„YMCA Europe is a working fellowship to strengthen movements where people grow in body, mind and spirit.“

THIS IS YMCA - THIS IS US. EVA`S STORY

17th July 2017

Coexistence, Conversation, Cooperation: Promoting Inter-Faith Dialogue ...... we are landing in Tirana, Albania

The countryside is new to most of us. Long valley, framed with the range of mountains extends from Tirana to the place of our destination - city of Shkoder. Two way road is rather well kept and lined with fields, kiosks selling fresh meat hanging from the hooks, orchards full of trees with bright orange kaki-persimmons. Our guide stops and purchases some from the old man sitting on the dusty side of the road. Andrew from Scotland tries first and his face changes into the funny grimace: "Good," he mumbles. "Why then this face?" I ask. He is not able to answer, so I try instead. The fruit is not ripe yet and full of tanning agents, which results in the strong, bitter taste that twists the mouth. Once ripe it is supposed to be sweet, juicy, and tasty.

Shkodër was founded around the 4th century BC and of 2008 the current population is 228,000 including the surrounding region, villages and mountains. Our first impressions are mixed. Nice Hotel next to the broken monument, well stocked store and beside it brook with the banks strewn with garbage, smartly dressed people on the sidewalks full of gaping holes and protruding pipes. "Albania is the country of contrasts!" our guide said.

The YMCA Europe Seminar Catch the Vision - Promoting Interfaith Dialogue chose Shkoder destination, because of its long history of good relations among people of Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim faith. We visited Cathedral, Basilica and Mosque standing close to each other. Some of us remember visit in Prizren in 2005 where something like this is impossible yet the YMCA there is trying to built the bridges of reconciliation there and bring people together with the help of common programmes that benefit all. And this is very much the heart and thought behind the Catch the Vision Seminar. It was great to see so many young people involved. Sometimes the topics discussed were not easy to understand or grasp or even consider. The horror and isolation of Hoxha's communist regime, the pain and hopelessness of blood feud still raging in some areas close by, the dirt, ignorance and ultimate poverty during our visit in Roma camp. But there were many bright moments, such as stay in Roma school largely supported and helped by the local YMCA group, the tour of the castle of Rozafa that offered magnificent views of the city, lake Shkoder and vast, wild countryside so unfamiliar in today's tamed Europe, great food and coffee, warm hospitality, energetic discos and newly established friendships.

I am back in my room to pack. The Hotel is nice, the room comfortable and nicely furnished. From my window I see a little boy pushing man in his forties, who is crawling with the help of his hands. He has no legs. The Hotel guard urges them past the Hotel entrance and parked line of Mercedes cars. Albania - the country of contrasts. I put my kaki-persimmon in the suitcase. It is still bitter, dusty, rugged and yet brightly colourful. By the time I reach Prague it is full of interesting and never before experienced flavour. Like my visit to Albania.


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Author/Source: Eva Tschornova