“I was very tired and it felt like I didn’t belong anywhere,” she said. it's not an easy feeling. I felt helpless.It was like I was in nobody's land, “I could not go back to Zambia; I could not go in Zimbabwe.”
After spending 5 days in Zambia (in Southern Africa) last March, UN volunteer and travel blogger Lavdi Zymberi (32) took a taxi to pass into Zimbabwe from the Victoria Falls Land Cross Border. After getting stamped out of Zambia, she walked over the bridge that connects the two countries and went into the Immigration Office of Zimbabwe.
“In Zimbabwe, I was planning to take a helicopter tour over the Victoria Falls and visit a national park,” Lavdi said. “Also, I was looking forward to visiting Great Zimbabwe and finally concluding my trip in Harare. I like to visit less travelled countries when possible and I was ready to make the most out of my time in Zimbabwe. I was totally unprepared for what was going to happen next.”
Lavdi gave her passport and e-visa to the immigration officer, who took them and spent the next few minutes flipping through the passport with an expression of confusion on his face. He scrolled and clicked on his computer, before calling over numerous other agents, who all became similarly puzzled.
Being from Kosovo (a small landlocked country in the Balkans), Lavdi is used to travel difficulties stemming from her weak passport and many nations’ nonrecognition of Kosovo. Although Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February of 2008, only 97 of the 193 U.N. nations recognize Kosovo as sovereign, including the United States and most members of the European Union. Although the UN’s International Court of Justice validated Kosovo's cessation in 2010, some nations have actually revoked their recognition, possibly due to pressure from Serbia.
Lavdi said that these political tensions make travel extremely difficult for Kosovo residents because they are very limited to where they can go. Kosovo residents can only travel to 13 countries visa-free, 30 countries with visa-on-arrival, and for other countries that permit Kosovo travelers, they often have to apply for a visa, interview for a visa, and submit considerable paperwork (always/sometimes including a work contract, non-refundable hotel booking, birth certificate, and/or bank statement).
“The interviewing process is sometimes not easy; sometimes some of the embassies make you feel like you are a suspect of a crime,” Lavdi said. “I'm just a young person. I just want to go and visit your country and spend my money in your country so what's the problem.”
Yet, Lavdi felt very confident that she would be able to pass into Zimbabwe without any problems because she had filled out an application for an e-visa, selected Kosovo as her country of residence, made the payment, and printed out her confirmation email about a week prior to the trip.
But when she asked the immigration officers if something was wrong, the officers asked where she had gotten the visa. They began checking whether the visa was forfeited, despite the fact that Lavdi provided a payment receipt.
That’s when Lavdi began worrying: she had a single-entry visa to Zambia and had already been stamped out. By that time, she had been at the office for almost an hour.
After the immigration officers called their department of foreign affairs, they told Lavdi they were unable to scan her passport, as Kosovo was not in their immigration system due to Zimbabwe’s nonrecognition of Kosovo.
Top(left to right):Gjirokaster Castle in Albania; with the sausage tree in Zambia; Ulpiana, Prishtina
Bottom (left to right): Zanzibar Tanzania; local handicraft market in Zambia
“I was trying to tell them that like this would have been my 39th country,” Lavdi said. “I'm a traveler. I’m just going to visit your country. I have my flight ticket out of here. I'm not going to stay here.”
But, the immigration officers wouldn’t budge. They drove Lavdi back to Zambia’s immigration office, where the Zambian officers also refused to allow Lavdi into the country, since Lavdi was ineligible for a visa on arrival.
“I was very tired and it felt like I didn’t belong anywhere,” she said. it's not an easy feeling. I felt helpless. It was like I was in nobody's land,” Lavdi said. “I could not go back to Zambia; I could not go to Zimbabwe.”
Left to right: Lavdi waiting at the Zimbabwean immigration office; refusal stamp from Zimbabwe
After about 6 hours and numerous back to forth negotiations, Zambia finally conceded and allowed Lavdi to purchase a new visa. After spending the night in Livingston (a city in Southern Zambia), Lavdi took a bus to Lusaka and flew the next day to Uganda.
“You are doing everything as you should and then you end up just being rejected,” Lavdi said.
This experience ruined the remaining 6 days of Lavdi’s trip to East Africa, as she just wanted to get out of that part of the world. She believes it is unfair that ordinary Kosovo citizens who didn’t get to choose their birthplace have to suffer due to international tensions that they personally played no part in.
“I love my country, but I'm very critical of the government and especially the foreign ministry for not strengthening their diplomacy,” she said. “They are so focused on EU integration that they have forgotten that the world is much bigger than the EU. But then, I believe that it's also up to Kosovo citizens. We should not be expecting what the country will do for us, but also what wewill do for our country.”
Left to Right: Peja, Kosovo; Istog, Kosovo
She hopes that by raising awareness about Kosovo’s history and progress, more people could recognize it as an independent nation rather than a sunset of Serbia or a disputed territory rampaged by combat.
“I think it's important to change that mentality and explain that Kosovo has moved forward and now it's much better and it's not a war torn country anymore,” she said.
Since her experience at the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, Lavdi has been more careful about reaching out to countries’ foreign ministries and tourism offices to confirm that the countries accept Kosovo residents before departing for international trips. Although the travel difficulties she faces do frustrate Lavdi, they have not discouraged her from traveling.
“The more I traveled, the more I felt like I needed to see more,” Lavdi said. “There are so many countries out there that I want to go to and I don't think I have enough time.”
Lavdi said that the greatest insight she has gained from traveling is the realization that at their cores, people are basically the same. They want the same goals from life: stability, happiness, and a good life for their families and friends.
“Travel opens your mind,” Lavdi said. “You will start to see things and feel things differently because you can see different perspectives, different cultures.”
Lavdi in Juba in South Sudan