October 03, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - The long trek to peace 

A Whistler student is part of an international effort to establish a Balkans Peace Park

Page 8 of 9

Though we had been assured by officials that it was possible, the border we wanted to go through to Albania could not be opened for us. Instead of walking about 10 kilometres from Montenegro, over the border and on to our destination in Albania, we had to travel more than 300 kilometres by bus to the closest official border crossing. We later learned that the border we had originally wanted to cross would be open within the month.

Except for the sign reading "Stop Human Trafficking," the Albanian border crossing was fairly uneventful. We arrived that evening in the Catholic mountain village of Vermosh, where we were divided into small groups and were hosted by local families. The meals they served us were wonderful: fresh pork and vegetables and more cheese accompanied by a homemade plum brandy called raki.

We had an interesting conversation with our host family that night about blood feuds. It is written in traditional Albanian law (known as the Kanun of Lek Dukagjin) that if someone in your family is murdered, you are then obligated to take blood from a member of the family of the person responsible. If you do so, however, that family then has the right to do the same to your family, and the cycle continues for five generations. We asked our host if this custom is still practised, and he said that yes, he would be obliged to follow the custom if the situation arose.

Blood feuds are still a major problem in Albania. Antonia Young, who helped to organize the trek, was involved in establishing a blood feud reconciliation centre in northern Albania to attempt to peacefully solve the existing feuds.

Our final stop was the stunning mountain village of Thethi. After an eight-hour drive along the most treacherous mountain road I have ever seen, we arrived in the village and were again hosted by local families.

Some of the trekkers chose to hike from Vermosh to Thethi instead of take the bus. Their hike took only four hours longer then our bus ride.

Unfortunately this village is one of many faced with the problem of rural-urban migration. Following the fall of communism and the ensuing upheavals of the past decade, many families have moved to larger cities or emigrated in search of both financial and physical security. Despite its breathtaking beauty, they simply cannot make a living in this isolated village.

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