Three Odd Interactions With The Men of Gjirokastra

1. Stone/dirt path scramble, muddy Converse and I’m chasing rubble: mad crumbled buildings in this town, falling like trash down the mountainside, and the urban explorer/trespasser in me can’t get enough.

Guy sitting on his stoop—track suit and cheap sunglasses, smoking what smells like weed. Give him a nod, which I can’t tell if he returns.

He watches me as I tromp past, up the hill and he whistles—makes a time-out signal with his hands, which I take to mean, “Don’t go traipsing on my fucking property, girl.” But he does it with a smile, so I smile back, and when I walk past again he says, “You speak Deutsch, American?”

“American.”

He nods. “Nice castle,” and juts his chin towards the stone mass in the distance.

“Very nice,” I reply.

He gestures whatever he’s smoking towards me. I shake my head no. “Have a good day.”

“Goodbye.”

2. Cobbled road in the old town, forty-five degree angle and I’m taking it slow. Pass an old dude I saw down in the new town—has one of the most intense shoe-polish toupees I’ve ever seen, hanging over his forehead like a black awning. I recognize him and he recognizes me—our eyes meet and I smile, nod.

He smiles and asks me something in Albanian.

I shake my head.

He sighs. “Deutsch, Italiana…”

“Ah, ah,” I answer, understanding. “American.”

“Detroit?”

“San Francisco.”

He nods and throws a barrage of Albanian at me. I shake my head again.

He points to his ring finger, then me.

I laugh, wave my hands no.

A woman appears at the window of the meat market we’re standing in front of, her face obscured by the glare on the glass. Our eyes meet and I smile.

3. “Can I sit down?”

I’m scrounging the last sunlight of the day, before it slips behind that mountain and casts everything in a funny pink glow. I look up from my book and nod.

His name is George, he served me my espresso in the sinking light—he asks me where I’m from and if I have friends in Gjirokastra.

“No. But I’ve only been here one day.”

He asks me if I have a mother and father back in the States, brothers and sisters—he asks me if I have a job, and I say no, and he asks why, and I say I quit. I tell him I’m a writer. I don’t think he understands.

“Why you are alone?”

I give him the usual answer: that my friends either don’t have time or don’t have money, so I travel alone. I give this answer regardless of language barriers, because the real answer is harder to explain. Most of time, I don’t think I know the real answer.

We try to chat, but it’s awkward and fails, and then the light is gone. So I smile and nod at my empty espresso cup and ask how much. He shakes his head. “Nothing. Now,” big broken smile, “you have a friend in Gjirokastra,” and points his thumb to his chest.

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6 Responses to “Three Odd Interactions With The Men of Gjirokastra”


  1. 1 mickey November 4, 2011 at 9:21 am

    great description of character and interaction

  2. 2 Jess November 4, 2011 at 10:06 am

    I can just imagine the last interaction. I love that fierce thumb-to-chest sweetness. And I wonder about my answer to the why-do-you-travel-alone question too. I guess we’re living the question.

  3. 3 Christina November 7, 2011 at 2:30 am

    Love this. Really makes me miss being abroad.

  4. 4 Julie December 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

    That’s so sweet. Albanians seem like such nice people.

  5. 5 Albania Property Group June 1, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    That’s the first impression fro foreigners – Albanians are very friendly. It does not matter where you come from, what color you are.
    Visit Albania, there is a lot to see and discover here. Berat, Gjirokaster, Vlora, Himara, Shkodra, Durres, Korca, Pgradec, Permet and many more I can count here. Mountains, rivers, valleys, lakes, sea, old castles, old churches and monasteries.

  6. 6 ryan June 9, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    This post makes me seriously miss Albania. It is truly one of the richest places I have traveled. My husband (who has family in Shkodra) and I traveled the country with our 6 month old (also to Kosova) and the hospitality we received was second-to-none. Lots of hands willing to snuggle our little one.


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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