Years ago, after a not-too-trying but really jarring breakup, I bought a one way ticket to Panama and decided to backpack through Central America. It was only after I got there that I realized I was doing it the opposite way that everyone else does.

See, as it would seem, most people started in Mexico, and slowly made their way through this skinny part of the world before boarding a boat to Cartagena from Panama city. It only took me a few days traipsing about the city aimlessly to realize that there was a huge part of the culture of traveling there that I was left out of by going south-to-north instead.

But the Balkans, in any direction, is exactly like this.

The cool thing about traveling around here is that you can do it in any order, at any speed, and you will invariably run into the same people everywhere, or at least someone who knows them.

There are a couple of auxiliary cities to this: largely because of Turkey’s budget airline combined with current Coronavirus regulations, you can add Istanbul, for sure, to this list. 

Back when I first got to the Balkans, I ran into Anastasia, who was my roommate back in Istanbul, where we lived in the very same hostel that I first met Alex.

And now I’m here in Ohrid with him, drinking way too much and, honestly, wondering if this is going well.

This morning, I did the same thing I usually do. I woke up in the morning, grabbed my laptop, and headed downstairs to make coffee. When I turned from the coffee pot, I saw Alex strolling in to say good morning, apparently having woken up about 15 minutes after I had.

And then he kissed me. At 8:30 in the morning in the middle of the kitchen.

And then he proceeded to annoy the living shit out of me while I was trying to work this morning. I’m pretty sure I said “Sasha, I have to work,” at least 15 or 20 times. But here’s the thing.

He doesn’t actually give a shit about me or my work.

And so a day into this experiment, this one where I left my girlfriends whom I fucking love back in Skopje to come meet a man a handful of hours away – albehim an age appropriate man, finally, that I’ve known for months – I’ve realized that I’m not here to forge some kind of relationship, or even rekindle the friendship we had back in Istanbul or Belgrade.

I’m here to get eaten out and then gracefully take my leave.

I’m here until Thursday. I already have my return ticket back to Skopje, and honestly, I’m cool with lounging by this lake for a few days and drink rakia with my coffee in the morning. But this is not something that will continue after that.

And it’s too bad because it doesn’t have to be like this. This behavior that, quite frankly, I’ve already endured too much of from him, this pseudo-controlling bullshit where he believes he can dictate what I will and will not do with my time and my body doesn’t even have to occur.

Tonight while I was cooking dinner, I literally had to tell him: “look dude, you don’t get to tell me what to do. I’m not your daughter, and I’m a person.” And the look he gave me in response belies that he has no intention, whatsoever, of stopping. There was no indication that he even knows what I mean.

But hey. I tried.

Nalini always says that the Balkans, at least right now that so many of us are reigned in here by a web of regulations, are like a Kibbutz. While I never got to experience this phenomenon in Central America like I could have, I’ve certainly had a crash course over the last handful of weeks.

And this exactly has been my favorite part of the last few months: the ability to have or find a friend everywhere you go, to have a support system ready to embrace you when something goes wrong. And I guess that’s why, back in Belgrade, seeing Alex’s face made my last two horrendous weeks there fade away, simply because his face was familiar. 

But someone simply being familiar just isn’t enough to excuse their behavior. 

Back in Tirana I wondered if my (not too) brief fling with the Italian made me wonder if I was capable of making acceptable decisions surrounding these kinds of nomad trysts. Like, was I still recovering from crippling isolation in Johannesburg? Was I still letting loneliness lead my life?

But I’m telling you that if I had to, I could walk from this right now. And I will if I need to before Thursday. 

And while I’m legit fucking sad that this probably wont pan into anything, it was fun for a second. It was fun to get called away to a lakeside mountain town to trade stories of borders and planes and these times that we’re all enduring together. 

And I think, when it’s all done, that will be my favorite thing that I take with me.


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