ALBANIA ON MY MIND
by Adam Yamey
is available as a paperback (click HERE )
We arrived at the Yugoslav frontier post on the eastern shore of the lake. Acres of reeds hid its distant watery horizon from our view. Our bus drew up next to the few buildings that housed the Yugoslav customs and immigration offices. We disembarked from our coach and collected all of our baggage, which in my case was only a rucksack. I don’t remember there having been any dealings with the Yugoslav officials before we were instructed to walk with our belongings along the road leading towards Albania. It was devoid of traffic: there were no other vehicles or people in sight. Apart from us and a few birds high above us, no one was entering or leaving Albania.
About 100 yards south of where our coach had disgorged us, we encountered an Albanian soldier. He was standing statue-like in the middle of the road. He was a remarkable, proud-looking man, whose uniform did little to disguise his muscular physique. His hands clasped a rifle held diagonally across his chest. This monument-like character appeared not to notice us, or, at least, he showed no sign that he did. Julian, our Regents Holidays tour guide, stood near him and collected our passports as we filed passed him. As we surrendered our documents, he explained to each of us that we were being admitted into Albania on a ‘group visa’. The implications of this were to become evident later on when we were well ensconced in our tour of Enver Hoxha’s Balkan paradise.
We were ushered politely into the Albanian customs house. There was a slogan in English on the wall immediately opposite the entrance, which proclaimed: “Even if we have to go without bread, we Albanians do not violate principles. We will not betray Marxism – Leninism.” It was written in capitals using faded red letters that looked like those used to advertise films on the canopies above the entrances to cinemas. All of the letters were firmly attached to the wall except one. This was detachable as it had been glued onto a removable hatch cover, which must have provided access to services – plumbing or wiring – hidden within the wall. The room was filled with comfortable armchairs, each one provided with a white lacy anti-macassar. We sat in these, and then filled in the detailed custom declaration form that needed to know whether we would be importing, amongst a variety of other items, any ‘magnétophones’ or ‘frigidaires’. As I filled in my form, I wondered who, apart from diplomats, visited the country laden with goods such as these. Two by two, we were summoned up to be interviewed by the customs officers standing behind tables.
In each of the bedrooms of the Hotel Podgorica at Titograd, there were some illustrated leaflets, which were designed to encourage tourism in Montenegro. I ignored these because I had visited Montenegro before. Also, apart from being of little interest they were poorly illustrated. However, many in our group had taken them as souvenirs. It was these that customs officers were seeking. The reason for their quest was that there was a very grainy, small colour photograph of bathers on a nudist beach in one of them. If this picture was examined carefully, and one knew in advance that its subject was a nudist beach, it would have been almost possible to believe that the people in the picture were devoid of clothing. It was this poorly reproduced image that the Albanian officials were seeking in their attempt to prevent pornographic material from entering the Motherland. Whenever they found one, they confiscated it, but not before labelling it with its owner’s name.