The Villages

The rugged south west part of Macedonia was dotted with isolated villages like a night sky is dotted with bright stars. Those villages existed and thrived for hundreds of years, long before the Ottoman Empire occupied that region. The people inhabiting those villages always identified themselves as Macedonians. During the Ottoman occupation few Muslims lived in those villages that were dotting the mountains. Even when Greece and Turkey exchanged populations after the Greek-Turkish War, relatively few prosfigi (Christians from Turkey who were resettled in Greece) settled in those mountainous villages; they were truly homogeneous Macedonian villages. I know several villages by name and have been to two others in addition to Mala. Although the villages are a few kilometres apart, contact between people from the different villages was difficult due to the rugged terrain and lack of modern transport; remember I am describing the situation during the 1950s. Because of their isolation, the villages developed their own individual identity.

I would like to express my perception of the unique identity of the villages that I visited and the villages that I have heard about from adults who had contact with them. I don't wish to insult anybody from those villages, this is my perception of them and it's described with a tongue-in-cheek manner and of course it doesn't apply to each and every person from that village.

Starting with Neret: everyone in that mountainous region has heard of Neret. It was the brightest star in that group of villages, the most populous, prosperous and self-assured village in the region, big enough to be regarded as a town. In fact it was too big and was quickly running out of arable land as it was perched on the plateau of a steep hill; that is why my grandparents eventually moved to Mala. At its peak, before the Civil War and Balkan Wars, Neret was the place to be. It had just enough land, plenty of water (appropriately renamed Polipotamos; meaning many rivers in Greek), and it was not inhabited by Turks or prosfigi. If by chance you meet a person from Neret, you have to bow to him and kiss his hand for maintaining the great reputation of Neret.

A few kilometres south east of Neret, perched on a steep hill without a plateau you will find pretty Lagen (aptly renamed "Triantafyllia" by the Greek government; meaning "rose"), the village that wants to emulate Neret. Lagen has rich black soil to grow enough potatoes and vegetables to feed its own population. If you meet a person from Lagen you have to take up the lotus position, sit on the steep hill and listen to him for hours and say "yes…yes" every now and then to keep yourself awake; be sure to thank him for his fairy tale; Lagentsie crave praise.

North of Lagen and south west of and close to Mala you will find Krepeshina (now renamed "Atrapos") squeezed in a bosom created by two hills close to each other. It has an intermittent river which has water running through it only when it rains. Krepeshina is the poorest village of them all. If you meet the rare Krepeshets, give him a hardy hand shake with a ten dollar note in the palm of your hand.

At the base of the hill that we call Leskata and where the valley starts you will find Mala (its new name is now "Tropeouchos") with its arable land and plenty of water supplied by a creek and a permanent river. But Mala doesn't look like a village, it looks more like a "T" intersection where the road from Neret, Lagen and Krepeshina meets the road from Kuchkoveni and it takes you to Lerin. And unfortunately for Mala it has a tarnished reputation. It was inhabited by Turks and its name has a Muslim origin, it was originally named Mahala. And now it still has prosfigi living there and is frequented by gypsies and sometimes by Vlassie (Vlachs). Mala sounds like a cosmopolitan village, but during that period Mala was not a happy place to be in. If you meet a person from Mala ask him to tell you who he really is; if he refuses to answer then ask him for directions to Lerin.

Using an astronomy analogy I will now briefly describe the distant and mysterious outer villages, like the outer planets of our solar system starting with Turje. One of Dedo Pavle's sons married a young lady from Turje. She seemed gentle and content, she hinted that most of the people in Turje had a gentle, friendly and content nature. All I know is that Turje is far from Mala and is mysterious. If you meet someone from Turje, be prepared for a long and interesting chat.

Belkamen is another distant and mysterious planet-like village and it is the direct opposite to Turje. All the inhabitants of Belkamen who are engaged in stone masonry are industrious; Dedo Petre contracted stone masons from Belkamen to build his house. Don't go to Belkamen unless you want to chisel blocks of stone.

Further north of Neret over the mountain range and where the bears roam freely you will find Bouf (now named Akritas). It is nestled in the middle of three mountains arranged in a triangle and between each mountain runs a river that supplies Bouf with abundant water. The village was as big as Neret with a population of 3,000 people, all of whom shared three surnames, namely "Todorovsky" "Oposhinov" and "Branov", none of whom are related as I was told by my Boufchanets father-in-law. Boufchani are fiercely protective of their Macedonian identity. When you next meet a person from Bouf (I am sure you will), ask him if he knows someone other than a Todorovsky, Oposhinov or Branov. Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you the most coincidental and wonderful thing that happened to me. I and none of my relatives had ever heard of Bouf before, even though it was about 20 kilometres from Mala as the crow flies. I mentioned the words "my Boufchanets father-in-law", well that is because about 12 years later I married a beautiful and wonderful girl from Bouf even though I never heard of the place; no, not from Bouf in Macedonia, but from Bouf in Preston, Melbourne. This is the best example I can think of for the definition of the Turkish word "kismet", which means fate.

If I stayed in Mala I might have married a Greek refugee girl named "Toula", can you imagine that. Our middle age and old age women formed their own soap-opera group and started pairing boys and girls almost from the time that they are born. They had me paired with Toula whom I didn't know and I didn't like her name, because her name in Macedonian means "brick" and I didn't want to marry a brick.

Finally we reach the giant outer planet-like village named Bapchor (Pimenikon in Greek), giant in geographical area and giant in reputation. Because of its distance from anywhere and isolation Bapchor became completely self-reliant, like a large planet it developed its own weather - meaning people in Bapchor had to be self-sufficient in every industry. They made everything they needed by themselves; they were clever, creative, industrious and reliable. If you want something made or repaired take it to a Bapchorets. Sadly Bapchor the village was bombed and was razed off the face of the Earth by the British Air Force under the command of the American military in the Civil War. Fortunately for the inhabitants of Bapchor, the American military command gave them a three day notice to evacuate the village before the bombing started, and they did evacuate, some of whom ended up in Melbourne. One particular young man who ended up in Melbourne married Dedo Pavle's youngest daughter. Here in Melbourne at least, Bapchor rose from the ashes like the phoenix (the mythical bird that rose from the ashes) and reformed itself. If you meet a person from Bapchor don't mention the bombing but congratulate them on recapturing and maintaining the heritage and the soul of Bapchor.

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