Some roadside anthropology

24. Juni 2013 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

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It’s true to say that cycling along country roads doesn’t reveal a lot about the people who live in the stretches of land that you pass through. And yet, I was starting to think as I saw a traffic sign that had been unknown to me hitherto. It showed the silhouette of a horse- or mule-drawn cart with a person and a pile of dirt or hay on it. It was encircled in red, and the message ‚RADARSKA KONTROLA‘ on a separate sign probably didn’t mean that the cart would be fined for speeding, but that this was a highway which cars should be imposed upon only by speed limits.
Indeed, only a few minutes later, a police officer flashed his gear at me, looking stern. I know one should never kid policemen, but temptation was faster than reason. „Was I too fast?“ I inquired smilingly. I was grateful he didn’t rise to the bait. He kept his stern face and I asked him, for distraction, if he knew whether the border crossing at Kula would be open. He thought that yes, and started to get interested in me and my bike. His English was close to zilch, but gesturing we agreed that it would be a long and arduous ride with so many (snaking gesture) switchbacks.
I passed the time by looking more closely at the immediate side of the road. Compared to the maritime reaches of Croatia and Montenegro, the debris had begun to increase since Kolasin. In a sense, I had to be thankful to Coca Cola, Carlsberg and other bottling companies for reducing glass and resorting to PET and aluminium for packaging their thirst quaffers. The glass ratio is down, and my tyres the happier for it. I haven’t had a single puncture since I started out two years ago. However, the practices of the drivers are hardly environmentally friendly, nor do the workers who cut the grass at the roadside feel inclined to do anything about the waste. The PET bottles and chips bags get shredded and are let to not rot, and the cans are flung down the hills if there are any. Do road users have any sense of how long it takes for the stuff to decay? Some of the bottles must be 10 years old, judging from the patina of dust. But worse is to come in the Bosniak-Albanian corner of Montenegro and in Kosovo. Overflowing waste containers surrounded by piles of exploded bags whose content the passer-by doesn’t care to examine further – too bad our noses don’t have lids we can close. One thing is clear, though: there is never anything useful too be found in these heaps. Old men with lousy bicycles have gone over everything at least once already.
On a more, well, neutral note, there is the subdiscipline of fencology. The type of fencing can tell you a fair bit about the local farmers. There are the sturdy old fences with gnarled poles and rods of wood, with a grey patina, crooked but reliable. Then there is the rusty barbed wire, also held in place by sticks, with the occasional wad of animals‘ hair as evidence that they’ve been doing their job just fine. And finally, the desperate attempt to put unsuitable material to service: thin wire, fixed and twisted many times, delicate poles which have been mistreated with heavy hammering work so that they’re all frazzled and will soak up the rain, rotting in far less time than the PET bottles. Ironically, most of the goats I saw weren’t grazing within a fenced pasture, but tied to pole. And the few cows I came across were wandering about and feeding on the dusty grass alongside the road.
I’d also need to delve into the chapter of human dwellings, obviously, as well as car brands and license plates. From the latter, you can draw conclusions about regional migratory patterns. The road between Berane and Rozaje seems to be a favourite approach for middle-class Belgraders to the seaside at Ulcinj or Bar. The Beraners do not frequently venture across the pass and through the tunnel to the isolated Bosnian-Albanian corner of Crna Gora. But the Rozajers are out and about. Perhaps some of them were even at the extremely loud party that took place at the ground floor of Luka’s Hotel in Berane, where I tried to catch some sleep. In any case, dozens of them are plying the Kula Pass (1800 metres), probably to visit their relatives in Peje, now separated by a national border of sorts. The RO license plates are also screwed to heavy trucks a lot. The crafty locals seem to have invested into the transport industry heavily, and must have seized on some more lucrative side trades at the sams time (see a later entry, Officer Sinan).
That brings me to the dwellings. Well, there’s a lot of construction going along this road. The pre-war industry has totally collapsed, witness the rusty ruins and mounds of wooden crates that never saw the products they should have protected for shipping. But the Rozaje area looks up-and-coming, judging from the number of new private buildings; big they will be, if and when they are completed. In Croatia, I saw a lot of incremental construction, where usually, the family lived on the first floor while the second storey and perhaps the attic was being sort of erected. I learnt that a roof is a marvellous contraption to keep sacks of cement from getting wet until the money is there to buy some bricks or windows.
Here, it’s the whole house that’s been built in seeming haste and proportions of grandeur. But nobody seems to be living in them, and who knows where the investors, proudly named on some billboards, have gone. In one concrete skeleton of a commercial building, I saw an array of rusting bulldozers and construction lorries. Across the border in Kosovo, Roma families were squatting in huts behind construction ruins or at the back of ground floors.
What I hardly see as a cycling roadside observer are people who actually WALK along a road or cycle outside of towns. They just don’t go for it around here. If you don’t own or lease the latest BMW SUV, it has to be at least an old Volkswagen Passat handed down the Adriatic from Germany, or a Zastava held together by the rust of many years. And of course, at least in Kosovo, you need something to hang up the new icon of independence, the RKS license plates.

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