Archive for December, 2010

White and sweet

December 22, 2010

Another honking car. Again we don’t bother to look up. Too many drivers have  communicated by quite unmistakable gestures that they think we must be mad. We tend to ignore them now. The choice is entirely ours where we direct our view – at encouraging or discouraging things. So we turn a blind eye to this one as well. The car comes to a halt, a man gets out starting after us shouting: “Are you from Switzerland?” We‘re stopped in our tracks. The man tells us he had heard from about us from some Swiss people, who at present are English teachers in Southern Albania. So now, spotting two hikers with huge backpacks on the road it wasn’t hard to tell that we were them. He then suggests to us not to continue up the mountain pass we were on. “There’s only a handful of houses left up there.“ And then: „Actually, you might be able to spend the night at the Christian daycare centre. Zamira up there is a friend of mine. Tell her I’ve sent you,“ giving his name. We continue our climb for another hour when we spot the kindergarten. As our new acquaintance predicted, Zamira kindly lets us spend the night in a small house outside it. Since it is freezing, she also thoughtfully furnishes our with a portable heater. Deeply grateful, we unroll our mats on the floor.

The steep and curvy climb from Tirana to Elbasan had been quite a challenge especially with dusk setting in so early each day. We also took the effort of changing road sides at every bend to make it safer for the cars and ourselves. Once again on our trip, we were grateful for God’s perfect timing. If the honking driver hadn’t run after us and told us about the daycare centre up on the mountain, the second stretch of our way would have been rather overwhelming and we would possibly have got to Elbasan completely exhausted. No, the stretches couldn’t have been divided up any better. We were also delighted to again meet people who are devoted to helping the needy. To 40 children it does make a change if people don’t merely lament their need and poverty but actually help them hands on abandoning their own comfort (see video). “Thank you, Lord!“ we say having arrived safely at Elbasan marvelling at God’s perfect planning, at our protection on the roads, at how we were led to the daycare centre, and at Carrie and Ron Young’s hospitality (see video).

Four days later we find ourselves in Ohrid at a crossroads wondering whether to take the road towards the city centre or whether it wouldn’t be wiser to get a couple of miles towards the mountains over with today. “If we take the detour into the city centre, we will have to walk 43 kilometres (~27 miles) tomorrow. Not sure we’ll be up to such a big stretch,” we ponder. Bearing our long-term destination in mind and wanting to have crossed those mountains before the big snow, we decide to forego sightseeing in the city. Dusk is slowly setting in. On the street, there’s no trace of any offer of accommodation anywhere. We approach two security guards in front of what looks like a big company. “No, no-one rents out rooms to visitors here. But a couple of miles up this way, you’ll get to a hotel,” they inform us. “So we’ve heard, but are you sure the hotel is open?“, we reply. “Sure it is.“ Thus encouraged, we continue on our way. After more than an hour we reach the last small cluster of houses before the road begins to climb. By now, darkness has set in. We can just about make out a young man standing next to a car. He speaks neither English nor Italian, but beckons an elderly man to come over who explains in broken German that the hotel is closed. We want to know if there is some sort of shelter we could use for the night, since we have our own tent. But he just shakes his head saying “No, not here. You must go back to Ohrid“, he firmly replies. When we find out that the young man by the car has merely been waiting for a friend and will now drive to Ohrid, we can’t believe our luck. He tells us we’re welcome to join them. The boot door is stuck, so we squeeze ourselves together with our backpacks into the backseat. Now the car just needs to be push-started, and off we go! Our driver kindly takes us to a favourably located hotel, and his friend even asks for us how much the rooms are. He writes “20 euros” on the car exterior. We take our leave, thanking them for their kindness. On the following day, we take a cab to the spot where we had stranded the night before. If we had known that the hotel was closed, we wouldn’t have walked as far and we wouldn’t have managed the entire mountain stretch the next day. God’s guidance is just unbelievable.

“60 euros“ has been scribbled on a piece of paper that is presently being held under our noses. It is 3 days later now, and we are in Bitola looking for a taxi to take us back to the place where we had been given a lift by three very helpful Macedonians when caught in the middle of a snow storm. We decline the cab driver’s steep offer with a ‘thank you’ and a smile and walk on. Apparently this has not gone unnoticed, so before we know it we find ourselves presented with a new price offer: “6 euros.” In a country with an average monthly income of 200 euros this sounds much more realistic to us, and we gratefully accept. The day before, our Macedonian friends who had come to our rescue refused to accept a tip even though they took the detour into the town centre plus checked out three different hotels for us. After two nights at one of those hotels, we packed our backpacks to move to a cheaper room.

Paul must have walked the very same mountain passes on his way to Illyria (Albania), which he mentions in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 15:19). We could still see parts of the ancient Roman road “Via Egnatia“. But we’re sure Paul’s travels were much more strenuous in those days than ours. Would he have taken a break at minus 7 degrees Celsius by day, or at minus 14 by night? We were lucky to be able to enjoy the luxuries of a heated room and an electric kettle.

To us, white snow and sweet honey will always be associated with the town of Bitola, situated just before the border to Greece. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.“ Psalm 119:103 says. Due to the dangerous road conditions and the cold, we had lots of time to study the Bible. “Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!”, Proverbs 30:4 says. Our Macedonian landlady tells us she has no idea what’s in the Bible, although she attends the Orthodox Church. „No, I don’t know the stories of the Bible. I don’t read this book. Perhaps some time later.“

Sooner rather than later we would like to thank God and you, who support and pray for us, for all the goodness, kindness and help every stretch of our way so far! We are deeply moved by all encounters and experiences which many of you shared in.

Happy holidays and a sweet, new year to all of you!

Hanspeter & Annemarie

P.S. The currencies kuna, lek and denar are now behind us, and we’re on our way to Thessaloniki.

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Children in Albania

December 20, 2010

Ron and Carrie Young, Elbasan, Albania

December 20, 2010

Flooding in Shkoder

December 7, 2010

Hastily we throw the rest of our belongings into our backpacks. It is December 1. Two hours ago we set off at Shkoder without breakfast in order to get as far as possible in daylight. We were planning to get back and spend the night again in the apartment of a Norwegian woman who moved here several years ago to work among the region’s poor. This way, the money we would otherwise have spent on a hotel room would serve a better purpose – the ministry among the poor. We were heading south, when we came across three policemen on the city’s outskirts who apparently only let off-road vehicles and buses pass. We asked them for the reason for this road block. “Lots of water”, they replied. ”No problem!“ we thought and were on our way again. A short while later, however, we were shocked to find a rather extensive body of water blocking our road. “We could get across by asking someone to give us a lift in their lorry, but what about tonight? Will it be possible to get back again?“ Just this morning we read Psalm 121 and asked God to help and guide us. We were amazed that it was this psalm that made up today’s Bible passage. It was the psalm that is printed on the sunhat the Pfäffikon congregation back in Switzerland gave us as their farewell gift just before we set off. Annemarie wears it almost every day. Now we were staring at the flooded road and remembered the first verses: ”I lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – He who watches over you will not slumber.“ “Lord, what do you think?“ we prayed. We did not feel at peace leaving the city now and returning the same evening. So we decided to go back to the apartment, get the rest of our stuff and return the key.

15 minutes later, we are in Koli’s car and headed for the flooded spot again. This is the second time this year the city has been affected by severe flooding. Koli, Pastor of a local congregation, is quite shocked, though, when he sees how far the waters have risen already. We say goodbye and get on a lorry that takes us to the other side (see video). As we continue our way on foot in continuous rain, we let our minds wander to what we have seen these past few days. With mixed feelings we think of how this catastrophe has particularly affected the poor. We are thankful for the ministry Koli and other local Christians are doing among the suffering and needy in this country (see video). One day later, we unexpectedly bump into Koli again in the street. He was in Tirana to pick up relief supplies for the ministry. By this time, the waters in Shkoder have already risen up to two meters in some parts. Koli says it was a good decision to leave the city the day before. 

On the road between Shkoder and Tirana, Annemarie suddenly chips a tooth. What are we supposed to do now?! We are very happy to know Koli and Ester. Ester, Koli’s wife, and her sister Ani are in the capital during the week to pursue a dentistry study programme. To us they seem like angels sent from above as they direct us to the best dental clinic in town. They even stay and act as our interpreters. So before we know it, everything has been sorted out and fixed. We just marvel at how God has once again sent us the best helpers at just the right time. Now Annemarie has a special souvenir from Albania to take home with her.

A new experience of a different sort started back in Montenegro. In a grocer’s shop, Hanspeter wanted to pay using a 100-euro note. The shop assistant looked at him wide-eyed, as she simply did not have the necessary change of 85 euros in the shop. So she went out into the street and asked a taxi driver and in other shops – but without success. This was the first in a long line of similar experiences: We’ve got a banknote, but we can’t pay with it. Since there are only big euro notes available at ATMs here, we have made it our habit to look out for malls or large shopping centers where we buy something small and pay with a big banknote. 

Now we have to cross some mountains to get into Greece via Macedonia. The weather forecast was good, even though it talked about considerably cooler temperatures. So we must get ourselves some warmer gloves before we hit the road again.

Many thanks for your prayers and support

Hanspeter & Annemarie

Ester and Koli help poor people in Shkoder

December 2, 2010