Albania has made me afraid of the dark.
It probably wasn’t that hard since I have always been one of those kids who long-jumps from the light-switch by the door to the bed at night in order to avoid the monsters that mysteriously appear at nightfall. But still. It’s worth noting for those of you who are considering moving to Albania in the near future. Kujdes. There’s something about this place that makes nighttime a forbidden hour in more ways than one.
I think it first occurred to me when I was traveling in Bulgaria and Macedonia awhile back and we were driving down the road as the sun was setting. Every fiber of my being was telling me to go home. The voice in my head was saying, you shouldn’t be out here. It was such a strange feeling that I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Danielle, it’s 6pm and in the US you’d just be getting home from work; relax. And then I realized that it’s something I’ve done almost since I moved to Shkoder- when the sun goes down, I go home. Now why is that?
This is one of those realizations about Albania that has come to me over time. It’s not an blatant difference and it’s not abrasive enough to bother me or get in the way of my day to day life in an obvious way. But slowly over time I’ve come to realize just how much sunlight determines life in Albania. Men, women, young, old, city-dwellers and villagers alike.
For example, I have this theory that the furgon drivers of Albania turn into pumpkins at dusk like in Cinderella. It’s the only logical explanation I can come up with. You see, the only possible time to travel around here is from sun up to sun down. Why? Why?! Maybe I want to have a drink with a friend out of town and then head home. Nope, not possible. You have to spend the night and try again tomorrow morning. Not entirely sure but it’s the truth. You see, in the summer you can catch a ride home all the way until like 7pm, but in the winter good luck finding something after 3pm. It’s not an official schedule (wouldn’t that be a novel idea?!), but more like a general rule. Traveling here is all a game of chance. And it’s not like anything has changed from July to November besides the temperature, so why the different seasonal schedules?
I think it probably has something to do with the lack of street lights in Albania. When I first left Albania after almost a year here I couldn’t figure out what was so different about foreign cities. I just couldn’t put my finger on it, but something was remarkably more pleasant, lively and safe about being abroad. And then I realized what it was- street lights. It’s amazing how one little thing can completely change the dynamic of a city. (Hence the severe lack of nightlife in most places in Albania, besides the capital where late night public transportation breathes life into the citizens.)
This Cinderella rule also applies particularly to women. In Albania, it’s very rare to find women out on the streets after sunset. There are of course exceptions, like the capital city, summer time, liberal families, etc. But in general, we pretty much go home as soon as the sun goes down. Even though I’ve walked the streets at night many times (no, not like thaaaat, you know what I mean) and had nothing bad happen to me. Albania is not a dangerous place unless you put yourself in a dangerous situation. I’d say the same for most countries and cities out there. I’m a firm believe that in general bad things happen to bad people. So why is everyone in Albania afraid of the dark?!
And the end result of all this- after 2 years of living in Albania this subliminal messaging of “dark=home” and “night=scary” has finally sunk in. 8-year-old Danielle is back and I’m afraid of the dark. Cultural assimilation at it’s finest. If anyone invites me out for a coffee or dinner after dark and I’m not already out, the odds are I’ll make a weird excuse not to go. For absolutely no reason! But somewhere in the pit of my stomach, I’m afraid to walk down my street and I have no desire to leave my house when it’s dark outside.
Maybe I’ve imagine the whole thing, but maybe not. Either way, just one more way in which living in Albania has completely altered my perception of reality and made me appreciate the little things in life. Like street lights.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”