A nice wide service lane for us to cycle on makes us feel pretty safe. The only threat is the torturing 38 degree sun and serious lack of shade, but that’s just a nice excuse to take more breaks.

The afternoon serenity is disturbed by the sound of some traditional Albanian folk music, being belted out by a randomly positioned restaurant on the other side of the deserted road.   Cultural curiosity has our eyes off the road and straight at the 80 or so people dancing, singing and eating at what looks like a local wedding. Quite a few of the guests wave as our bikes, bags and ourselves have clearly stolen focus from the bride and groom. One particular guy even gestured an invite. Kimmi and I exchange a glance and a smile. We politely wave across the road and continue along our way. We exchange glances again, both of us thinking the exact same thing…. Should we crash the wedding? No brainer.

We approach the restaurant to the excitement of the guests. Everybody is staring at us and our bikes, whispering to each other, pointing, smiling and waving. We had inadvertently stolen the show. Before anything was spoken, before we could get off our bikes, before we got close to the outdoor setting, a man had two beers in his hand, a smile on his face, and in perfect American English said- “You look thirsty!”.   Awesome.

He begins to tell us that we have stumbled onto a traditional Albanian wedding, while the younger guests surround us and our bikes, curiosity overwhelms them as they stare incessantly. Offers of food and second beers are in front of us before we are even half way through the first. Kimmi and I beam with joy. We politely ask to greet the bride and groom, to pay our respect and to ensure they feel like they are still the main event.

Laughing, grinning and joy surrounds as the dance floor comes alive by interlocked chains of men and women dancing separately. Kimmi looks at me. I know what is going to happen. She is going to make me make a complete ass of myself and a mockery of the beautiful traditional folk dancing displayed before us.

And within minutes, the beer is swiped from my hand, and I am lunged into the middle of the dance floor with a young Albanian lady, with more makeup than Krusty the Clown. A circle is quickly formed around us by another 20 to 30 mothers, aunties, nieces and grandmothers, all of them clapping along, eagerly awaiting for me to bust out some serious moves on the dance floor. My partner is grinning incessantly as I peer over her shoulder to spot Kimmi with the video camera. Typical.

I’m standing dead straight with arms by my side and absolutely no clue what to do, feeling ridiculously awkward. This girl is strutting her stuff particularly close to me. Almost a little too close. Oh my God, is she trying to grind up on me in front of her family?! I’m still standing still, I have to do something…. I slowly move my feet slowly from side to side and strut the moves of a turtle. This is incredibly cringing for everybody now. I need to exit.

Kimmi has her turn and looks like a pro. She just grooves into the traditional moves as if she was raised here. I hang my red head in embarrassment. Time to go.

Kimmi get’s her groove on and moves like a natural!

We start to get our bikes ready to go, put our cameras away and refuse further beers to take away. It’s been a great experience. So friendly and welcoming for absolutely no return. “Is everybody like this in Albania and Kosovo?” I ask the 19 year old American raised Albanian, who has flown over for the wedding. “Yes! Yes! You will have no problems here! Everybody is friendly to tourists like this!”

“But if you’re still not sure and you still don’t feel safe, I have five AK-47′s at my house. I will gladly give you one!”

Wow.

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