STORY AND PHOTOS BY NICK ST.OEGGER
In this series, we offer you a little window onto life in one corner of the world or another. Enjoy peeking through the curtains with us!
The late afternoon sun beats down on the open central square of Kuta, where the old men have retreated to the shadows of a café, smoking and quietly chatting. It’s market day, and a woman with her fruit stand braves the heat with her friends. I pick up a few apples and figs, but when I reach for some money, she smiles and waves it away, telling me in Albanian that it is a gift. Such is the gentle hospitality of people in the villages. Despite the pressure growing from without, there is still a sense of slowness and grace to life here.
I’ve just come back from the nearby Vjosa River, where an energy firm plans to build a hydropower dam. You can see the disquiet in people’s faces, the uncertainty of what will happen to their village and the land that their fathers and their fathers’ fathers tilled. The old men at the café tell me how it worked during communism, how they made up a cooperative with nearby villages, trading, self-sustaining. They smile, seemingly lost in nostalgia, and a silence follows, broken only by the puff of a cigarette or the click of worry beads.
In the evening, I walk back out to the fields, where the silhouettes of farmers pop up and down in the distance, as they hurriedly finish the day’s work. There’s a symphony of cattle bells ringing closer and closer, different pitches for different animals. This one sounds like sheep, with a cow or two mixed in. In a few minutes, they pass and I’m enveloped in the herd. They look at me unimpressed. I smile thinking about how the same happens when I take the tube in London. Somehow I prefer this herd, and this place.
Originally from California, Nick St.Oegger narrowly avoided law school to become a documentary photographer, focusing on societies and places in limbo. After accidentally ending up in Albania on a trip to the Balkans, he has spent the last several years visiting the country, learning about the language and culture. His most recent project, Kuçedra, explores life on Europe’s last free flowing river. He can be found here on Instagram: @aquietamerican and Twitter: @NickStOegger.