28 August 2011

A car ride through Albania: He began singing again

One afternoon when I returned home from language class, my Albanian host-family told me that they had decided to take me out for a night on the town. We lived in a village, and they thought it might be nice for me to spend an evening in the big city. My host-mother had a sister in the city and so it was settled. Just before sunset, we took our places in the red Volkswagen Golf. It had a manual transmission, and my host-father regularly struggled to drive it well, but he didn't want his son to drive the long thirty minutes on the dangerous road. After a few stalls, we set out for the city.

I sat in the backseat next to my host-sister, and on the other side of her was my host-brother. My host-mother was in front of me in the passenger seat. We got out on the main road, the highway, and a sense of freedom enveloped the car. My host-sister tried to remain cool, but her efforts were periodically interrupted by bursts of giddiness as she looked out the window. My host-parents expressed their delight in song. They started singing no more than ten minutes into the drive. I always enjoyed listening to music in the car. From the time my actual mother played The Beatles and Tom Jones on the drive to the grocery store, to my post college road trips in my Volkswagen Jetta; music was essential to the driving experience. I'm not sure I ever enjoyed music in the car so much as I did on this warm evening in the middle of Albania.

Halfway to the city, we came upon a bit of traffic. My host-father slowed at a roundabout to let merging traffic in ahead of him. As traffic came to a stand still, he found himself leaning helplessly on the wrong side of a hill. The car in front of us began to move. He put the car into what he thought was first gear, let go of the brake and pressed satisfactorily on the gas, but to no avail. We rolled backward, slowly inching closer to the eighteen-wheeler behind us. Silent panic lasted a second. Then a flood of advice quickly filled the car in a language I was still struggling to understand. In a desperate attempt to be a part of the team, I yelled, "Brakes!" Sweat now rolling down my host-father's right temple, we crashed into the eighteen-wheeler.

After restarting the engine, my host-father found first gear and nervously began to drive again. I wondered for a moment if this would be my first European hit-and-run experience. Moments later the eighteen-wheeler had caught up to us. The driver was waving his hands out the window and yelling things as if we could hear him. My host-father found a safe place to pull the car over. The man in the truck parked in front of us. They got out of their vehicles and walked toward one another. I then wondered if this would be my first European fighting experience. My host-father spoke to the man calmly. The trucker was throwing his arms about and shouting. After a few minutes, my host-father walked back to the Golf. I could see relief and embarrassment on his face as he looked to the ground.

He got in the car and started driving again. All was silent. My host-siblings and I looked at each other in wonder. We made grimaces and widened our eyes to convey our uncertainty and fear of the situation. My host-mother sat silently, motionless, as she waited for a cue from my host-father. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, he began singing again. His voice was more joyful than ever. He looked at my host-mother and smiled. In the back seat, we looked at each other again for a second, making sure the coast was clear. Then we burst out in smiles and laughter and my host-father smiled at us in the rear-view mirror.

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