OK, this is not a photo which I took over the weekend - it is simply one I found on the net which I could modify to indicate where our bedroom was at the hotel where the WWDP event was held.
I have yet to upload all my photographs and sort out my thoughts, so I cannot post anything coherent at the minute. Returning from time away always means catching up with emails, sorting out washing, unpacking bags, dealing with things forgotten/overlooked before departure etc.
But as you see, our room was high on the 6th floor, and we were overlooking the Adriatic. The umbrellas were all dismantled as it was put-of-season January, and the swimming pool full of rainwater and dead leaves... but nonetheless we had a stunning view from our balcony of the beach and the Adriatic. On Saturday night at midnight we could see and hear a firework display further round the bay. Durrës is the second largest city of Albania, and one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. Here is the picture I took on Friday afternoon...
The ladies kept telling me that they have a special phrase in Albania "Close to the water, close to the King"
I asked what this meant - and they explained that when you are near water [be it sea, river, stream, lake or whatever] you realise things are growing, you can find food, you are able to wash...close to the water, there is life, and that life is a gift of God. At least, I think that was what they were telling me!
I suppose it is a bit like that English poem God's Garden - people only know that one phrase about being 'nearer God's heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth'
Whether or not I understood their explanation it is certainly true that by the seaside, in the company of these amazing ladies, I was really conscious of the presence of God.
When I posted the picture on FB on Friday, an old friend commented "What a wonderful experience for you to be in the country. I
don't think your presence for such a reason would have been possible in the
60s, 70s & 80s given the proclamation of the 'world's first atheist state'" He was so right - and it was a real privilege to hear the stories of how many secretly clung to their faith, despite the rulings of the state. The churches of Albania may have been closed, demolished, or maintained as 'museums of historical culture' - but they were still able to find God as they walked by the sea, or swam in the lakes. I have been truly humbled to meet these women.
Siobhan and I told them that we too lived close to the sea [she is from Exmouth]. I often walk along the sands at Christchurch, or sit on the quayside at Poole, here in Dorset- or paddle at Cromer or look out across the marshes at Brancaster when I'm up in Norfolk . I hope that next time, I shall remember their words, and feel 'close to the King' myself - and also remember to pray for my new Albanian friends.