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Friday, May 23, 2008

Elabasan Pazar

I haven’t yet written a spiel on the wonders of the Elbasan pazar, where one can buy all fruits, vegetables, fresh dairy products, meats, grains, and extensive varieties of mysterious canned/ packaged foods unfamiliar to the America eye.
To begin, the market is largely outdoors; most of the fruits and vegetables are piled into tall stacks under a great ramada, just off the main road, near the furgon and bus stops. Surrounding this first area are many densely filled shops brimming with bags of grains, various salts, kitchen utensils, candies, meats, specialties, and whatever else they can fit in the modest spaces. Then, around the back an additional ramada full of vegetables emerges, stocked with another round of similar goods. Along with the many shops there are dozens of unofficial vendors, each crouched on their heels with bags of home-picked produce in front, usually of salad, spinach, weeds, fig leaves, and other foliage. And, despite having seen numerous markets of late, I still cannot decipher how to know which vendor to buy from, when they all have the same price and clearly provide foods from the same sources (hence same quality)?

The great thing about our markets here in Albania, which only strike me as special because they weren’t present in any of the markets in Asia, are the mass dairy centers. In Elbasan there is a building in the pazar full of giant clumps of yellow and white cheesewheels, as well as plastic buckets of gjalpё (butter), kos (yogurt), gjiz (semi-cottage cheese), Fanta bottles filled with qumestё (milk) and various other degrees of homemade dairy products. The smell of the building alone can knock you off your feet, it’s intense!

During our recent trip to the market I snapped some photos of the bountiful cherries (just came in season—they are the “expensive” ones at 200 lek per kilo, which equates to less than $1 per pound!), assorted piles of olives sold by origin, some cheese vendors happily posing for us silly American folk (who also lovingly like to ‘shoot the shyet with’), and hopefully in the background you can pick out the completely old-school scales, whereby the vendors chuck weights into one bucket while increasing or decreasing the amount of produce on the other side until they balance. I think they must be decades old, and every once in awhile I come across someone with a real antique—wonder if they could sell to a dealer in the US and buy a digital one with the profits?

Another funny thing about the market (and all shops) in Albania is that everything is quoted in “old lek” prices; so when they answer “dy mi e gjashtё qind e pesё” (two-thousand six hundred and fifty), we have to first convert to English, then remember to drop a zero. It becomes especially confusing when the occasional vendor quotes in new lek, knowing that as foreigners we probably don’t know the system, and in turn causing us to think they are giving us a fantastic deal! However, in general, we are all very confused as to why they changed the system of money and bills, and refuse to speak with the correct numbers, considering they adapted the currency over 35 years ago… S’ka problemё (not a problem) but it just goes to show how stubborn their mindset is when adjusting to new ideas…

(Please stay tuned for future pics!)

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