In all 20 years of my life, I have never felt more invigorated by the smell and sight of cow and sheep poop everywhere.
I mean, if you had this view to contend with, wouldn’t you say the same?
To be fair, you don’t see much of the mountains anyway when you’re more focused on avoiding the plethora of little packages our ungulate friends have left as a gift to keep you on your toes. But when you do get the chance to sit on a (clean) patch of grass and look up for a bit, you find yourself lost in the beauty that southern Albania has to offer.
This weekend, our boss took us to the village that the NCA is developing for tourism, Nivicë. Theoretically, the drive only takes about 4 hours from the capital, Tirana, but it took us 8 hours instead, thanks to ridiculously bumpy dirt roads and our boss’s tendency to stop arbitrarily and take some pictures of plants or take a short hike off another road. And when we finally made it, we were greeted by heaps of construction and — guess what?? — animal dung.
I could list all the things I found wrong with the village, such as the dirt, flies, poop, and staring men, but it would be more realistic to say that in the end, none of those things mattered, because I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once (waddup John Green). The way the setting sun painted the mountains in deep orange light; the trickling water-like sound of cowbells tied around sheep necks as the herd slowly moved through green pastures; how my mind, accustomed to the urgency of a rushed American society, was content to sit and think about nothing in the dappled shade of rustling trees.
I’m back in Tirana now, in a busy little coffee shop surrounded by bustling people and loud cars, but my mind keeps wandering back to the peaceful quiet of that small village nestled in the mountains, the fresh dung-scented air of the hilltops, the warm hospitality of a people who don’t speak your language but still manage to make you feel more than welcome in their home. I can’t emphasize enough the kindness of the people, how even with the arrival of two American girls completely out of place, the neighbors always offered a friendly wave as they walked by; another household cooked a delicious lunch for us, and when we visited the home of a woman we’d never met, she greeted us as if we were family. My boss told me that when he’d asked a few families if they’d be willing to turn one or two rooms in their houses into a B&B, they had been surprised that they were expected to ask for money in return; it seemed that, for them, the offer of an open room and a meal to a visitor was a no-brainer, something they were more than happy to do as a gift, perhaps, instead of a service.
Nivicë still has a long way to go before it can sustain the tourist industry, as the restoration of old buildings is still in progress and their waste disposal is woeful. I went without a shower for three days, because running water isn’t a given in the village. However, these are obstacles that, with a little bit of thought and funding, anyone can overcome. Attitude is what makes or breaks a project such as this, and I’m happy to say that this tiny village in southern Albania has already passed the hardest test.