Borders are slowly opening in this part of the world and my travels have started again. This time, in a completely different setting than before. I came to Belgium two months ago and I have so many things to talk about but today I will focus on my recent trip. Last week, we traveled to the Republic of north Macedonia. It is a small country on the north of Greece and for me, it was the closest I’ve been to my country since I came to Belgium. The reason of our trip was a transnational meeting that was taking place in Tetovo, A small town near the borders of Kosovo and Albania. The town is mainly populated by Muslims and there’s a very strong presence of the Albanian language which surprised me pleasantly. Being born in Greece but originally from Albania, hearing my mother tongue spoken made me feel a little bit at home.
But let me start from the beginning. When Anca asked me if I wanted to join her in this meeting I immediately said yes because I knew it was going to be a very new experience for me and I was going to learn a lot about the work I came to do here. On second thought though, I remembered that traveling with a guide dog is not always easy. Not everywhere at least. I started hesitating because getting denied access to different places it’s not something I haven’t experienced before but there was going to be a major difference here, there was not going to be any legislation or law protecting me and my dog from any kind of discrimination. After a talk with Anca we decided that we were going to give it a try. Normally here I would continue by “and then we booked everything and we were on our way”, but things weren’t that easy. Finding accommodation was nearly impossible since no hotels accepted “pets” as they said. A service animal is not considered a pet and normally should have access to every single facility it’s handler has access to. So, we went with the only option we actually had. It was a nice hotel in the city of Skopje, the capital of north Macedonia. It was in a very central spot and we were next to the heart of the city. The only problem, it was 45 minutes away from the meeting point. Thankfully, the hosting organisation took care of our transportation and made it very easy for us. The meeting went smoothly although I have to admit that it was a very very tiring day for both of us, me and Rox. During the meeting though, I had the opportunity to take part in my first transnational meeting, to talk to people from different countries who had knowledge on topics regarding visual impairment and realised how different the experience of blind people in different countries can be.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful though because I’m really not. My overall experience was very good. I had very good food, I met very nice and open hearted people and I visited a few nice places. On top of that, I gained lots of new knowledge and I feel like slowly a whole new world is opening up in front of me. Also, being in a country where my rights as a guide dog handler weren’t reserved made me realise how important people are in my life. It is a different thing when someone lets you get in their taxi because they have to and a different thing when they only do it because they truly want to. Would I visit north Macedonia again? Yes, yes and yes!
Until my next update, stay safe and happy!
PS- if you’re not a meat eater, don’t visit the Balkans