The population in Dibër is about 15,000. People say there are easily 15,000 more Dibrans who live abroad. Many of these people keep houses or apartments here to use when they return during the summer holidays. It seems like every other house is closed up, shutters lowered 24 hours a day because the family lives usually in America, but also in Germany, Italy, or Switzerland.
Dibër, while designated a city, feels like a large village. Everyone seems to be related to most of the other people here, and the rest are their old classmates, or family of school friends, or neighbors. People here are very family-oriented. If a mother here doesn’t hear from her grown son who lives in America for 24 hours, she starts worrying. The expats, for their part, use their summer annual leave time to return home here, staying anywhere from two weeks to two months. Needless to say, the population swells here in the summer in a big way.
During summer, there are more people shopping for groceries during the day than usual, making my trips out for food a little more complicated. But this population surge is most noticeable in the evenings. Crowds are out walking the main street through the center, pushing strollers, or having coffee or ice cream at one of the many places that line the street. Above the general buzz of conversation, there is the crying of babies, the squeals of toddlers, and the conversations being held by two people across the street from each other. The pace of the walking is slow, more like a stroll, and it grinds to a halt unexpectedly at times.
My personal preference is a little more space when I’m walking through town. I’m usually on a mission, and alone (how American!). Passing the mobs of people is nearly impossible without going into the street. So I have made most of my forays out, like shopping for groceries, in the morning.
But my favorite time to go into the center is about 5:30am, when nothing is open, and when bits of trash, the remnants of high spirits of the evening before, flutter like ghosts on the street and sidewalks before the cleaners have started their shifts. I like to wander the streets, just looking around.
While the people are sleeping, the dogs roam the city in groups. They horse around with abandon, unhindered by the crowds that come later. There are usually jackdaws and barred doves somewhere along the way, and cats dart here and there along the outskirts of my attention. So in the early morning, Dibër belongs to the animals and me. I’m in excellent company!
For a while on these early morning walks, I was bringing food and water to a cat that seemed to be raising her kittens in the cemetery of a beautiful old mosque in town. It was a lovely spot, with greenery and flowers as tall as me that she could hide in. I was just at the point of thinking the kittens must be weaning age, when a gardener came into the cemetery and cut down all the beautiful lush foliage, including removing the cheap cat dishes I was filling there. Now there was nowhere to hide the food, and it would sit in the sun. I asked someone who lives adjacent to the cemetery if he had seen her, and he hadn’t.
On my return trip through town, I see the cleaning people with their brooms and hoses, having thrown wide open all the doors of the restaurants and coffee shops. They clean not only inside the restaurants, but sweep and wash the sidewalk out front as well.
By this time, a few men have arrived at each of two coffee shops that open early. Occasionally, I see one or two men still in their evening wear, heading for their cars to go home to sleep. In the quiet of the early morning, it’s hard to believe that until 2 or 3 hours ago, this place was hopping!
Soon, the cleaners will head home, shops will open, and a new day will gear up.
Today, as usual in summer, there will be several weddings, and cars honking their horns will drive through town, Albanian flags flying, through the afternoon, even if it rains. And in the evening, there will be a full on Dibra style summer night.
I may be at home, enjoying my solitude, my books, and my knitting, perhaps listening to music if there’s an internet connection,or I could be at a friend’s house enjoying a meal.