In My Father's HouseBy Pande Kostadinovski
Lower Prespa, and especially Bigger Prespa is surrounded by old cultural-historical statues and archaeological sites. The beautiful environment of the two Prespa lakes - the Big one and the Small one, which from all sides are surrounded by high mountains, the abundance of fresh and delicious fish, as well as other conveniences were a prerequisite for the construction of a number of churches and monasteries in the past. Traces from old, monumental buildings, churches and monasteries are present even today in several places, especially on the small island Ahil, or how the residents of Prespa call it, Ailj. Here, because of the lakes, the natural beauty and the high mountains make this region difficult to access. Tsar Samuel built his capital here, where he rested against the hard and difficult battles against the enemy. Here, in the nearby and biggest village German, is found the oldest written Slavonic monument - the so-called Samuel's plate from the year 993, which is assumed that Samuel erected as a tombstone dedicated to his parents and brother.
The natural beauty, the clear air, the lakes which are rich with fish and various birds, amongst which the most interesting is the pelican, as well as the rich cultural-historical heritage, make this region attractive not only for the domestic tourists but also for a great number of foreign tourists, who find pleasure not only for having a holiday and recreation but also for making scientific research.
Medovo - Once Upon a Time
Amongst the more renowned inhabited places in Lower, or how they still call Big Prespa - are German, Rabi, Štrkovo and Rudari - is found my birthplace Medovo. For my birthplace, several writers and poets have expressed their most subtle feelings and have left us several beautiful descriptions. The one that is the most beautiful to me is the description of a poet that compares his birthplace with health - something that people learn to value only when they lose it.
This little village is in the southwestern slopes in the bigger mountain massif of Baba Planina, in-between the hills Pechkoec and Kutlišta, and just below it, all the way until the Small Lake, extends the grain rich Medovo field. The whole Bigger Prespa field is full of lush mountain streams, which gather the waters from the southwestern fields Germanska Planina and Štrkovska Ploština. Among the bigger ones are Germanska River, Rudarska River and Paplenska River, which come down from high rocky hills and from which large stones roll in their troughs upstream. Several mills and rolling mills have been built on them.
The older people say that the fertile land under the village always belonged to the local Bey but being scared from the development of the events leading up to the Young Turk Revolution (the Huriyet), he hurried to sell the illegally seized land. The inhabitants of Medovo gathered more than 10,000 Turkish lira in gold and bought the chiflik, thus as they believed, they once again became the owners of the land of their ancestors, in their own land. Various crops thrive on this carefully cultivated land, but mostly wheat, corn and beans, with the latter widely known for its quality. Apples and other fruits, such as vines, thrive. The majority in the village, amongst everything else, are also engaged in beekeeping, which is enhanced by the rich orchards and various fields, meadows, and mountain flowers. Hence some said that this is where the name of the village Medovo originates. From the vineyards lined up in the locality 'Ortomite', under the plateau Pechkoec, the inhabitants of Medovo gathered loads of first-class grapes from which they made very nice, strong and aromatic wine.
A big celebration, the so-called village feast, was the Church feast Saint Nicholas which was marked on the 6th of December. Then, all doors were widely open and the inhabitants of Medovo awaited their guests in the most beautiful rooms. They competed who would prepare the richest table on which it was compulsory to have a furnace baked carp, red wine, nuts and fragrant apples. Until late at night the guests engaged in discussions, they told various wise stories and of course, when the glasses were empty, they would sing a few songs as well. Usually, they sang the song about the Bey from whom they bought their land: "Why did you need Kaso, in Lerin city to sell the chiflik". The inhabitants of Medovo sang this song with pride, because it reminded them of their grandfathers, who with their own money bought their land and after many centuries once again became its owners.
The best singer amongst the guests was Božin Petkov, the best joker Boris Dimov, and the best and the most gladly listened storytellers were the brothers Mijal and Trajko Karanfilov, who told the most stories about the 'pechalba' in America. The Stojanov, Karanfilov, Stefov, Petkov, Lazarov and Lozanov families had the biggest and most beautiful stone houses with big verandas.
However, the biggest feast that the Medovo inhabitants marked in the most solemn manner was Easter, because not only was it a great church feast, but also a feast of the spring. Then, young and old alike, male and female, came out at the 'Livadinka' above the village and they had fun until the late evening hours singing, dancing and breaking Easter eggs. The young boys competed in the game of playing with and throwing rocks, whilst the old ones, caressing their moustaches, reminisced of their long-passed youthfulness. The girls braided wreaths from the spring flowers and seductively applauded the strongest boys that were more durable in the game of playing with and throwing rocks. Then, for this big event, everyone dressed in the most formal, traditional clothes that they owned; the women in long and white shirts and 'šegun' from a black shayak, girded with a black belt, and the men in black, tight shayak pants, a short white shirt and a black vest on the chest. In our traditional dress the black colour dominated, which most likely symbolised the black and slave-like lives of the inhabitants.
Finally Greek Visa on the YU-Passport
How deeply etched in my memory are these idyllic images, which are both more beautiful and more memorable to me over time - from the time of our tragic exodus in 1948. As the years passed, my wish to once again see Medovo became stronger, to be able to see my father's house, the old plane tree, the mulberry tree, the church and stream that passed by our house, to see the Small Lake. And behold, this summer, the visa of the General Consulate of the Republic of Greece in Skopje was imprinted, with which I received the right to step over the 'Greek' border. What nonsense in our times, what fanaticism! My first thought was that after 38 passed years I will be able to stand in front of my birth house and I will be able to see our church St. Nicholas (for which the inhabitants of Medovo, when they built it, gave one extra Ottoman oka of gold, so it could be more beautiful than that of the church in Štrkovo). Finally, I will be able to bow down and lay a bouquet on the graves of our grandfathers. Secret desires and holy responsibilities long held for 38 years! Thinking so before the departure, I reminisced of the beautiful verses of the poet Mihail Rendžov, which I carried with me for a long time:
"You want to leave
And I added more for myself - is your old, tortured mother waiting for you? I knew well that no one was waiting for me. But I felt pulled by a strange force, similar to the one that makes the night butterflies to hurry towards the nearest ignited light.
Never in my entire life have I travelled so fast to my goal! In the dusk, before sunset, all trembling I stood tall in front of my father's house. And I did not notice when my eyes narrowed and when I felt something stuck in my throat. Damnation! I just heard the silent whisper of my daughter Marija: "Mommy, daddy is crying". A moment after I saw how both, hugging one another, went towards the old plane tree near the river. They retreated silently, leaving me alone, letting me to get over the pain more easily. Later, I was very thankful to them for this.
Finally, after staring for so long, it seemed to me as if I was seeing all my closest relatives standing tall at the veranda: my father Risto, who passed away without once again seeing his own most beautiful vineyard at the 'Ortomi'… my brother Yane, who singing 'Macedonia, my dear enslaved homeland' fell wounded by the enemy's bullet on Gramos in the twenty first year of his life, similar to his peers… my sister Sofija, who now adorns her house in Adelaide with boomerangs and other hunting devices of the Indigenous Australians… my sister Sandra who now has a social apartment in the darkened tower in the industrial town Katowice in Poland and who from the beautiful Macedonian poetry only knows "Longing for the South" by Konstantin Miladinov and "The Hard One" by Blaže Koneski. I saw my mother Mitra with a hunched back on the threshold, holding a pogacha, an inch and a half tall, just in the method that only she knew to bake. And now I heard her motherly advice that she gave to me in 1948, when, with a little bag on my shoulder, she sent me away to "the countries where the sun was shining brightly": "be well-behaved, obedient and humble and know, this is what my grandmother Sofija would say - the sword does not cut the one who keeps his head down". I know why my mother gave me this advice. Firstly, my grandfather Konstantin said something to the Bey and then he was punished harshly, then my uncle Stojan punched the Greek policeman… Oh my mother, where would our misery be if all Macedonian mothers taught their vojvodi this way!
On Different Sides of the World
My 'meeting' with the dearest alive and resting was interrupted by Stavre Lazarov. The same Stavre that was forced for four years to serve in the Greek national army and to guard the homeland. On the other hand, his wife Fanija, at the same time, fought on the other side at Gramos, and sang the song 'Macedonia, my dear enslaved homeland'. Now in Medovo only their chimney is inflamed. Only Stavre and Fanija, from time to time, light a few candles in the church and the vigil lamp in front of the icon of Saint Nicholas.
I wanted to enter in our house to see the rooms, to find a dear memory that will remind me of my mother. If it is my luck to even find the canister… But Stavre once again interrupted me. "The slant eyed one that lives in your house went in Neo Kavkaso at his son's and he has locked the door. For a short time, he will pass away. Then we will clean the house, we will paint it. You will be able to come more frequently. We will go in the mountain, we will collect tea, and at the lake we will catch fish. It is difficult to live alone, without your own. Now we don't have astynomia in the village… but c'mon, let's go to my place and have one ouzo." The poor Stavre, he was shining with happiness, that someone who is his own came from 'Serbia' and with his own car!
Meanwhile, Fanija told us how she managed to find herself in faraway Tashkent, how she gathered cotton in the Uzbekistani fields and how she learned there to make a very delicious Uzbek pilaf, therefore she is inviting us to stay over for dinner. "I will catch the biggest hen," she said, "we will talk a little, anyways no one comes to visit us here."
After the third ouzo Stavre again said "Eh, how beautiful it was when we were all gathered together. How joyful it was when on Easter the drums would beat at the 'Livadinka'… And not, German the Priest - in Australia, Alekso Stojanov - in France, Bogoja Lozanov in Tashkent gathers cotton in the Uzbek steppes, Sotir Karafilov - in Canada, Kosta Dimov in Prague, Nikola Dimov - in Krdžali, Bulgaria, Gjorgi Dimov in New York… We are only absent where the polar bears live!"
Stavre, after a short silence, drank the remainder of the ouzo and again continued "And what about the ones that are gone! Eh, what a beautiful boy your brother Yane was… German Petkov, Lazo Alabašov, Gjorgi Petkov, Cvetko Lozanov, Nikolina Nivichka, Olga Stefova, Stoja Nivichka…"
Stavre lowered his head and covered his eyes with his own hands… I cried too, as well as Fanija and Angelina and my daughter Marija. I thought that even the Holy Theotokos was crying from the icon on the wall under which the candle wick was burning.
Whilst Stavre was wiping his tears I persistently watched his wrinkly face, on which, you'd think, the suffering of all the inhabitants of Medovo were printed.
"How won't you grow old" - continued Stavre - "have we not suffered enough! The number of threats and humiliations that I received whilst I guarded the 'homeland'. They noticed that with my shotgun I fired in the air! Well, where would I fire when I knew that on the other side was my own Fanija; Yane, Lazo, Nikolina… And the other inhabitants of Medovo that were here, didn't they suffer enough? Eftim Ralev told me that whilst your father was humiliated by the policemen, they insulted him and beat him in front of his own wife and children, just because he spoke to his own donkey in our language…"
I interrupted Stavre, because once again, I felt something in my throat and because I knew that Stavre would tell me about the sufferings until the dawn and I answered him shortly, with our own folk saying: Let it be Stavre, if it is slowed down it isn't forgotten!
We went to the church to light candles. The graveyard upon which our ancestors rested, was unrecognisable. Thick thorn bushes, blackberries, and other thorns sprouted in the area. There were no tombstones. We entered the church with lighted candles. Holding the candle lit for a long time I stood in front of the icon of St. Nicholas - our saint. And whilst I was listening to the mute liturgy in the beautiful, but now abandoned church of Medovo, my gaze was wandering around the numerous compositions from Christ's healing and his miracles to the Holy Theotokos, the angels and Apostles and again to Saint Nicholas - our guardian and protector. And whilst my candle was burning in my hands, I gazed in his eyes for a long time. I prayed something to him, I asked him something, but he didn't even bat an eye. He persistently gazed wherever he was gazing in the first place.
I placed the flower that we picked in 'Stara Livada' under his icon. Upon leaving from the church, I once again looked at him in the eyes and in the long white beard and I said to him in my head "Eh, Saint grandfather Nicholas, you were weak in protecting the inhabitants of Medovo."
This article was written in the early to mid-1980s.
Translated from Macedonian by Elena Sekulovska
With thanks to Vera Sekulovska