Albania in a nutshell

14/01/2016, Vlore, Albania, Martina writes:

Mud sweeter than honey *

Lemons from Llogara (Vlora)

Neku is a 34 year old woman who owns a mini-market close to my house. Although she works every day of the week from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., Neku always finds time to offer me a coffee or a hot dish when I stop by after work. Sometimes she teaches me something from her tradition, like how to make olives, for example. I brought them to her shop after having picked them in Tragjas [1]: she offered me a seat behind the cheese counter, moved the cleaver from the piece of wood she uses as a table and proceeded to show me the whole process.

Assaf is an Israeli marine biologist who moved to Vlora to work on a fish farm; he's been living with his wife in Albania for eight years. One Saturday morning he took me to watch the sea bream fishing in Karaburun [2]. With my camera, I captured the fishermen's every move : the positioning of the net inside the fish tank, their collection, their immersion in five tanks full of ice, their return from the sea and the transportation of the containers to the fish farm in Orikum [3], where a group of women was waiting to divide the sea bream by weight and shape.

No meters, no balances, only expert hands used to manage this already frozen fish and to recognize it in a second, while simultaneously talking to me : “ah Italian, I lived in Parma for 10 years, I remember it very well”. Assaf explains that new machines are on their way, in order to replace the women's work, to make the production faster and avoid their fatigue: I'm almost sad, while following the sea bream treatment, fascinated.

The market of Kruja (Tirana)

Mira is a woman from Kruja [4]. I met her visiting the city's bazaar and she attracted my attention because she was weaving a carpet with a huge loom in her shop. As soon as she saw me, she noticed my admiration and invited me to enter: she explained to me how the fabric processing happens, how long it takes, how the designs and decorations are impressed on it, all without removing for a second her hands from the tool.

Sofo is a shepherd from Tragjas, I met him by chance while walking through the village. He stopped me when he heard my Italian; “I spent fifteen years in Bologna, what a wonderful city!”. He invited me for lunch at his restaurant, an enchanting place on the top of a hill with a beautiful view on the Orikum bay; only a few tables and a family atmosphere: while he served me, he explained that all his products are natural, that they come from his animals or from his vegetable garden and are prepared by his wife with the help of their children. He told me how they prepared them and all I can think of is how rare it is to taste something so simple and delicious at the same time.

I have many more similar stories to tell, stories about authentic and humble people who still live and work the traditional way. For me, being used to a big city lifestyle and to “finished” products in supermarkets, discovering this world was an incredible experience. Albania allows people to get close to nature, to tradition, to appreciate “ancient” knowledge and flavours that are difficult to find in other places. Here, people's work is still precious, people who have remained authentic, almost belonging to another era. The tradition is one of the nation's strengths : for the local economic development, Albanians’ attachment to their country and their traditions is a starting point, not something to remove. How is it possible to conciliate this with innovation? How can they move forward without forgetting their origins? Maybe it is in this struggle that many of Albania's problems lie. The country's future is unsure of which direction to take : the step towards renewal can already be seen in bars, fashionable clothing, western style architecture, 20-floor buildings, luxury restaurants, but behind this appearance many wonderful habits resist and are the real strength of this unique country.

Peninsula of Karaburun (Vora)

Auleda immediately attracted me for its intent to work in this direction, through different local development projects.

Craft Inn, for example, is a project which aims at creating a network of craftsmen through a website available to both workers and the public, in order for them to get to know one another and also to make themselves known, increasing their production and operations. A work-in-progress project focused on the development of sustainable tourism, which is still under represented in Albania but has huge potential: the main objective is to show that regional authentic beauties can attract tourists who, like me, are not used to coming in close contact with tradition, nature, rurality, and find enthusiastic meeting a shepherd or in making olives at home. A series of lessons on how certain typical and domestic products, such as olive oil, can become cosmetics. Groups of women happy to learn a new craft test themselves by creating soaps, creams, scrubs using what they have at home or in their gardens, selling them at the fairs with the goal of starting a new company which could bear fruit in the future.

Ipatech is another example. The project, now completed, brought together tradition and innovation in the most representative way, by giving modern machines to small producers (oil, cheese, honey and other goods), improving their work.

Not innovation and tradition, but innovation with tradition. This way Neku, Assaf, Mira and Sofo's knowledge won't be lost.


[*] Albanian proverb: “Balta më e embal se mjalti”. With mud they refer to Albania.

[1] Tragjas I vjeter is an abandoned village on the mountains, few minutes from the Orikum bay (Vlore). They tell that it has been burned two times, by the German before and by the Italian then, during the war. The riuns are still very visible.

[2] Karaburun is the biggest peninsula in Albania. Protected military area, it remains untouched and you can find just shepherd and fishermen. Famous for the immersions and the visits to the caves and the bays, only achievable by sea.

[3] Orikum is a seaside city placed in a bay few minutes far from Vlore. From here you can reach the Karaburun peninsula.

[4] Kruja is a small city on the mountains above Turana, famous for its castle addressed to the national hero Scanderberg.

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