The amount of hair on my face has played a large role on this trip. It was a bit of a surprise, but at the same time, I can understand, because for a long time, I looked like an asshole:
In the Balkans, I looked like a lunatic:
In small towns everywhere, there has been very little variation in the way people dress and present themselves, but even in big cities, the reactions I ellicited were often extreme. With a big beard, it was really absurd. Cafes full of people would suddenly fall silent as I passed, and entire tables would turn to stare at me unabashedly. Old Italian ladies would literally stumble when they turned the corner and saw me there, and would then look at me like I was a convicted rapist and hurry past. These were not isolated incidents - this was an everyday reality. It was ridiculous. I was called Osama bin Laden on a regular basis, especially after his death was announced. In places where I expected some people to have beards, like Northern Albania or Kosovo, I found none. Indeed, it was something of a symbol there, and I got a lot of confused looks. The quote that titles this blog entry comes from Tush, a guy we met in Bajram Curri in Albania. With the moustache, surprisingly, I actually got fewer looks, though I think it was just because people didn't notice as immediately. In most cases, I would wave, say hello in whatever language was appropriate, or perform some other salutory gesture, and usually the people would snap out of their shocked state and return my greeting. Sometimes they would just stare open-mouthed. In any case, by the time we arrived in Istanbul, I was pretty tired of being a zoo exhibit all the time, and cut a combined total of 14 inches of 'stache off of my face. I got a haircut, too, and did laundry for the first time since Macedonia, and was born again.