Not very long ago, people made stools by joining pieces of wood, baskets by weaving branches, bowls by shaping clay, spoons by carving twigs and ropes by tying fibers. Today those very diverse things are all often produced out of the same material: plastic. But in the houses of our neigbours we have found signs of that past that will also become our future, whether we like it or not, when we run out of oil. Sometimes it was an old hand tool or piece of furniture, though more often just a few words thrown carelessly after the phrase “people used to …”, as if they were empty talk. But those memories are worth much more than what their very owners think. They are our only chance to earn back some of the wealth of knowledge and craftmanship lost to industry in the modern age. That is one of the reasons why we have set out on recording our neighbours while they go about their daily business taking care of animals, making cheese, pies, preserves and brandy, working the land and cutting wood. But it is not the only reason, neither it is the most important.
This village in which we live is slowly dying. Almost all of its fifty inhabitants are now old and there are scarcely a few teenagers left and no small children. Perhaps people will at some point take up these empty houses and abandoned fields again, perhaps it will be just big machines coming to till and harvest once a season, but that will be a whole different life, as when a family leaves their home and another settles in it. Rich memories and knowledge will be lost forever, and only tiny patches of them will remain in the buildings, fences, letters and photos that the last villagers that move out leave behind, until time tears them apart.
So we went to our neighbours wanting to see their skills in action and to hear their stories about the past, but while meeting one new villager after another we slowly realised we were getting from them so much more than mere images and words. The people of Bozevce were opening up their houses and their hearts to us, complete strangers who had moved to their village from other countries far away. They offered us everything they had, answered every question we asked, agreed for us to shoot them with the camera, explained us whatever it was that we wanted to know and showed us every corner of their homes.
Most of the villagers live in a single room where they cook, rest, eat, sleep and everything else, especially during winter, when there is always wood burning in the stove to keep it hot. When I glanced around me during our visits and saw how humble some of those rooms and their owners looked, I felt ashamed to think that, if one of those people were to knock at the door of my flat in the city, I would probably not let them in as unsuspiciously nor host them as generously as they were doing for us.
Our neighbours have given us a lot and have got very little in return. The only thing we can offer to them is our company and conversation, and perhaps sometimes a small gift of coffee, cookies or water from the monastery of Draganac. It might not be much, but the spark in their eyes and the heartfelt way they say thanks makes us hope that we are bringing them some joy with our visits, as the visits are bringing ourselves much joy in turn.
Ismael, March 2019