Sons of the Soil Setting Stories: Real Place, Real People, Real Story
This is the first installment of a 1,000 words or less story-telling series related to my newly released novel, Sons of the Soil. I will tell a story about the places in the book that I actually visited so that the reader may have a deeper understanding about the world I created and the people to which I gave a voice.
Bozofse, Macedonia: Land of the Shepherds
If you have read the book, then you know how important Bozofse is to the entire story. The shepherds of Bozofse play an integral part in the shaping of the plot and the fate of the main character’s family.
Bozofse is the final village on the broken and neglected mountain road that connects the town of Tetovo to the mountain villages along the Pena river valley. The village is 100% Albanian, small, poor, and nearly abandoned. After Bozofse, one enters the wild of the Shar mountains on the border between Kosova and Macedonia, which is notorious for gun and drug smugglers. It is a land of tribal bonds, insurgency, and of people who care nothing about international borders, passports, or visas.
The day began at 4am. My Albanian brother, Albert, and I were enjoying our coffee and a bit of rakia (moonshine) before we headed into the mountain for a day of fishing on the Pena river. We were in a great mood, laughing about how on our last fishing trip our friend had accidently fired his pistol in the car. It felt natural to reminisce over coffee and rakia about a gun accident before going fishing on a mountain river in the Balkans.
We drove through the early morning hours and reached our destination, Bozofse, just as the sun was peeking over the mountain. By the time we arrived, the villagers were already stirring and working. We walked along a small road, making our way across the land without disturbing anyone’s work. Finally, we reached the river and started fishing. Over the course of the day we caught some fish, grilled them on the rocks, and drank our rightful share of rakia.
At the end of the day we cleaned our area, packed away our poles, and started to hike up the steep path that lead back to the village. Albert was carrying his pistol and both of us were making plenty of noise so that we did not surprise anyone, especially the drug/gun runners. Eventually we left the path to cut across a field. As we crossed the open space, we heard a dog howling something fierce. Albert immediately told me to get behind him as he posted up in a defensive stance with his pistol.
Before carrying on with the story, I need to explain what sort of dog might be in the fields of Bozofse. They are called Shar Dogs and are absolutely terrifying. They are large, very protective, and used as sheep dogs by the villagers. I am 6’1” and the dog charging at us rose to my waist and was thick as hell.
So back to the moment, this massive Shar Dog was charging down the hill at us, maybe 150 meters away. We were its target because we had walked in between the dog and some cows behind us. Albert fired his pistol at the ground to scare the monster, but it kept coming. The shepherd was running behind it screaming at us not to shoot his dog. Albert fired again, which spooked the cows behind me, causing them to move closer and make nervous cow noises. At this point I had four or five extremely large, horned, and nervous animals behind me, my bullet-slinging friend in front of me, and a deadly dog charging at both of us. Albert was yelling at the dog and the shepherd was yelling at us. I told Albert, “You had better not miss that motherfucker.”
Albert fired again at the ground. It was getting too close and I started yelling for him to shoot it. My brother Albert, though, has nerves of steel and he did not want to hurt the shepherd’s dog, so he kept firing at the ground. At this point I was thinking about jumping on top of one of the damn cows, when all of a sudden the dog pulled up. Albert had his pistol trained on the dog and the old shepherd stumbled down, completely breathless and very angry. He wanted to know who we were and why we were there. He was armed, of course. The people of Bozofse have their dogs and guns. Life is stark and brutal so far from governments and police.
After the dog pulled up, I relaxed despite the armed and angry shepherd in front of us. Albert was well-known in Bozofse and it took only a few moments before the shepherd felt better about who we were. We returned to Bozofse very quickly and sat down at one of the only cafes in the village. Albert wanted to make sure he connected with some villagers to make sure that what had happened was discussed and that we were not trying to hide anything. So we drank a coffee, told our story, and got the heck out of there. Helluva damn day.
Hope you enjoyed the story. Next up: Tetovo, Macedonia
DISCLAIMER #1: I do not advocate hurting animals and/or the reckless use of firearms. The dog involved was a trained sheep dog that would have torn us apart, literally. I would rather have a rabid knife-wielding shepherd attack me than that dog.
DISCLAIMER #2: The spelling of Bozofse is not the same on wikipedia and Google Maps. The spelling I use is how I was shown to spell it while I lived with Albanians in Tetovo. If you want to find it on Google Maps/Google Earth, then type in “Bozovtse, North Macedonia”