In 2005, my family moved to Montenegro for almost a year. Despite what you might think, Montenegro is not in Jamaica. It is a country nestled in the Balkans, just north of Albania and just south of Bosnia and Croatia.
We had our ups and downs in Montenegro but that place stole our hearts. We look back on our time there with contentment and gratitude. We had hoped to go back two or three years later but one thing led to another and somehow 8 years went by before we could return.
A lot of stuff went down in those 8 years. When we were planning our big 2014 trip, there was never any question that we would go back to the Balkans and visit all our favourite places and people. The children were keen to see places they had heard so much about. Eight years is a long time when you are a kid. In 2005, Venice was a baby and Lastborn – she wasn’t even around. Fahbio was excited to go back in July and witness firsthand the tourist frenzy we had only heard about, having arrived in mid-September for 8 months.
But I could have wept at the thought of going back. When I lived in Montenegro I was young and brilliant and beautiful. Well, not really but it seemed that way. The ensuing years had beaten me down, chewed me up and spat out a middle aged, less sharp, broke, cancer-victim. I became highly superstitious about going back. I could feel the dread growing in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t want to dampen the kids’ enthusiasm and I didn’t know how to explain my feelings so I just kept them to myself. When I tried to explain to Fahbio, he didn’t agree with me at all. He thought going back would be the best thing for us. If it hadn’t been for my family, I would have plotted a course that would have taken in every last nook and cranny of my beloved Balkans while giving a wide berth to Petrovac, our adopted town.
But I do have a family so I put on a brave face and marched on in. How strange it is to return to a place you have lived. Time doesn’t stand still. Going back had its high points and some things were exactly as they had been. It was lovely to visit old friends and olive trees. You laugh but this part of the world has olive trees that are thousands, yes thousands, of years old. How special to be given the opportunity to come back and caress one.
When we went back to visit our house, we hoped that the tenants would invite us in for a drink or at least let us sit on the balcony and enjoy the scent of the orange trees in the garden. We were the first tenants to live in the house. It was owned by a lady in Czech Republic who came to visit once a year. Her nephew lived directly behind the house and managed it for her. When we left, a couple from England moved in and we had heard that they lived there for at least a few years. Maybe they would still be there?
When we came to the property, it was so changed that we walked right past and stopped in puzzlement. We walked back and forth a few times, completely disoriented. Our beautiful little bungalow, set in the middle of a huge yard with ancient olive trees and heirloom citrus was gone. In its place, a hideous low rise apartment built right to the edge of the property line.
In 2006, the house next door had been entirely hidden from our view by shrubbery. It was home to an elderly lady whose son had moved to America. When we lived there, the American daughter-in-law had startled me one day when she said to her son, “Geez Louise!”. No one in Petrovac spoke English in the offseason. It was a tourist-free zone come September 30. Well, that beautiful little house was gone too. Destroyed for a half-built monstrosity that sits unfinished because the neighbours protested its construction and lack of proper planning permission.
I cried and cried at the loss of my little Montenegro house. On the one hand, it was unequivocal proof that my previous life was no more. On the other, it seemed symbolic of the human obsession with growth and profit above all else. The house that had stood there for so many years was as sturdy as a bunker, as charming as a well-made scone with clotted cream, and as adequate a home as ever there was. Six of us lived happily in a one bedroom house with a bar fridge and no oven, microwave or dryer. We watched hedge hogs in the garden and the children played on the boat that was parked there.
I wish I hadn’t seen what had been done to “my” property. Yet going there and grieving was also strangely cathartic.
Be warned all ye who enter where ye hast lived before. There is no certainty but that the experience will be most different.