Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Young Turk from Albania

My job has made me travel a lot over the last 11 years, and I always keep getting questions on my travel experiences and the places I like and dislike. I always have the same answer - My worst travel experience was Albania and my best travel experience was Albania!!!

I stayed there for more than 6 months in 2002. The first 2 were the worst when I was ready to pack my bags and run away given an opportunity, with no life, no fun and no one  for company (almost). And then life took a turn for good, so much so that the last 4 months in the country are now right at the top... my best travel experience. Thanks by large to hundreds of friends I made in the country but primarily to the two who opened the gate of opportunities for me.

First, the indian born american citizen of pakistani descent, Irfan Fazli, a man few generations senior but so young at heart and with a large open heart. Irfan was a customer but not the one I was working with, and my meeting with him was accidental. But his warm and open nature soon made me a regular at his house... the only source of indian food for me in an alien land which was yet to open up to me. He was a perfect host and guide in a new country, but a vibrant young me wanted more colors, indulgence and young company and that made him introduce me to a colleague of his, Adnan Ozturk, the only Turk I've ever known up close... and the second friend and guide who changed my experience and view of albania and albanian people. I happened to meet Adnan exactly 2 months after I moved to Albania, and after that life was so much fun that when I had to finally come back I just didn't want to.

Adnan was a person difficult to understand at first, but once he opened up to you, then he was the best of friends. He introduced me to all his friends, the happening pubs, and above all Tirana Hash House Harriers, my first encounter with Hash. My 4 months with him still leave fond and warm memories in my heart... crashing at his house and eat the boiled aubergines and bland food that he and his room-mate cooked (I never liked it though), meeting him almost every day in the evening for a quick drink, landing at all the parties together, talking about the loads of crazily beautiful albanian girls... and above all the look on his face when his girl friend used to hit on me (to tease him of course). He was a man of few expressions but this used to make his face vivid.

I can write and write a lot about Albania and my experiences there, but the reason I am writing this after more than 7 years is not to share my Albanian experiences (hopefully I'll do that someday soon along with other travelogues). This blog is all for the man who helped me in a lonely country, who stood by me in times of need, and opened his heart to me. I have not been in touch with him for a few years now, and always intended to visit Turkey someday and meet him again, till today... when I happened to catch up with a common friend and got the unfortunate news of his demise a year ago. The guy with a big heart lost the battle of life due to heart failure!

Adnan, my friend, may you spread the same warmth that you did all those years ago... wherever you are! I'll miss the bureks we used to pick up from those small shops, the drinks we enjoyed together... and like we used to say almost every day we were together in Tirana... For the last time... GEZUAR!!!

May God Bless Your Soul