April 9, 2010

Istanbul to Kosovo

Our bus is waiting. It’s full of big-faced men from Kosovo, looking tough and joking loudly across the aisles. The atmosphere is good. We leave the vast labyrinth of Istanbul station at 5.
* * *
We’re dumb animals in a clamour of incomprehensible language and occurrences, only each other’s daft humour for company. The Kosovan men look on us kindly with a small amount of condescension. There are two Serbian women on the bus. When we stop for a cigarette leg-stretch they stand apart. Billy teaches them how to moonwalk. They show me phone-videos of them bellydancing, and communicate that they moved to Turkey when the Nato bombing started, and that they think Tito was Very Good. Music, they tell me, music and dancing is everything, it is Joy.
At the border with Bulgaria, the bus stops and stays stopped. The luggage is searched. It’s searched again. We wait for authorization to cross, and watch cars stream through with barely a nod. We move forward fifty yards and stop again for another search and a passport check by guards in green uniforms.
All in all, it takes us four hours to move the 100 metres to Bulgaria. We ask the man in front of us why, and we discover he speaks passable English. It’s because we’re headed for Kosovo, he says, and Kosovo is a difficult place to come from. Kosovan sovereignty is not exactly recognized by Bulgaria, but not exactly not recognised either.
The checks continue all the way through. At a service station, in a lay-by, at the border with Macedonia. We get off, green uniforms get on. We heft our belongings out of the hold, some of the passengers lifting car parts and office chairs onto the tarmac. The green uniforms finish with the bus and start work on the luggage, demanding that bubble wrap is unwrapped and cardboard is cut open. I wonder what they’re looking for. The Kosovans tolerate it all with practiced patience.
Through the green valleys of Macedonia, where plastic bottles bubble in a river, and finally into Kosovo at 9am, green-vallied too and a little bit dirtier. A huge cement factory greets us first, then a procession of half-built houses and pizzerias takes us into Prishtina, capital of a brand new country.
We’re very glad to stand on solid ground.

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