Man vs. Machine on the Albanian outskirts

Kasparov would have beaten Deep Blue, had the computer not been lucky with its random choice. Man vs. Machine. An easy call. Or so I thought before using Google Maps for this trip. In Germany it got me stuck in the woods with more than 20 kilometers of uneven cobble stone, and in Albania – even accompanied by a man from the European tech town, Dublin – Google did it again. It seems to know every little corner of the world, so when you want to avoid highways and choose the pedestrian function (no reliable bicycle choice in most countries), you may very well be in for a true adventure. And this is how me and my travel companion for a day, Adam, met Izmir and his family.

45 minutes and only four kilometers down this impossible path of hard dirt, puddles and flint, three boys busy with fixing an old yellow bus saw me in the distance. They stopped working and looked at me like I was half man, half cat (or actually probably some other Albanian fabulous animal). One of them said something to the other two, just before I stopped right in front of them to wait for Adam. Non of them answered my “How’s it going?” so I said the town name “Berat, Berat” and pointed straight. This made one of them hit his forehead with his palm. Not to the amusement of the others it seemed, but rather to let me know, I was making a huge mistake. Then Adam showed up, and one of the other boys pointed his arm in a 45 degree angle towards the sky.

Ah, just silly boys we must have thought, so we mumbled something like  “take care” and drove on. This – we found out later – made one of the boys call his brother, Izmir, the only guy with English skills around, it seemed. Izmir was waiting for us on a little hill top in front of a farm about one kilometer down the road. – Where are you going?, he said, though he of course already knew. My answer made him smile and politely say that we had chosen the the wrong track. The road got even worse, we still had 30 kilomters to go and we had to climb that mountain, he explained and pointed towards some mountain in the distance.

Idiots from abroad. But. On the positive side we were invited into Izmir’s farm, got to meet his family, see his newly build house and eat their watermelon and grapes.

Grandma sat like this all the time we were there. Here she’s holding the older brother’s five months old girl. It looks like they like to dress her in pink.

Izmir showed us around. The place is owned by the whole family and they have a few cows, chicken and an awful lot of turkeys. Their lives end in November when it’s time to go to Tirana and sell people what they need for a typical Albanian New Years feast.

The neighbor, which is where the oldest of the two cousins live, has a tractor, as Izmir pointed out. And the dried leaves are “not bad tobacco” but it’s some strong stuff, if you are to believe our host.

Izmir built his own house next to the big old one where we ate grapes and watermelon. It has four rooms, one of them with a big, decorated bed. I still wonder if that’s how they make their bed every morning? I forgot to ask.

Though Izmir is only 20 years, he has already been illegally in Greece to work for seven months. Installing solar panels on roof tops. A highly dangerous job, he said, but the company paid 35 euros for a day’s work and five euros an hour for overtime, so he earned good money compared to an Albanian salary. In Tirana the waiter in the bar, where I watched football, earned 120 euros (a waiter never earns more than 200 euros a month, a local told me) and my new Albanian friend Jentor with a university degree earns 350 euros after taxes working in an office for an Italian owned company.

Izmir asked us several times if we wanted to stay for the night but both Adam (the brave gent in blue fighting on his bicycle on the picture below) and I were keen on moving on, so we exchanged Facebook details with Izmir and went back to the main road and had physically gone nowhere after 45 kilometers. Game over, Google. Welcome, Facebook.