Life During Wartime--The Balkans, 1994
Pages from the Journal: Serbia, Macedonia, Albania
---Prologue--- One night in Spain I vomited nearly nonstop over to a local hospital where they discovered I was not only sick but I had gall stones. Not having health insurance in America, I had them removed in Hungary where I knew it would be cheap ($150 vs. $2000+ in USA). The doctor there discovered I not only had gall stones but that I would need another operation for a hernia. Joy. After recovering from that I wasnít eager to submit to Hungarian doctors again after I had surgery earlier in the year for varicose veins--which is a good story, actually--so I gave myself a couple of weeks to think about that and contemplate how I managed to contract so many old lady diseases. Of course, with that time I did what anyone would do: travel around the Balkans during a tense time...
Wednesday October 19, 1994
Note: Before we get into this, I have to say, reading this again many years later, I seem like an overreacting, whiny wimp, but at the time the area was said to be undeniably hostile, the Hungarians had me freaked out about going, there was a cholera outbreak, I was on my own, I was not in the best health, I was finished with one operation and headed into another, etc. etc. so keep that in mind--or maybe I just am a whiny wimp.
Also, this is pretty long because I got tired of editing it down. If you only have the energy to read one section, go for Day 9. I won't blame you; my own writing makes me crazy sometimes.
My favorite part of the world isnít the Balkans--I tend to prefer women without moustaches--but itís a fascinating area, always in the news these days.
I am carrying a large amount of dread for this journey, as if the litany of all thatís wrong with the region now makes travel something almost purely to endure: internal strife, combative people, cholera, the cold. I have it in the back of my mind to be prepared for it to be ugly with hostile, hungry, idle people waiting to jump me for my cash. (Iím not even considering travelerís checks.) I plan to carry my main cash in my shoe if only to have money in two different places if Iím robbed.
On the lighter side, at the Albanian embassy in Budapest a little boy told me, ďDonít drink the water! Itís black!Ē before his embarrassed father shushed him.
Sometimes if I am going to an unfamiliar place that is hard to get solid information about, I will meet an incoming train or plane and chat up people who were just there. This served me well in Singapore when I went to Vietnam in 1992. This time I went to Keleti Station in Budapest to meet the train from Belgrade. Few people were on it. One guy said Belgrade was only a place to go if I was ďadventurousĒ. Another said I would have no problems and everything was as normal as could be in a country under sanctions. It gave me encouragement that ďadventurousĒ was the worst I heard.
On to Day 2