“New York. Australia. Toronto. Ohio. Australia. Australia. New York.” We were taking an impromptu tour of Bukovo, guided by a man who had recently returned after fifteen years abroad. As we walked past home after abandoned home, he was listing off the faraway places to which their former occupants had emigrated.
Found in the hills a few kilometers south of Bitola, Bukovo is a village which has clearly seen better days. This was once a community of thousands, but thanks to the abysmal post-independence economy, most of the families from Bukovo have left for greener fields in Australia, Canada and the USA. Today, almost as many Bukovians live in Rochester, New York, as in Bukovo itself.
We had spent the morning by ourselves poking around the town’s quiet, cobblestone streets, when a guy overheard us speaking English and approached. He and his wife had spent fifteen years in Battle Creek, Michigan, where they both worked in a hospital; he as a chef and she as an administrative assistant. After retirement, they returned back home.
Sitting in their courtyard, we listened to their story while sipping Turkish coffee and eating fresh hazelnuts from the tree which was also providing us shade. Life in America had afforded them the opportunity to work and prosper, and they seemed thankful for that, but it was never “home.” Their hearts had remained in Bukovo, and returning wasn’t a difficult decision for them.
There’s not a lot to see in Bukovo, but we loved the short time we spent here. Emigration is a major part of the Macedonian story, and Bukovo gave us a chance to see its effects up close. The crumbling architecture is haunting, and though it’s tempting to call Bukovo “abandoned,” that’s not entirely accurate. It’s struggling, sure, but there are still a few folks here, sitting outside the general store, carting around wheelbarrows of firewood, or hanging laundry up to dry in their yards. Here’s hoping that more families return; this charming village deserves another shot at life.