Shkoder Albania: Tricycle Wars

"Take a ride on the tricycle" Their faces say it all - Shkoder Albania - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com

Words were not needed to communicate the pure joy of one man or the pure horror of the other. Subject A, a bicycle shop owner, was trying relentlessly to get Subject B, his customer, to take a seat. Subject B would not have it. A grabbed B by the wrist and pulled him forward, trying with all his might to get B to sit on a tiny black cushion of a seat.

No luck.

I kept my distance and shared the same ear to ear grin as Subject A. This was a show I’d unintentionally initiated and one I just couldn’t bare to miss.

Comist Biciklist Motorra - Shkoder Albania - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Comist Biciklist Motorra – Shkoder Albania – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

During a day of walking through the shambled streets of Shkodër, a city just over the border of Montenegro in northwestern Albania, I immediately noticed one most obvious characteristic of all the people: Joy. Pleasant pedestrian streets overflowed on a particularly sunny February day when the air reached nearly 30 degrees celsius. “Bar Kafe” signs hung above doors opening into dimly lit spaces where groups of three, four or twelve men sat clustered together enjoying espresso and cigarettes. Women gathered on slated benches and on the steps of hair salons, “Parukeri”s, gossiping their way through the bright afternoon. Caged birds sang in front of restaurants and shoe shops, lighting up the air with their gentle songs.

Four main sources of transportation made their way over roads in need of serious makeovers. Whether by foot, horse, bicycle or Mercedes, the people of this city were happily moving about all day every day. When rainclouds appeared, bicycles and horses continued to roam freely, their owners multitasking by carrying umbrellas in one hand and holding onto the reigns in the other.

 

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From the main streets past mosques, churches, and statues of important Albanians ranging from the Shkoder’s own Mother Theresa to war hero Isa Boletin, I reached the Bojana (Buna) River. Bicycles were stacked against walls as their owners enjoyed games of checkers at park benches and fathers taught their children how to properly hold a fishing rod. The city’s castle cast a shadow on the land, looming high above a mountain top as to allow past royals a view of their entire valley. I paused to relax at a rooftop patio and take in the view while refueling with a sip of “Nescafe.” In Albania, coffee names and versions vary with every cafe, so when ordering, the customer never really know what she’s going to get. That particular spot served a simple shot of espresso, so my time there was quite short, leaving more time to get lost and found.

It was next that I happened upon a bright red sign with my favorite Albanian word painted in large letters and two jolly men unknowingly ready to entertain: “Biciklist”

 

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It had started as an innocent photo and quickly had turned into a street act, party of three: an American Girl on a walk along the outskirts of Shkoder’s bustling city center. Two men exchanging bicycle repairs for a few hundred Albanian Lek. A knee-high red tricycle at rest in front of a boldly contrasting indigo wall. An innocent photograph. Subject A’s encouragement of Subject B to pose for a picture while sitting on a saddle ten sizes too small. Subject B puling back in refusal. A’s contagious laughter triggered by B’s horrified expression.

Subject B managed to stand his ground despite Subject A’s continual attempts. We three, A B and me, the American Girl, weren’t able to verbally communicate that day but we understood each other fully. As the childlike adrenaline subsided we waved goodbye. That evening as I watched the sky darken and the towers of both Ebu Beker Mosque’s minarets and Shkoder Cathedral’s elevated cross awaken in illumination, I spotted another sign which drew me closer. With less of a religious vibration, a sign “Kodak” pulled me in to a photographer’s shop. Opening up my camera, I handed him its sim card and requested he print two pairs of photos to be picked up the following morning.

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That evening a dinner of homemade lamb burgers and potato wedges was followed by a coloring session alongside a darling Italian woman caring for Mi Casa es Tu Casa. The eco-friendly, pet-friendly, all around friendly-friendly hostel left me with a room all to myself in low season, and therefore the secretive ability to swipe quilts from every bed and pile them high atop my own. After a full night’s sleep and a breakfast of fresh bread, olives and Albanian cheeses, I returned to my holy place. Stepping inside the Kodak shop, I exchanged 100 Lek (70 cents) for four photos and returned to the city’s edge in search of a bright indigo wall with fire-engine red graffiti spelling out “Biciklist.” Subject A was standing outside, talking shop with two new customers. Calmly approaching as not to initiate any new games of tug-of-war, I nodded my head at him to say hello and handed over two sets of photos: one of the little red tricycle and one of him and his friend taken in the heat of their monumental battle. I pointed at the photos and demonstrated that I hoped he would give one set to his friendly foe.

"Take a ride on the tricycle" Their faces say it all - Shkoder Albania - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Subject A to Subject B “Take a ride on the tricycle” Their faces say it all – Shkoder Albania – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

 

Again, that goofy grin appeared, and I can only hope it returns every time he takes a look at the photos. Pure Joy.

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