“Heeeeekura! Heeeekura vjeeeetra! Heeeeekura!”
I hear this chant every morning and every evening. At least. And no this is not the new Muslim call to prayer. Actually, its the slogan of quite an ingenious little recycling system that developed naturally to fill a vacuum in the infrastructure here in Albania.
You see, there are two stark problems in Albania- garbage and unemployment. It’s no surprise that Albania does not have a centralized recycling system (we barely have a trash collection service mind you). There are no recycling bins, recycling planets, or anything like that. And besides the 20% of the population that can’t or won’t find work, Albania also has a large population of impoverished, unemployable Romanis (unemployable due to institutionalized discrimination, lack of access to education, and so much more). How are these things related, you might ask?
Well, the simultaneous solutions to these two problems is actually quite remarkable. I love watching the free market at work. So, in Shkoder these unemployed Roma people have decided to take advantage of a little government caviot. The local municipalities will offer a small amount of money (like 10 leke) for metal, glass, and plastic as an incentive to recycle. But know one really does this because they are either lazy, busy, or just don’t know about it. So in come the Roma.
They drive through the streets of Shkoder on these little jimmy-rigged motorized tricycle-like wagon thingies screaming “Heeeeekura vjeeeeeetra!” I’m not going to lie, when I first saw this happening I was so confused. I asked myself, what are they screaming?! What are they doing? Why people are throwing old tvs, bicycles, broken fans, and old pots out their windows?! And then it all made sense. In Albania “hekura” means iron or metal and “vjetra” means old.
So as the Roma drive these wagon tings through the streets screaming (regardless of the time of day and whether or not your lazy-American self maybe be trying to sleep past 8am for once), people come to their doors or windows and throw their old metal scraps down into the wagonbed. When they fill up their wagon, they drive it to the municipality and get a nice little paycheck. Okay, so it’s not very much obvious, but its more than they could get begging on the street (which is the other main occupation of Roma people in Shkoder).
So there you have it. Privatized recycling, door-to-door service, wages for the Roma, cleaning up the city…all in one. Problem solved. It kind of makes me smile actually. A truly Albanian solution to an Albanian problem. The trash piles up all over this country. It lines the rivers; it clutters the beaches; it dirties beautiful parks. The Roma may not be doing this to channel their inner environmental activist-selves, but it makes no difference to me. It’s still a step in the right direction.
The only downside? Being woken by the “hekura, hekura” man every morning. But I suppose it’s a small price to pay for a simple solution to so many problems. I’ll take it.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”