As soon as you get on the bus that connects Nish Tulla with the center of Durres, you face a poster with this message written: “Attends le départ de l’autobus avant de traverser; il te cache des automobilistes.” And then it shows, again in French and only in French, that for more details, you can call 04 26 10 12 12, and the webpage www.tcl.fr is displayed.
“I asked in the office too, no one knows of a collaboration with Albania,” says Olivia Vansoen, spokesperson for Transport en commun lyonnais (Tcl), the company that administers the urban transport system in Lion, the second biggest city in France. “We use our buses for 15 years, and then we return them to the company that manufactures them”.
All the cities in Albania that have an industrial area, or a population that needs to move in considerable numbers (home-factory-home, recently even home-mall-home), have buses that judging by their paint color and signs, remind you of Western Europe metropolis, but instead are a testimony of the country’s chaotic present. For the most part, the buses of Albania are recycled here, in their final breaths, after a long life in Western Europe.
In Tirana, the yellow bus of Berlin – the advertisement with adhesive paper in German in the bottom of it informs that now you can search even the internet from within the bus – brings you closer to Kristal Center at Komuna e Parisit. The Hague and Hamburg really mean the localities of Institut and Kamza Center.
The buss which once drove around Rouen, the epicenter of Normandy in France, connects the center with Uzina Dinamo. The Dajti area is covered by buses that once used to drive around Toulon, in the French Riviera.
Even the 20-seat van of Petrit Baçi from the village Podgorie near Korca, that takes passengers from the village and transports them to the city, used to go from the train station to the concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria.
“I am surprised how that place never improves, taking garbage from here and bring it there,” says Dejv Marku, an 18-year old from Durres, who currently studies in Lyon. “And we take them as they are and use them. Not to mention the pollution.”
The country is filled with second hand cars, and most of them still carry the brands of the factories, garages or western restaurants that used them before.
“It should be prohibited by law,” says Eva Buhaljoti, professor of marketing in the University of Tirana. “But the case of the brands is more of an ethical issue that anything else”.
People minding or not the taking the brand marks off a car hits a weak spot in the way we do business. The graphic marks are not important for small companies, and their business is publicized orally. What is written there, it is not important.
The buses are different, because they have to contain instructions regarding emergencies – spots for elders or pregnant women, or even security exits in case of accidents. You can’t find these instructions, not even in Tirana, says a project manager in the city. “The instructions I see, I see them in German”.
The administrator of Maren Buss line (why the double “s”?), which operates in Durres beach, is caught by surprise when asked. “We can’t change them that easily,” he said. “They are protected by copyright”.
Partly, this comes from the costs – to paint a bus costs at least a million Lek, and probably even more. Cleaning it adds more costs. A bus would have to take fare from at least three thousand passengers before it starts making a profit. No owner does that, if he finds the space and the opportunity to do so.
But it’s not strange that the means of urban transport recirculate from wealthier countries to poorer ones.
“It is a normal phenomenon in all of Central and Eastern Europe,” says Mariusz Józefowicz from Gdynia of Poland, who has a hobby of documenting urban buses around the world. “Only the conditions change. In Poland, they are entirely cleaned, re-painted with the colors of the firm that operates them and all the information regarding the previous owner is removed.”
“In Albania, such buses happen to show you the bus line of a city in France, with the Albanian destination placed in a piece of paper in the front glass.”
The Iveco van that connects Podgorie with Korça, Ibrahim of Pojan, whose son lived in north of Italy, brought it to Petrit Baçi.
The son of Ibrahim of Pojan bought the van from an Afghan in Germany, who bought it from mister Brixner from Mauthausen. In the museum of the concentration camp in Mauthausen there is a famous Albanian statue, the one of a partisan who strikes a German soldier with the stock of the rifle.
Mr. Brixner says that he changes his vehicles every 10 years, and he knows almost nothing about Albania, because the Albanian football teams play very rarely with the teams of Munich, which he is a fan of.
Not even Baçi knows anything about Mauthausen.
“What concentration camp? What are you talking about?” he says, sitting in a café at Agency in Korça.
Last year he took the van to the tapestry worker, who covered Mr. Brixner’s data in the front with an adhesive paper with the Albanian flag on it. Only a trained eye can now spot the green lettered Austrian cell phone number.
While the buses of Lyon were first noticed in Tirana.
Five summers ago, Ledia Dema laughed when she saw that passengers at the Faculty of Social Sciences entered the Stl bus from the door in the middle, not the one in the front like in Lyon. “When I am in a bus in Albania, I get ready to press the button and notify the driver to stop at the next station,” says Edmond Bogdani, a retired social worker who has lived in France for more than twenty years. “Of course, it doesn’t work.”
Now Durres uses them. Armir Asllani, 19-year old, studies sculpture and takes the bus every day to go to school. “It would be great to be in France and understand them,” he says.
*Elsa Dautaj worked for this article in Durres and Harris Meçolli in Tirana and Korça. For this article Fatjana Kazani also reported from Tirana