31 October 2012

The Albanian Moped trip: not exactly what the Albanian media made of it.

Sunday morning. Off early to work, way too early for a Sunday and carrying a hangover. Coffee in one hand, local paper in the other. "How two young geniuses made a fortune" is the headline. I am enjoying the article, hangover seems to be lying somewhere else for a while, no room in my head while I am reading. It will appear in a rush soon. I am reading slowly to keep it away for a bit longer. The article tells about two Chinese chaps (students) who rented a house and started a small 'plantation' business. Made a fortune in a couple of years. Plenty of lines describing their bright business plan and how smoothly they operated. There is even praise from the writer, describing their work as, hence the headline 'the work of two geniuses'.   For a minute I am thinking great stuff, brilliant. Those two, real geniuses. Then I come to my senses, and the real substance of the article fills my head: They planted weed and they were caught. Jail beckons for them. How can that be geniuses?? They broke the law. Hangover has not gone at all, it is affecting my thinking, I conclude.

Now I'm at home, enjoying the evening in front of the TV, watching the BBC. Hangover dead and buried. To the astonishment of my, now hangover free mind, I can not help it but to think that those two chaps are a bit of 'gen' after all.

That article, rather the way it was presented to me, made me think positively. That is what positive journalism does to you sometimes. There is plenty of it around in the UK. UK, where the fashion is negative journalism, that is the trend. However, there is always room for positive journalism, still and often.

Fast forward a few years. I have a beer in my hand. Starting to pile them by now. Expecting hangover to pay me a visit tomorrow, Sunday of all days. But I am thinking positively, it is Sunday and it is a day off. Beers to keep coming then. The team in red scores. It is Albania, my country and I am watching on TV, at my home in Albania. We are playing Iran, not exactly a great team. As I am about to take another drop of the cold beer, my ears are hearing what the commentator is saying: "we score, it is one-nil to Albania. The Iran defender slipped there. Twenty minutes to go, can we hold on to the score". Now I am thinking, for God's sake man, can you not praise the great shot from our striker? Can you not let us enjoy the goal for a split second? And yes, 20 minutes to go, we can score one or two more, can't we?. We are playing Iran, not Brazil. I mean, how bloody negative can you be!! Just switch channel to RaiUno for a second and see Italy score. The Italian commentator is going crazy, absolutely shouting his head out: Gooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll. I'm thinking Roberto Baggio is back playing again and scored a beauty. But guess what, their striker scored from two yards out, with his arm and Italy is playing Andorra. The striker is Inzaghi. Still a goal though, scored by his beloved national team!

As I am digesting it all, I can not help it but to think that Albanians are generally negative by nature. Something to do with our history, our social up-bringing. This is reflected by Albanian journalists and Albanian media in general, who is way too negative to the country, too unfair. I mean, I was astonished at the recent coverage of a video from two Dutch tourists on Albanian media.

Two young guys took a road trip in Albania, mainly south. And they made a video and posted it on Youtube. From the wide coverage as seen on Albanian media, I gathered that the video was all about a discovery they made, the village of Lazarat, near Gjirokastra. We Albanians know all about that village. It has a long history and it is mostly known as a weed plant factory. Yes, weed is planted all over the village and Albanian authorities are trying to deal with it, for a long time now. Puzzling how a village planted with weed made a huge impression to two Dutch nationals, so huge that they posted a video just about it, nonetheless. I mean, Dutch and weed. There should not be any impressions there, a lot of chemistry yes, but not impressions. They have plenty of it in the Netherlands. It is like a tank of beer influencing an Englishmen to make a video about it, rather than setting about to drink half of it.

As it turns out, after watching the full video the village made only a slight impression to them. However, there were many absolutely amazing things they experienced, positive things about Albania that made more of an impression to them. I discovered that there is a whole lot more to the video they posted than the village of Lazarat. Mostly great stuff. Albanian media did what they do best; they painted a rather bleak and hugely negative picture of that video. Even though the subject of the video is their country and event though the video is rather refreshing, original and above all, very positive.

Daan Vonk and Theo Roelfols,  looking to take an interesting and beautiful trip, somewhere close and somewhere cheap, do a bit of research. Exploring Albania fits the profile of their trip, they conclude. Cheap, and in Europe, close. They fly into the country from Brussels. Once they land, they see that the weather is gorgeous. Hot and sunny. Off to the capital, Tirana. They settle down. Now they are looking to rent two mopeds, when they find out that they can not rent mopeds they buy two, ready to be driven away , for 60.000 ALL (around 430 Euro). To them, that is cheap and that is great. They manage to move around Tirana, on their own, exploring some nice places along the way. All done smoothly. To me, that is something positive, isn't it?

Off they march, heading south. As throughout the trip, they find out that almost every local they come across strives to help them out. That is what the people in the first garage they visit do, fix their moped right away. They stop at a youth centre to ask if people know a place where they can sleep. The answer they received, after being looked at intensively and interestingly at first, yes we know, you can sleep in our home. So they do. They were welcomed in the house of a local. Enjoying their time with the whole family. Having an insight of the real Albanian family. All happy and all together. As part of the tradition, they even received a little tour of the house. Above all they experience one of Albania's best virtues, hospitality. Amazing hospitality. To me that is something positive, isn't it?

On they go, riding their mopeds on some good roads, bumpy roads and some 'being built' roads. Staying at cheap hotels, modern hotels, with all necessities needed and with great service. They come across the Albanian coast for the fist time. And they drive a moped through it, 2 yards away from the sea. Hospitality is always present. They drive a brand new, very expensive Mercedez. Owned by someone they just met, by someone who does not speak English. They even have dinner together. Another local takes them hunting the next day, again a local they just met. Hunting, no course up front. No license needed. And all for free. Then there is the food. In the restaurants and in local's houses. They eat amazing food. Very cheap food in restaurants and free and traditional food in local's houses. Nice fish and meet, fresh vegetable and fruits. Tasteful stuff. To me that is something positive, isn't it?
Now they are in Vlora, enjoying the sun and enjoying the beach. Their pockets exhausted very little as they pay 20 Euro for a sea view room. Then they set exploring parts of the south coast. To their right is the sea, to their left greenery cleans the air. The real beauty now hits them. The coast unveils in front of them. Absolutely amazing beaches. Breathless views. You can not describe them, you have to see for yourself. As they get a bit closer to the sea, they can catch a glimpse of the diverse beaches and the crystal clear waters. They stop at a river, it is its starting point and they are amazed. Stunning. To me this is all, more than positive, isn’t it?

Off to Gjirokastra, a UNESCO protected city. They opt not to explore the city. Instead they have a hair cut, Albanian style. And plenty of beers. Nice local brands. All too cheap to their eyes. They have a preview of what a tropical rain is like. And a preview of the meaning of some Albanian hand signs. The next day, tropical style, the sun is shining again. As they keep travelling, they pass by small villages and some high mountains. The view always exquisite. And they feel the cool air. In 30 minutes they are now from a 34 degree environment to a 14 degree one. To me, that is something very positive, isn't it??

Now through the old city of Elbasan, they are back in Tirana. They enjoy their mopeds for the last time. After washing them, they sell the mopeds for 220 Euro. So after riding through a six day trip, seeing some wonderful places in the process, their loss is around 200 Euro. To them, well worth it. They had an amazing, original and priceless experience. They discovered a beautiful country and they lived many wonderful moment. Their journey was short and only covered a tiny part of Albania, but their journey was amazing. And the video they posted was absolutely positive. Indisputably positive.

Coming by me, an Albanian, always tempted to be influenced by negatives, the video and their trip paints a beautiful portrait of Albania, as it really is. If still in doubt, watch the video for yourself: EoT.

Written by Emin Shini

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