Jennifer Hollinger

Jennifer Hollinger (CHASTE): Jennifer graduated magna cum laude from Bryn Mawr College. During her junior year she undertook a fellowship in Copenhagen, Denmark with Humanity-in-Action which sparked her interest in international migration and human rights. Jennifer received a Master’s degree in public and international affairs, with a concentration in international development, from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. At the time of her fellowship, Jennifer was pursuing a master’s degree in the Department of Government at Georgetown University and working as a graduate research assistant at the Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM). After her fellowship, Jennifer wrote: "This experience helped me to realize that I really can work well with people who are very different from myself in challenging conditions. The skills and insight that I gained will stay with me for years to come and will be helpful both in terms of my career…and for my own personal development."

Life Lessons in the Balkans, Or, Schadenfreude for Beginners

31 Jul

I recently spent 13 and a half hours on the bus from hell. I traveled to Skopje, Macedonia and Pristina, Kosova where I had several very productive meetings and learned a great deal. In my next blog, I’ll share some of that with you. I realized that my blogs have gotten quite serious lately, perhaps as a result of the subject matter I am focusing on this summer. So for the sake of my sanity and your enjoyment, I will regale you with the hilarious tale of my mosquito filled, 13.5-hour bus ride through Pristina and on to Kukes, then Durres, and finally, Tirana.

Originally, my colleague and I were scheduled to depart from Pristina on a bus that traveled through Skopje and then to Tirana that would take approximately 9 hours. We arrived at the bus station in Pristina at the appointed time. Unfortunately, my colleague discussed her lack of a visa for Macedonia (Albanian’s require a 10 Euro visa to pass through the country) to the hirsute, chain-smoking bus driver’s assistant who informed her that she would have to go to the embassy. This was followed by the bus driver, who looked like a low rent version of Don Johnson during the Miami Vice years, attempting to drive off with my luggage on the bus. I had to chase down the bus, screaming at the driver that my luggage was still inside the bus. He finally stopped and allowed me to take my luggage out of the bus. In fact, he even helped me to pick up my suitcase. Thanks, Don!

After a long argument involving various dramatic gesticulations and shouting, we were allowed to board a different bus that would take a longer route through northern Albania. It wasn’t actually all that generous given that our new route should have been three Euros cheaper than our original tickets. The very route that someone yesterday had warned me was “like torture” and that she would “prefer to walk.” I knew we were in for a special treat when the bus assistant informed us that the air conditioning wasn’t working. This would not have been so bad had any of the windows actually opened. Or if the teenaged girl in front of me had bothered to take a shower since, oh, say, January. Despite the lack of windows, mosquitoes had somehow managed to make the bus their home and were flying about everywhere.

To alleviate the crushing boredom and oppressive heat as we drove through Kosova, I occupied myself with looking at the hotel and restaurant names. There was a Restaurant Bill Klinton that was flying a huge American flag, a Rock Hard Café, and, my personal favorite, Hotel Estrada. I mean, did Erik even know that there was a CHIPS following in rural Kosova? When watching the scenery ceased to amuse me, I took to crushing mosquitoes against the window. It was then that I noticed a large brown smear on the window that I prayed was a previously squashed mosquito.

Long trips by bus involve many, many stops in this region. Even though we were stopped, a mother with three kids decided to smoke on the bus. Several loud coughs later, she seemed unfazed. It was only after my adopted Albanian grandma yelled at her to go outside that she left. My new granny, who could have easily landed a role in the remake of the Godfather with her dyed black hair, black dress, and black orthopedic shoes, and I had made friends after having a conversation which neither one of us understood because she spoke entirely in Albanian and I spoke entirely in English. I think we talked about feet, since she kept lifting her leg up and pointing to her foot, which was generally followed by laughter. Occasionally throughout the trip, she would glance across the aisle and smile at me as if to say, hey, no one else lets me talk about my gout.

After about seven hours, I finally started to drift off to sleep. At that very moment, we entered the northern “road” into Albania which seemed to have been composed almost entirely of boulders. Looking out of the window, the road (calling this path a road is incredibly generous) was full of hairpin turns and was barely wide enough for the bus to pass safely. On the other side of the road, there was no shoulder, just a long sheer drop down the side of the mountains which didn’t seem to phase any of the cars that came screaming around the road and passing with inches to spare in a typically Albanian fashion. Wow, thank goodness it was dark or this might actually have been scary.

I finally managed to fall asleep when my colleague woke me up at 6:30 AM to tell me, “I have some bad news.” Really? Just now? It turns out that the bus was full of Kosovars headed to the beach in Durres and we were stopping there before we went to Tirana. At that point, it couldn’t get any worse so I just shrugged and counted my mosquito bites. When we finally arrived in Tirana at 8:30 that morning, my favorite pants caught on the door of our busted taxi and ripped down the right side.

This was an important lesson in the way of life in the Balkans. Unexpected events and unscheduled detours such as this happen all the time here. Change is slow and, when it does come, is uneven and haphazard. I believe that gradual change will also happen with the fight against trafficking, beginning with better awareness raising and rehabilitation programs for victims. I’d like to close with the immortal words of those masters of class, AC/DC, “I’m on the highway to hell/And I’m going down, all the way down…”

Posted By Jennifer Hollinger

Posted Jul 31st, 2007


  • Savanh Chanthaphavong

    July 31, 2007


    You’re too funny, Jenn!
    I hope you are doing well, there, in Albania.

  • jennifer

    August 1, 2007


    Thanks for your comment, Savanh! I have come to appreciate the trip as a uniquely Balkan adventure.

  • Beavis

    August 6, 2007


    This could be a snippet from a Bill Bryson travel novel. The only thing that makes FAR more hilarious, is that it is happening to my sister.

  • jennifer

    August 7, 2007


    Thanks for your comment, Joe! I am flattered to be compared to Bill Bryson and I see that you have understood the true spirit of my blog.

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