On the first morning of my latest vacation to Albania, as I felt the Ionian Sea hugging my body, I looked up to see swallows above my head. Something about their flight captured me, almost hypnotized me, but I still didn’t understand what. It seemed as if they were flying to the melody of a traditional Albanian song, but I didn’t not know which one. I gave up trying to figure out what mesmerized me about them and simply enjoyed their dance. Only 10 days later, at the end of the trip, I would find out why I feel so connected to swallows.
On the fifth day of our trip, we went to Lumra. A remote beach in southern Albania, Lumra offers the best for those who love nature. During the day, you can swim in the freshness of the Ionian Sea, while admiring the mountains that rise above. In the evening, you can enjoy a mesmerizing sunset, one that makes the sky seem like it’s on fire and gives you the feeling that you are on a different planet, a magical planet. At the end of the day, when the moon starts to rise above the sea, you can pitch your tent under century-old olive trees and talk to the owner of the land.
His name was Gjergj. Gjergj is one of those people who cannot live without the sea. There, he finds the spiritual serenity that is so necessary for the human soul. As he told us about the development of tourism in Albania, and how his life is tied to it, Gjergj said something that I have been seeking for a long time, “Migration is Albanians’ disease.” Gjergj lived in Athens for half of his life, but his heart always remained in Lumra. He could easily understand everything I shared because, like him, I have also spent half of my life away from Kosovo. As he described the identity crisis that is often caused by migration, I saw swallows in the background, and realized that they were with us on this part of the journey as well.
I saw swallows again, two days later, although we were now in Vërmosh, the northernmost village in Albania. There I meet locals, most of whom are over 60 years old. At first, I thought that their age was a coincidence, but I later realized that most of the youth have migrated. We met Ceka, a 70-year-old woman, who told us about her family. She shared that it has been three years since she saw three of her children who live in the USA. She explained how eager she was to talk with the youth, and continued to tell us details about her life in Vërmosh.
When we parted, I thought that the only sad thing about this place is that which is no longer there — the youth. I thought about Ceka’s face again as my partner and I sat to enjoy our last meal in Shiroka, with a table just a few meters from the shores of Lake Shkodra. Even though it was my first time there, everything felt familiar. I told my partner about this feeling, insisting on finding out why I feel so comfortable in every beach, mountain, village, and city in Albania. As we discussed, swallows flew over our table and they brought the answer I was seeking.
At that moment, the kindness that every person showed towards us on this trip ran like a current through my body. Yet with this kindness, I also felt their pain. In every little corner of Albania and Kosovo that I have visited, I hear migration stories filled with longing and tears. Each story unearths a new aspect of the Albanian identity and my hybrid identity. I was, and will always be, a migrant. In Albania, then, there are two things that never change from the South to the North; swallows and the pain of migration. The South offers the sea, and the North offers mountains, but they are connected through migration stories and migrants who long for these lands. Maybe the swallow, then, is our true national bird.
Feature image: Arrita Katona /K2.0.