I’ve been parked in front of the twenty-foot tall double gates of the US embassy in Kosovo for about two hours now. The good news is that it’s given me the opportunity to read up on the Kosovo War of 1999 (including the numerous mistaken US/NATO bombings of civilians), which helps lend some perspective to the ridiculous and frustrating events that have led to my current situation:
Stuck in Kosovo.
The short answer: Because a Kosovo border agent had her head up her ass just long enough to screw up our lives for the next 48 hours (at least).
10:00 pm. In our tenth hour of driving from Dubrovnik, Croatia, my girlfriend and I waited in our car, in line at the Albania-Kosovo border. As we rolled toward the Kosovo border police, we had our passports and car documents in hand. The female police officer kindly greeted us, but then informed me that I needed to buy special insurance at a booth thirty meters behind us (technically in Albania) before entering Kosovo. She told us to park the car ahead of her booth (technically in Kosovo) and that she would hold one of our passports—Itoro’s—until we returned with the required insurance form.
10:05. We shook our heads in disbelief, cursing under our breath in front of the window of the Kosovo insurance booth. The man behind the counter had just told us that it cost 30 euros for the mandatory insurance to enter Kosovo, and that he didn’t accept credit/ATM cards or Croatian Kuna (the only currency we had). He told us that our only option would be to turn around and drive back to the nearest ATM in Kukes, Albania to withdraw euros. After making this two-hour round trip drive, he explained, we could purchase said Kosovo insurance and enter the country. I staggered back toward our car with the painful vision of driving through the Albanian mountains for two more hours.
10:08. My girlfriend waited in the car while I went to get her passport from the Kosovo border police so we could begin our backtracking ATM mission into Albania. When the officer saw me she stopped the traffic in her line, redirected the idling cars to the other agent, closed her booth, and ushered me inside an office. ‘Why the special treatment?’ I thought, ‘Maybe a warm American welcome?’
‘I’m very sorry,’ she said. ‘I lost the passport.’
‘You’re joking, right?’ I said.
‘No, I am afraid not.’
‘What? How?’ I asked.
‘I gave to another car by accident,’ she said. ‘I very sorry.’
I couldn’t believe it. I grabbed my head and squeezed it to make sure I was fully conscious; that I hadn’t reached a state of delirium from driving all day through four Balkan countries. Was I hallucinating? Was this really happening?
‘You gave it to someone else!?’ I said.
She explained that, yes, it was a horrible mistake, but the problem would soon be solved. She said that this kind of thing happened occasionally and promised that people always returned the passports to the station. She gave me her phone number, officer ID number, and told me to call her later, expressing great certainty that her colossal fuck-up would somehow be worked out in the next few hours.
How? I had no clue. Neither did she, I suspect.
‘So what do we do now?’ I asked the officer.
‘Go into Kosovo...’ she said, ‘And wait, I am afraid.’
‘But we don’t have insurance to go into Kosovo!’ I told her. ‘We don’t have enough cash to buy it.’
She paused. ‘Oh shit,’ she said.
I imagined us stuck for the night in that 300 meter no-man’s land between the exiting Albania border and the entering Kosovo borderline—a purgatorial asphalt strip where passport-less people waited indefinitely for their diplomatic nightmares to end.
‘I will pay for you,’ the police officer said. ‘Follow me.’
She was nice, I guess. Itoro joined us and I quickly filled her in on the Kosovar’s tragic error. To my surprise, Itoro was unresponsive—stunned, I suppose. All three of us walked to the insurance booth in Albania. The police officer lady handed over 30 euros, gave us the Kosovo car insurance slip, and we walked to our car. She apologized again and told us to call her when we arrived in Pristina.
10:15. We drove on the freeway toward Pristina in a state of shock. Without a passport, Itoro would be confined to Kosovo until it was found. What made it worse: losing the Bulgarian visa inside her passport (and all the work/money that went into acquiring it). During those 90 kilometers from the border to Pristina, we laughed a lot—maybe because it seemed the only alternative to crying. Perhaps it was maniacal laughter—brought on by a combination of driving fatigue, heat, and incredulity about the absurd sequence of events back at the border. At any rate, we drove and laughed as if it were all a big joke.
Now: The passport never turned up. I’m still parked in front of the twenty-foot tall double gates of the US embassy in Kosovo, waiting for Itoro to come out with some decent news. And the big question: How long will we be stuck in Kosovo? I honestly don’t know. So I’m going to get back to reading up on the Kosovo War of 1999, which helps lend some perspective to our current situation.