We thought we had seen enough of water coming down from the Albanian sky, of television images of poor houses that seemed to be built in the middle of a river course, of streets with manholes spewing brown water, when last Thursday, 7 January we traveled to Scutari for reach the border with Montenegro.
We returned home concluding our Albanian stay, made warm, as always, by the hospitality and the sense of hospitality of the Albanian friends, but really inclement from the meteorological point of view, punctuated day by day by the rain and by the northern flood emergency of the country, between Lezhe, where we lived, in Scutari where we often went for work.
There was just time to give vent to the desire to greet the 2010 with a triumph of barrels and fireworks on New Year's Eve. All in the street in the main square of Lezhe or facing the balconies, to throw the barrels towards the capricious sky or simply to enjoy the show with the nose up until the morning.
But then, the next day, to calm the hot spirits and to cancel the light-heartedness of the party, he had provided the water again.
The 2 January we were in Scutari, in front of the grilled bread accompanied by the typical cheese of the mountains and a good glass of Kallmet, a very tasty wine from the north. Next to us the wood-oven fire crackled.
From the window a stream of water cascaded down from the eaves. Bora, our friend, told us to play down: "rain is a normal condition in Scutari". A popular saying in fact reads "it is impossible to see a resident of Scutari dry and one of Lezhe combed" because of, of course, rain in the first case and wind in the second.
But too much water was coming down too much. During the whole week, immediately after the New Year, the newscasts showed images of Sali Berisha, and her ministers who went to flooded areas, or at risk of flooding, and commented on the situation with a tense face but nevertheless reassuring the population. Meanwhile the first villages were evacuated.
It was bad weather emergency. There was insistent talk of decreasing the water pressure in the dams, with controlled openings, to let the water flow downstream into the Drin.
Many people lingered on the bridges to look at the normally harmless river to which the rains gave the dignity of an impetuous course. The Drin looked really angry.
Dark and agitated by waves that looked like stormy seas. The director of the school in Bregdet, a village near Lezhe, our friend for many years, telephoned us informing us that the water had invaded Talle, a town near the sea, almost erasing it and pushing itself to the bunkers, a bastion of the past regime , which almost border the building.
But it had stopped there, thankfully. He advised us to take another road if we ever wanted to reach it because the usual one was impractical. The missionary sisters of Pllane, still in that area, but at the foot of the mountains, reassured us instead that everything was fine. So much rain but no disasters. Finally the 7 morning around the 13, on the way back, headed back to Scutari, just before the junction for Vilipoje, the gravity of the situation showed itself in all its evidence. A policeman stopped us and punctuated in Albanian "a lot of water a lot of water".
After a few meters another block was waiting for us and another policeman. He informed us in English that with our car we could try to pass. But "be careful", he recommended. So here we are at the point where the river had come out of the banks. The road was gone, it was invaded by about 60 centimeters of water in shades of gray and brown with low waves breaking on the few vehicles (all trucks or off-road) that they were allowed to cross.
Blocking that passage that leads to Scutari and the border with Montenegro, moreover, would be meaning, to isolate the north of the country. Later on there were military trucks and dozens of people who followed the viewer with their eyes. The trucks passed slowly. A Mercedes was still, submerged up to the windows, in the middle of the water.
We decided to cross. Of those few minutes that seemed surreal and eternal to us, the photos and the memory remain. Photos printed in the camera and in the eyes, some of which accompany this article. And the images and photographs of humble houses with water up to the front door still remain in our eyes and hearts.
Of machines that seemed to float. Of canceled football fields, turned into swimming pools where only the upper end of the door betrayed the existence of a normal soccer field. Of people shoveling mud. Of kids moving around their modest home with improvised boats. Of a monument that seemed to stand on a pond, where instead a garden stood. Difficulties of everyday life.
Of pain. But above all of so much Albanian dignity. Northern Albania, a rough and hospitable land, never lacking in strong colors and intense sensations, has left us a bitter memory this time.
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