Whenever I’ve traveled in a “developing” country, it seems that there are even more levels of retail and service specialization than in the United States. For example, there are plenty of shopkeepers in Kathmandu who make their living solely by fixing radios, sewing patches in ripped bags, repairing beepers and taking apart things that I don’t even remember what they were/are. Everything that can be fixed seems to have it’s own niche market for specialized handy men and women.
In Albania, I haven’t noticed the same degree of specialization, but it’s still there lurking under the surface. At first glance, there aren’t the same number of electronics repair outfits, and it seems that (to their detriment) every corner store or “dyqan” sells the exact 50 things that the one on the next corner sells. However, there are the guys that sit on street corners in Tirana waiting to fill up your bic disposable lighter with a fresh dose of lighter fluid. And, after yesterday I have a new outlook on the existence of specialized Mr.-fix-its in Albania.
Just to preface the story – my walk to work is the entire length of the main boulevard in Lezhe. On my first day back at work after the holiday yesterday, I spiffed up a little (read: wore a skirt) and put on a nice pair of leather boots I recently scored at the gabi, or used clothing market. I was very proud of this purchase (only 4 dollars for beautiful leather riding boots that had only been worn maybe once and fit me well), but came to regret it quickly. My road is undergoing some reconstruction and currently is a mud slick. When I got down to the main boulevard, I stomped my feet to get the mud off and was surprised when 75% of the sole of one boot came completely detached from the shoe! That’s what I get for a 4 dollar pair of shoes, I guess. Instead of hobbling home to change, I hobbled down the boulevard looking like a fool until I got to the park by the Bashkia….because I remembered about the shoe men.
The shoe men, as I call them, are two guys who hang out in the park in all kinds of weather with an umbrella and an assortment of scary-looking tools and odd-colored potions in plastic bottles. They support themselves by repairing and shining people’s shoes. I walk by them so often that I often forget they’re there, but yesterday I ran straight into their arms.
In ten minutes of sitting outside in my stocking feet, one of the guys had fixed my shoes, lectured me on why I should pay him more to put more plastic on the soles and wrapped my feet in newspaper to protect from the cold (the cold is a deathly enemy to most Albanians and they talk about it all the time). We laughed and I put my “new” shoes back on and went on my way, problem free. After another 3 dollars spent supporting the local shoe guy economy, I’m feeling even better about my now-fortified shoes. They are still a steal, and now they could be considered steel-toe as well, what with all the nails he put into them.
Just another example of an exciting event in the life of a PCV in Albania. It’s the little things about this country that keep me going.