I often welcome foreign visitors to Tirana, friends whom I’ve met through my travels, work, school or by chance. But I could call the visit of Nadia quite unique.
A while back ago when I was staying in Belgrade, in the middle of the euphoria that alcohol coupled with a sense of pride gives you, I invited Nadia, a friend from Belgrade, for a visit to my home country with complete certainty: “Come to Albania. You will have an amazing time, and you will understand how wrong you Serbs are about Albania.”
Times passed, and I remembered this declaration only when the Al Italia plane from Rome landed in the Mother Theresa Airport. I knew that she would compare everything to Serbia, so the goal of making sure that she has a good time was becoming harder. The first test passed with success since the Albanian airport was more luxurious than the old Belgrade airport.
But, I was concerned for no reason at all. It didn’t cross my mind that showing a good time to a friend from Belgrade would be rather easy. Well, I think it was also partly due to the fact that she had very low expectations about Albania. Everything she had heard and learned about the land of the eagle had been corrupted by a dose of negativity from an invisible hand.
Without any doubt, the Serbian propaganda, which controls communication and information, had made sure to portray to Nadia and other Serbs an image of Albania as a medieval country with a tribal culture. As she said it “…our clock stopped in the 12th century” - as a place that is dangerous, with ugly people, dark, uncivilized, who live in confined towers and other similar lies. But she found a different atmosphere in Albania; one that is simple and poor, but sincere and open to whoever shows it some attention.
When we first met in Belgrade two years ago, I asked her (a bit out of curiosity and a bit out of concern) about how I should feel as an Albanian in the Serbian capital. In a direct and protective manner, she advised me not to expose myself as an Albanian in public spaces in order to avoid potential incidents with extremists. That was enough for me to feel threatened everywhere I traveled to while in Serbia. Still, it didn’t stop me from meeting interesting people and visiting quite a few places.
As for the irony of fate, history repeats. Immediately after she arrived in Tirana, Nadia asked me how she should behave in Albania. With confidence, I said she is free to be herself and there was no need to feel threatened just because she is a Serbian citizen. I told her that we dislike Serbian politics, but that has nothing to do with the Serbian people themselves. In contrast, for us they are the same as Croatians, Macedonians, Bosnians or any other nation.She calmed down, though it was obvious she wasn’t entirely convinced. It is difficult for some perceptions that have been engraved in us for years to disappear that easily.
During her short stay in the capital and the southern seaside town Dhërmia, Nadia had the chance to experience a pleasant side of Albania; a reward for her courage to be a tourist in our country, different from the majority of her compatriots who deem such an adventure dangerous. It seemed that she liked everything: the atmosphere, the people, the colors of the buildings, the new roads that take you towards the south and further. She was impressed with the beauties of Jon, the wild nature, the virgin beaches and the Albanian welcoming. As a model tourist, she did not forget to load herself with souvenirs that must be rare in her country, such as the Skenderbeu cognac, grape rakia from my grandma, honey from Llogara, highlander fez, traditional decorations and even a medallion with the Albanian flag.
But she also noticed the paradoxes that we, Albanians, are unable to hide and take for granted and with a shrug. “...I’ll tell my mom that I won’t die because an Albanian will kill me, but because a car will run me over” she told me shaken after she fearfully passed the main street in the capital. I smiled a guilty smile and said she will get used to it soon. Whereas, in fact, traffic in Tirana is the best proof of what constitutes urban chaos. Garbage, which is constant and annoying in all main tourist places, did not escape her critical eye either. It is sad how much work is needed to keep an image clean, and how little to destroy it. And garbage is the biggest polluter that can smear the place, culture and tradition of a people.
Nonetheless, a tourist can easily organize his experiences in order to get the maximum out of the visit and enjoy their time to the fullest. So, Nadia left with a better impression of Albania, real ideas about how we live, and a promise to come back – though next time with her friends and much higher expectations…

You can read about Besnik’s visit to Belgrade in 2008 at:


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