Fish and Occasional Loathing in Ada Bojana

August 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

This is the third in a six-part series of a Lifestyle Design experiment en route to Montenegro in Summer 2010. Click here for parts 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6.

Part 3: Reinforce

Ada life..

On the Friday morning you arrive in your destination of Ada … and are immediately invited over by your next-door neighbours for a brunch of ice-cold beer and börek. Now you’ve already had börek from a local café in the nearest town – and you although you thought that this local meat, cheese and pastry snack it should be much better – Berta’s börek is unbelievable, you probably have three or four, and as you write this memoir some two to three weeks after that moment in time, you immediately decide to stop whatever it is that you’re doing and get in touch with Berta for a copy of the recipe…

So, you’re sat in the living room of the house in Montenegro. Ada Bojana. In front of you, and outside the roughly-textured but neatly-cut wooden lounge wall is the view of the turquoise river, current going upstream for the tide of the sea at this time of day. The ghostly shimmer of the waves reflects back upon the white wooden roof of the shack. Or house, rather. There’s a hammock outside, gifted by Klaus, your Danish neighbour. It was originally used in WWII by the English you’re led to believe, and is certainly more inviting than your laptop. But work has to be done, you say to yourself.

Klaus sometimes comes over and gives advice and presents in his speedos. Today he brings over some fish, five in fact, one for each of the family. Caught in the river, washed, gutted and smoked for two hours, and then something else happens to them but you were too distracted to remember that final and distinctive step in their preparation. You’ll ask him later tonight. Klaus has lived on the river intermittently for ten years now. In between last summer and this, the locals have finally shown him the sweetwater spot, between three and four kilometers away. An avid fisherman, Klaus caught his first fish in Montenegro ten years after his arrival. Now he’s bringing some gutted and smoked to you.

There are not only fish in the neighbourhood, but also good news. A civil servant with paperwork came by just a week ago announcing that the settlement of irregular housing along the river Bojana had been legalized, with the rights to the land and the houses thereupon turned over to the tenants. It’s fantastic news you agree, and then a little jolt of confusion hits you as you realize that your friend and host not only bought this house on the outcome of a tarot reading in Portugal two years ago, but had actually invested in a temporary construction in what would internationally be classed as a favela or shanty town.

Phew.

Today’s the first time you’ve sat and done some work in days. It’s very hot, let alone hard to concentrate, although time you have had, such as the 18-hour ferry ride from Ancona to Bar, Montenegro’s chief port city, a little up the coast from your current location. Your attention’s been everywhere, from the new environments in which you’ve found yourself to your curiosity at what lie ahead on the journey, from catching up with your friend and host to your lack of sleep caused by a few hours of fetal position against Italian forest floors. Working’s been tough.

You begin to draw a good first conclusion about working on the road: that working on the road is fine if you know the road, and the road’s clean. Having to know it and creating your own safe passage is – although not hard with travel experience – something that can make a person want to live, not work: want to interact, learn history, discover new places and new sensations. Travel like this is the absolute pinnacle of enthusiasm, something you almost have to be inhuman to miss in order to stick to your presupposed topic. And after all, this is why you lifestyle design, right? To live these moments. You suggest to yourself for any next occasion that you arrive straight to your destination and set up camp if you can’t take a sizable break from your professional projects; or following a route that you are certain can meet your laboural needs because you or someone reputable has done it before and told you it’s safe. What’s more, on plugging it in and deciphering the code, you discover that dongles don’t seem what they’re cracked up to be, not least in Montenegro! You note that blogging has been the easiest aspect of work on the road, apart from passive work such as reading and staying abreast of industry developments (i.e. listening to podcasts and generally procrastinating). Potential clients and serving their needs has really been a million miles away- you take this as a word of warning.

Now the nature of your work means that you can share it with people you meet along the way: to find exotic and foreign clients, you daydream to yourself. You’ve even talked some talk from time to time, and three people have been seriously interested in doing The Exercise with you. But because of demands of time and logistics it’s not been possible in any of the cases, in fact, you note that the largest barrier to working has been your desire-stroke-internally-created obligation to be present with your friend and host. You feel it would be a suitable place for a second Lifestyle Design conclusion here – but it would be hasty – to claim that traveling solo is the best way to stay productive on the road. But you realize that the truth is that if you ask your friend and host to give you some space for a couple of hours, he would oblige: friends all support each other’s personal and professional development after all, right? It’s true that one has to be focused and direct, learn how to ask and stick to your own personal commitments, otherwise you lose yourself in the crowd like a sheep. The other truth, you laugh to yourself, is that your three new potential clients are his personal contacts, and the relationships built through traveling accompanied could very well be the seeds of more interesting ventures. No second law for now then, you say to yourself..

Backing up a moment, there were five fish on that plate, and therefore five figures in the family. That means that there isn’t just one viable means of distraction, but four. And you’re in Ada Bojana right now, which means that anyone can roll in through the patio door, and expect some kind of attendance. In the family of five there are two you invited yourself – friends from South America that you know from back in Spain. They were backpacking in the region and you offered them lodging in a momentary attack of hospitality suffered whilst remembering the extreme kindness shown to you whilst backpacking through their continent a few years ago. They don’t often stop talking and you actually regret making the invite at certain moments where you’re just begging to concentrate. There is also a Serbian here courtesy of your friend and host extending an invite out to Belgrade, and although this one is by far the quietest in the house, in total there is the amount of noise and general river muck getting flung across your office as if you were working in a surfer’s bar. And man it’s hot. So hot in fact that it adds a good ten minutes onto every task you do; so hot that it triples the amount of water breaks you need; and so hot that every other inhabitant in the house has filled up the fridge with beer rather than water, which in turn slows you down to a literal crawl in your attempts to get stuff done. But the truth is though, you’re never short of company, you’re having the most fun you’ve had in ages and every night is beach party night, down at the local bar. It all starts off at midnight and finishes when the last person leaves to go somewhere else. And this is the end of the world before Albania, there is nowhere else.*

But about Montenegro itself you don’t seem to have learnt that much. You like to really get into the places you visit and you’re kind of isolated down there, on the riverbank with your gringo family, and tourist season’s not yet in full swing. You spoke to some people at the beach last night and they seemed friendly, or if not friendly they were certainly drunk enough to be interested in meeting you. Some girls you spoke to had huge downers about how their four-year-old country is being managed and its’ place in the world. And they really wondered why you’d bother coming here. It’s a bit of a turn off listening to someone talk about their country like that; especially after visiting other places in the world that are much poorer and often more problematic than this one, but whose people believe that it’s the best place in existence and share it with you with enthusiasm. You hypothesize that living in the shadow of the European Union can push one’s ego or sense of worth lower, with their lot compared almost daily to their richer neighbours, just eighteen hours the other side of a tranquil blue sea. It’s sad because, once living inside Europe, you quickly realize how much stress and bother there is, and how pitiful human relations can be in a place where everyone passes the day thinking about their personal pathway and their best moves, whilst comparing them to those of their friends and enemies. But that’s just one side of the coin, you reason, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing poorer places when you don’t have to live there three hundred and sixty five days a year.

Later on in the afternoon you look in your diary and you see that you’ve got your big consultation with top marketing guru tomorrow, and it’s about time too because when it comes to explaining what you do for work and the nature of The Exercise to new people that you meet you still come across really rather sketchy, like you did last night at the beach, feeling as if you excrete a fair pong of insecurity whilst you’re unable to define it in real and understandable words. It’s not psychology and you’re not a consultant; you certainly don’t want to be doing therapy but you don’t want to come across all namby-pamby like a life coach. You’re feeling pretty serious about what’s ahead in this call tomorrow, and also strangely confident because bit by bit you’re starting to feel clearer about what you want in life and work whilst being away. But you’re still feeling rather alarmed because, dongle aside, in your five days here up until this point you still haven’t located a working telephone, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe that they’ll be one within a five kilometer radius of the shack. Rather, house.

When you do arrive beyond the five kilometer boundary that sunny morning after, grateful for not having crashed on the main road whilst overtaking in the van with no visual access to the left-hand-side wing mirror, you hastily realize that the techno music playing in the cyber café is far too loud to conduct business over. What’s more, the “private room” where you can make an expensive international phone call is actually a back door leading to an outside yard with further traffic parking up in the near distance; and pieces of rubbish and corrugated cardboard come to greet you as you attempt to make yourself comfortable on a broken wooden seat that you lodge into a crevice between two buildings in a vague attempt to miss the danger of the midday sun on your fair gringo skin. Marketing guru understands that you’re in no position right now to talk business, and you rearrange your appointment for another day. All that, when you just about have prepared answers for hard-hitting questions such as “What’s worked for you so far? Tangible, specific results are good”, and “Where do you want to go, REALLY?”

Continue to Part 4.

*(No disrespect to Albanians, I’d love to explore your country, and If I had more time I would. The thing is that, from the international travelers’ point of view, Albania remains very unexplored and very little known. I’d be very interested to hear from any lifestyle designers who have ties with Albania).

Procrastinating?  Pick up your Free Workbook and overcome that habit, today.

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