The Lightforce International base in Fushe-Lure in the picturesque Albanian Mountains

I had been working all summer, in Rreshen for Lightforce International (LFI), and had seen very little of Albania, apart from the occasional trip to the capital Tirana when it was decided that I would go to visit one of our other main centres halfway up the northern mountains in Fushe-Arrez (literally Field of Walnuts).  The other, Fushe Lure (see above), was a smaller operation located even further into the picturesque Albanian mountains.   It was also decided that I would go alone on the public bus, bearing in mind my increasing confidence in getting about and an improvement in my ability to speak Albanian, which although little more than rudimentary was at least functional.

Unfortunately the bus did not leave from the centre of Rreshen, as the main Tirana- Kukes road turns north just before reaching Rreshen. I was walked with my bag to the main road, where I could catch the bus. I had dressed down, in an attempt to blend in a little better (this never actually works, people can always tell that you are foreign, although it is still good practice as it reduces the amount of undue attention that you receive). I waited with a small group of people for quite a while looking down the valley for the bus.

The bus finally came up the valley, although describing it as a bus was a compliment. It was rickety and rusty and falling apart and, even worse, it was absolutely packed with people. It stopped but it was very clear that the driver had no intention of letting anyone get on; he had only stopped to drop people off. However I was very insistent about getting on and I climbed onto the step and could go no further. People already on the bus wrapped their arms around me and held me on as the door closed behind me. The bus set off the very second the door closed.

The interior of the bus was like a scene from some disaster. Parts of the bus were hanging off, seats were ripped and there was rust everywhere. The smell was musty and sweaty and had the distinct odour of a farmyard. The reason for this became obvious when my eyes adjusted to the poorer light – someone had brought some chickens on board! Elsewhere there was a stove and several sacks of potatoes.

Potholes everywhere

The road, which just got worse, the further we went was very bumpy, full of potholes (see picture on the left) and covered in large stones. These stones had been put in the potholes in order to repair the road, but every time it rained they simply washed out and made the road conditions even worse. Every time it hit a pothole or stone the entire bus shook and rattled. If it hadn’t been for the press of people holding me I would have been thrown about all over the place. To make matters even worse, I had no view, and no chance of anticipating any of the bumps and had nothing to hold on to so I could not even prepare or brace myself.

As we continued into the mountains it started getting darker and started to rain, making the bad conditions almost impossible. After some time the bus made a stop and some people got off. This made some room and I was finally able to get onto the bus properly. With no alternative I upended my holdall and sat on it in the central aisle. Another stop further on and I was finally able to get a seat, after clambering over the potatoes and sidestepping the chickens first. The man in the next seat was wearing a Russian hat and he was the spitting image of Boris Yeltsin.

The seat was comfortable but a little bouncy. Disconcertingly there were holes in the floor of the bus near my feet and I could see the road passing underneath. A cold drip startled me as it touched the back of my neck and I realised the roof was leaking and letting the weather in. Fortunately I was able to adjust my position and the rain bothered me no more and I could finally relax – at least a bit. ‘Boris’ and I soon struck up a conversation in Albanian and he proceeded to tell me about his family and where he lived.

The mountain roads became narrower and more dangerous as we neared Fushe-Arrez. At one point the bus turned, stopped and reversed and then shunted forward again before continuing. The bend had been so tight in the road that this was the only way around it. This also caused some alarm as it was high up in the mountains with a precipice on one side and a wall of rock on the other. One error and we would have crashed into the mountainside or fallen off the edge. At another point there was a hole blown in the road and I could see the bottom of the valley through the holes in the bus! The local roads ministry had blown up the road in an attempt to get funding to repair the road with.

And so we proceeded for three hours deeper and deeper into the Albanian mountains, with the road surface getting worse and worse. Eventually I arrived in Fushe-Arrez and it was a relief to finally get off the bus although it was now dark. There were plenty of people about, not only those who had got off the bus but also friends and family who had come out to meet them. It was my first time in Fushe-Arrez, I was alone and I had no idea where to go, but knew I had to find the ‘English Flat’.

‘Ku eshte shtepi Anglais?’ I asked in my basic Albanian, as I went from person to person, each replying with a blank stare.

I began to worry that I would never find anybody who knew what I was looking for when suddenly a voice said, ‘Une e di, une e di.’ Finally someone came out of the crowd and led me to a flat, which turned out to be Kevin’s. Kevin was English, but it was not his flat I was looking for. Fortunately Kevin knew where I needed to be and after a long time on the road it was wonderful to be in the company of people I knew.

Source: Horton, R. (2014) Omega Support Services

Download the print friendly version

Vocabulary

Before completing the exercises go through the article and check the meaning of any new vocabulary with a dictionary if necessary. Pay particular attention to the underlined items.

Comprehension

1. How long had the author been in Rreshen before he went to Fushe-Arrez?

2. What does Fushe Arrez mean?

3. Why was it decided the author could travel alone?

4. What does undue attention mean?

5. Where did the bus leave from?

6. Did the author go to the bus stop alone? How do you know?

7. Did the driver want to let the author on the bus?

8. What did the bus smell like?

9. In addition to people what else was on the bus?

10. What was the road like? Use your own words.

11. What nationality was ‘Boris’?

12. In the author’s opinion was the rain a constant problem?

13. Why did the bus have to stop and reverse at one point and what were the two dangers at the same moment?

14. Why had their been a hole blown in the road, and what was the logic behind it?

15. The reading doesn’t actually say, but logically when did the author arrive in Fushe-Arrez?

16. From context what do you think ‘ku eshte shtepi Anglais’ means?

17. Was the author immediately taken to his final destination?

Grammar / Difficult Language

Find four examples of passive forms (two with the same verb) in the text. Why was the passive used?

The vocabulary in the sentence . With no alternative I upended my holdall and sat on it in the central aisle has not been explained. What does it mean?

What do the phrasal verbs (in bold) mean?

Speaking *

1. Would you have liked to have been on this journey? Why / Why not?

2. What were the most dangerous parts of the journey?

3. What problems did the author face on his journey and how did he overcome them?

4. What is the most unusual journey you have ever been on? What made it unusual?

5. The author travelled alone on this journey. Is it better to travel alone or in company? Explain your answer.

6. What kind of person is a good travelling companion? Explain your answer.

7. What unusual place(s) would you like to travel to and why?

* You need to prepare these questions for conversation during your next online / face-to-face session with your tutor.

 Return to Resources Hub