small family business
11 female & 2 male artisans
owner: nebije qotaj
co/rizom partner since 1/2019
It takes a lot of courage & determination
to rise as a woman in a
traditional Albanian village.
But when the fishing jobs disappeared
in neighboring Lake Shkodaer &
her family had to be taken care of,
Nebije remembered the long afternoons spent watching her grandmother magically turn row after row of thread into colorful carpets on a loom.
She turned her home into a workshop, dyeing wool & weaving & soon trained & employed eleven local women, each one– the sole breadwinner in their families..
andrei georgescu business development
nadja zerunian creative
walter aigner technical expert
marta galli text
pauline thurn und taxis photography
gjoana leka & erjon kacerja local support
Carps. Big, fat, oily fish that belong to the Cyprinidae family are like gold to the people living around Lake Shkodra in Albania, the biggest lagoon in the Balkan region. Cooked according to an ancient recipe, the carp casserole is a delicious tourist attraction. There isn’t much agriculture at the feet of Taraboshi mountain in the Albanian Alps but the rocky landscape provides the perfect terrain for olive trees. Nature thrives here too. Over 800 types of seaweed, over 250 species of birds and 50 different types of fish live within an area that overlaps into Montenegro - there’s an invisible border crossing the silver lake. Once the heart of Old Illyria, the place is filled with picturesque fishermen’s villages.
Fishing being more of a man’s thing, at the end of the night all the local men from the villages take to the lake in small boats, armed with throw nets. But this picturesque postcard image has been threatened by a sharp rise in illegal fishing. With the severe decline in the most valued species - such as carp - only meagre pickings are left for the locals. Families can no longer rely on the unstable outcome of their aquatic catches for their survival. That’s why Nebije Qotaj, a woman with silky jet-black hair, then in her late 20s & a mother of three, decided she had to do something. She started with what she knows best.
The Cold War is over. Evaporated. The future is unwritten. The communist regime is in power & Nebije works for the State producing rugs for the export market in a big factory in her village. Working on the loom, there isn’t much room for experimentation, for adding colors or patterns. Everything is pre-determined. Nebije learnt to weave at a very young age. In the Muslim community she grew up in it’s a tradition that is passed down from woman to woman.
During the 1992 elections the communist party is wiped out. The same communists who destroyed mosques & churches, persecuted imams & priests & banned private religious observance. But with them, also the factory where Nebije works is closed down. She is desolate & doesn’t want to move for work. Many members of her family have already moved to the city of Shkodra, but the little village on the lake, Zogaj, is all she has ever known & is where she grew up. She wants to stay put. Zogaj has long beaches, Zogaj has crabs. She really likes it here. For a while she stays at home, but she can not sit on her hands.
She is one of the most attractive women in the village, & one of the smartest – she argues – so she doesn’t have to look very far to get married. She shares her house with her brother-in-law’s family. Nebije & her husband have three children, and to make a living for all of them is not easy. Until she inherits a big old loom from her husband’s grandmother in 1996.