We left Vlore and travelled through some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever witnessed, on our way to the historic city of Butrint, a Roman city that was visited by Caesar himself. On our way to Butrint, I became nauseous and we pulled the bus over. Luckily I did not become physically ill, and we were able to get some great photos.
According to Albanian legend, the city was founded when Aeneas, a character from Virgil’s epic The Aeneid. He was a Trojan soldier and the supposed founder of Rome. During his travels he chased down a bull, that escaped when he attempted to sacrifice it elsewhere, to Butrint and sacrificed it there instead. This place was absolutely breath taking and spectacular, as is most of Albania. When we arrived in Butrint we toured the city, Ashley showed off her gymnastic skills, and we found an old staircase at the back of a large alcove and decided to climb up them and see where they led (Lori’s idea). The stairs led us to the top of the city wall and we walked along it for a while until the site’s guards told us we had to leave because they were closed. Beni, a famous Albanian artist and our guide, made a comment about one of the first buildings we came to. He said that it was not “antiquity” because it was “only” a few hundred years old rather than a few thousand. This blew my mind, because we don’t have things nearly that old just laying around in the States. We don’t have the same concept of time either, old to us is something AD, old to everyone else is BC.
Unfortunately, this amazing day was slightly marred by tragedy. First, when we talked about Beni’s and Zamir, our driver’s, pasts and later when a horrific bus accident occurred.
Lori was speaking about narrative and being able to listen and bare witness to others’ stories. One of the main topics of our discussion was about the loss and regaining of agency, which is a person’s place of power in any given situation. First, Lori had Beni tell us the story of how he learned of his father’s execution as an enemy of the state. He told it in a very clinical and detached manner, leaving out some important emotional details. Then, Lori retold the story from a more personal level and we learned that when an “enemy of the state” was executed, the government released a pamphlet that was to be read to all citizens and then the audience was required to applaud afterwards. Beni was required to applaud his father’s murder. In an act of defiance, Beni refused to clap and stood with his arms crossed instead. This was a huge risk but showed they could not take his free will from him. Thinking about having to clap in celebration of my parent’s murder made me want to cry and stand right there with Beni refusing to bend to their will.
At the end of our tour in Butrint we learned that a group of university students we had passed on our way in had had an accident and many of the students died. It was very shocking and difficult to process. Even now it still seems unreal.