Traveling through countries where the native tongue is a long stream of unbroken gibberish to your untrained ears, universal symbols gain a lot of weight. Pointing at your wrist, counting with fingers, hands together in thanks – all understood across the globe. The most common of course though, is the nod for a `yes´, and a shake of the head for a `no´. Imagine the confusion then, when at the top of a mountain village in Albania, you ask for confirmation of the correct route, and an old woman shakes her head at you, saying “Po, po” – “Yes, yes”.
Relying on international communication would have you heading down the wrong track. Instinct assumes this is a negative reply, and it takes a good deal of re-training to nod “yes”, but mean “no”.
Was this invented as some kind of clever ploy to misdirect tourists? Or perhaps an old combat tactic – similar to the 60,000 weapon-filled war bunkers spread across the country, forming a huge decentralized army for the nation, where everyone was a soldier.
Opponent: “Will you agree to a cease fire?”
The General nods his head. “That´ll fool them” he mutters to himself.
Albania is charmingly full of these contradictions. Less than a decade ago, the currency was changed simply by dropping one of the zero´s. What used to cost 1000 Lek, now costs 100. Only, most of the small towns have taken a while to catch on, and it can be quite the trick to ascertain whether you´re being charged 5 euros for a watermelon, or 50 cents.
Finally, you work out how to be understood in this beautiful backwards country, and decide to continue peddling on towards Greece. Crossing the border, you breath a sigh of relief, as you slowly return to your old, instinctual communication. Asking a man for some water, he tells you “Neh, neh”. It´s with a turn of the stomach, but a smile at the corners of your mouth, that you realize he means “Yes, yes”.