I received another email from James Punjabi.

 

“Dear Benjamin,

I will call you later today to explain.

Best,

James Punjabi.”

 

While drinking good Montenegrin wine at night, I received the call.

It was Jessica. I put the cellphone in speakers mode so that Ida could hear.

She called me crying. Many things happened to her. She had abandoned Pietro forever, and her parents were in a safe space.

“I am in Beirut, Benjamin. I don’t know what to do or where to go. You are the only person that I know. You are my only friend.”

I saw Ida in the eyes. She was feeling the same vicarious embarrassment.

“I beg you; I don’t know who I can contact.”

I told her I could book her a flight ticket so she could fly here. She said that Pietro had broken her passports and that she didn’t have any energy to imagine the process of requesting a new Canadian or Bahamian passport. She knew she needed to go to the police. Still, she wasn’t emotionally stable to do so now.

I saw Ida on the face, and she mouthed, “tell her yes. But I will go with you.”

“Ok, send me your address. We will go, Jessica. Just wait a few days; I don’t know how complicated it is to go to Lebanon from Montenegro. By the way, how about James Punjabi? Who is he?”

“My doctor. I’ll explain you here.”

That’s how Ida and I embarked on the adventure to go to Lebanon.

We booked the tickets via Turkish Airlines, but we took several precautions.

First, I wasn’t sure Jessica was telling the truth. In addition, Lebanon is not the safer country in the world, nor is it in Europe, where most institutions are independent of the central government. Having that in mind, we contacted a Danish friend of Ida living there to keep an eye on us. He will contact the police and the Danish and Canadian embassy if we disappear.

 

Istanbul Airport

 

I provided him with all my information regarding Pietro, Jessica and James Punjabi.

Ida took advantage of the trip to Lebanon to book a couple of tours in the city. On the first day, we will be doing a historical tour.

We are not just going to “save” Jessica; we want also to discover the city.

I will be honest with you guys. While I was doing the line to board the plane to Istanbul, I thought I should have left it at any time. I was scared.

Ida, on the other hand, was strong. She saw all of this from a feminist point of view. Her beliefs make her need to support a woman hurt by an unscrupulous guy. She knew the risks, but the sorority was stronger.

I don’t even think about how bizarre it will be to meet Ida and Jessica simultaneously. But I am sure I will say she is my girlfriend whenever Jessica asks me about her.

Staying in the City Centre, we took advantage of walking around to try several places to have food. So we walk a few blocks from our apartment to The Living Room Lounge & Dining.

This place is between Kruševački Park and the University Park, only a few steps away from the Roman Square. We felt a lively atmosphere when we entered, with many local social gatherings.

The presentation of the dishes was excellent, and prices were average for places like this. I had the Octopus Salad that had a perfect amount of lemon, which is not always the case. I always complain about seafood salads that include lemon because some have too much and others too little. On the other hand, Ida had the Vegetarian Risotto, which included a fantastic mix of zucchini, tomato, onion and parmesan. The drinks were a bit pricey, but we tried a bottle of local wine; this is a must in every country. Prices ranged from EUR 18 to EUR 135 per bottle.

Pod Volat

Only two blocks after crossing the Morača River, we found another gem. This restaurant evokes an authentic atmosphere with many local dishes and incredible tastes. I had the lamb cooked under the bell with kebab while Ida tried the Dorado Fish. The prices were a good deal considering what we ordered and drank. The staff was amicable and caring.

I recommend booking in advance since the place was always packed.

Restoran Bar Desetka

You can find this place in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the University of Montenegro. Desetka has high-quality food with a lot of variety and abundant dishes. The menu was in the Montenegrin language, but the guys were very kind to explain it to us in perfect English.

We ordered burgers and beers whose price was very affordable.

The place was packed, and I will also recommend booking beforehand. The good thing is that they were fast after we ordered.

Konoba Lanterna

Close to Pod Volat, Konoba Lanterna is a place dedicated to local food with a vast selection of Montenegrin wines.

I ordered the local veal cutlet while Ida ordered Cevapi beef rolls. We asked for local wine again because where on Earth will we meet this fantastic wine again.

Stara Kuća National Restaurant

Outside the city centre in the Zagorič neighbourhood, we visited the Stara Kuća National Restaurant, which in Montenegrin means “ancient house.” The place contains an elegant ambience with a combination of stone walls, designer decors and a magnificent paved garden surrounded by wooden gates.

We ordered the Grilled Haloumi with vegetables and the Tuna Tataki as a starter. I adventured to try the Grilled Horse Steak (Ida couldn’t try it), which was good. Ida ordered only a beef soup and a beefsteak salad.

Prices were higher than the average in Podgorica, but it is worth trying this place at least once while visiting Montenegro due to its fantastic scenery.

I didn’t have the next destination after living almost three months in North Macedonia. So, when I received Ida’s call, I said yes immediately.

“Benjamin, I will take a month off during the summer. Do you want to meet me in Montenegro?”

So I packed my stuff and took a bus from Skopje to Podgorica. I wasn’t super comfortable, but it was decent. While travelling, we had to wake up twice in the middle of the night; the first was to cross the border to Kosovo and the other to enter Montenegro.

This time I travelled solo since Martin stayed in North Macedonia. He wanted to get a visa to Toma to visit his mom in Canada, but the guy didn’t even have a passport. So he stayed there, helping Toma with everything.

Ida’s message came a few days after receiving an email from James Punjabi. He told me that Jessica needed urgent help. He said that she was in Lebanon, left alone.

 

“Thanks for reaching out, Mr. Punjabi,

Even though I had an adorable relationship with Jessica, I don’t know why I am the only one that can help her. Why don’t you call the police if you are constantly updated with information about her?

I hope Jessica can find what she was looking for in her chosen path.

Yours sincerely,

Benjamin Gunst”

I didn’t receive any reply so far. So I continued with my life as if nothing had happened.

I went to the airport the next night to wait for Ida. She took a Scandinavian Airlines six-hour flight from Aarhus to Podgorica, making me rethink how big Europe is. Her cousin Mariana gave her a ride to the airport and sent me a bottle of Spanish wine with her. I smiled when I saw it. It was the same Tempranillo we drank last year at Ida’s place.

“How is Mariana?”

“She is in loved,” Ida replied, “It seems that they decided to form a triad.”

“Weren’t they before?”

“They were. But not romantically. After a couple of years, Mariana and Kristina also decided to establish a relationship.”

“Wow! That’s amazing! After all the recent seatback the world has experienced with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the United States Supreme Court derogating progressive laws, it is good to hear that love is something that is still moving forward.”

“That’s why I am here, Prince Charming.”

I couldn’t close my mouth for an hour because the smile Ida put in my face was impossible to remove.

We stayed in an aparthotel complex closed to Novi Grad in the City Centre to take advantage of the size of the city. We visited most of the tourist attractions while walking around.

On the second day, we had breakfast in a café nearby and told her about James Punjabi’s last email.

“I think you should go to the police. The whole communication with that guy doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know, but this doesn’t feel legit. I think Pietro is probably trying to scam me because he is jealous. It doesn’t make sense that he writes me every once in a while.”

“You have a point.”

In the meantime, we continue enjoying Montenegro and ourselves.

North Macedonia has changed me a lot. I have to say that I didn’t expect this country to be so marvellous.

We have spent around two months in North Macedonia. Since Martin lost his passport, we agreed to be a long season here. The first thing we did was look for ways to integrate with the community. That’s how we ended up in The Men Movement Foundation.

While looking for Toma with Ardita, we visited a community in Skopje where some posters were looking for people to join The Men Movement Foundation. I contacted the number without knowing what that was about. They didn’t even have any information on Google.

The next day they invited me to a meeting. The team was composed of 10 Macedonian guys whose partners had suffered some kind of harassment only for being women. Since it was a sharing circle, we were invited to share any experience we felt we wanted. Nikol and Gregor told the group’s story and how they came up with the idea while Martin and I listened carefully. They decided to do an English session that day so we could participate. I felt pressure to share anything because they were trying to communicate in a language they weren’t fluent.

At the start, I didn’t know what to share. I wanted to talk about Pietro and Jessica, but I preferred sharing something different since this case had reared its head again (James Punjabi attempted to communicate with me). So I gained confidence and narrated the events of my mom and dad and the challenges of growing up with separated parents. Three guys came to hug me and then sent support to my mom.

Then Martin raised his hand and told the story of his mom and Toma. When he told the story, a guy in the corner started crying. It was a guy around 50 years old, with a long beard and green eyes. After Martin finished his story, he stood up and walked to hug Martin.

I could acknowledge by watching Martin’s face that he didn’t want to take this too seriously because the guy was speechless, crying without saying a word.

Nikol brought him a glass of water, and when he finished, he could speak.

“Martin, I am Toma. Your mom’s Toma.”

I adverted strange reactions while Martin shared his story with everyone. Gregor and Nikol’s heads seemed like they were in a tennis match, moving between Martin’s speech and Toma’s reaction.

I decided to join the Men Movement Foundation while staying in North Macedonia, not only because of Toma but because I believe Men have to understand that women are equal to us.

Our first two days in Skopje were fantastic. Excellent food, good bars and cafes to work. We even got to know Ardita, a private investigator lady who was the sister of the girl sitting next to us on the bus.

However, any plan to enjoy the country and the city halted when we realized Martin had lost his Canadian Passport.

This is what we did:

First, we contacted the General Consulate of Canada in Skopje. We reach this number 389 (2) 3225-630.

However, they work from 9:00 to 15:00 from Monday to Friday. If they don’t pick the phone up, you can collect call to Canada +1 613 996 8885.

After that, they will give you the option of an Emergency Passport or a traditional one. The difference is that Emergency passports reach faster but have to be used to travel back to Canada. We requested the traditional one.

You need to fill out a form available on the Government website. Some of the required information includes data of your former passport, a certification of Canadian Citizenship and a Canadian ID.

Martin showed a soft copy of his Canadian birth certificate for the Canadian Citizenship document proof. However, Canadian born abroad citizens can provide one of the following documents:

  • Certificate of registration of birth abroad
  • Certificate of naturalization
  • Certificate of retention of Canadian citizenship
  • Certificate of Canadian citizenship

Martin showed his valid driving license by Quebec for the document that supports identity. However, you can also present any Canadian Federal or Provincial ID or local ID from abroad that includes the following: Name, date of birth, photo and signature. 

Canadian authorities may enquire you about how you lost your document. My recommendation is to go with the local police officer first. Since we did this, we saved time in the explanation because the North Macedonian Police gave us a lost passport report. Canada takes the identification of its citizens seriously; furthermore, any reported lost passport will become invalid after being informed to the authorities.

The consulate informed us that it could take 20 business days to replace the document; however, Martin’s passport arrived earlier. I believe we were lucky. I had a few more calls with James Punjabi during that time and we even met Toma. I’ll share the whole story with you in the next few days.