The Skočo family's stone house, the pastures, and the surrounding hills paint a peaceful and relaxing picture of the Kubaš village in eastern Herzegovina, but life without basic amenities like running water and electricity is not easy.
"My dad used to tell me, 'Where there's no water, no power, no road, there's no life,'" the septuagenarian Jovo Skočo tells us.
But it is without electricity and running water that Jovo and Smilja Skočo have been living for almost all their lives in this village in the Berkovići Municipality. Jovo grew up in this remote and hard-to-access village, and then he was building a family for 40 years with Smilja, nine years his junior. These days, they are regularly visited by their four daughters, but those who are particularly looking forward to the clean air, farm animals, and good food are their seven grandchildren.
"It's difficult without power in the house all your life," Smilja says. "The granddaughters come for a visit but don't want to sleep over. They tell me, 'Granny, we'd like to stay but we can't charge our phones.'"
Last December, when her grandson Veljko came for a visit together with his mom, Smilja told us, as she was hugging Veljko, what they had been using through the years to light the rooms where she and her husband live, in what cool place they used to keep their food, and how they would charge their mobile telephones.
When darkness fell, the room was lit by an old oil lamp. More recently, they would use small solar-charged lamps that lasted a few hours. To keep meat fresh, a short-term solution was to lower it precariously half way down a well, and potatoes were stored behind the house in a pantry in the ground. Before their granddaughters got them a power bank to charge their phones, they would go at least once a week to their village neighbors whose houses are equipped with solar panels.
The Skočos say that some 60 members of their broader family used to live in the area, but they are the only ones left now. Today, Kubaš comprises just seven houses, with most of the residents being older and living on cattle-raising.
The entire population of the Berkovići Municipality is around 2,000. It used to be a part of the town of Stolac, but today it predominantly sustains itself through cattle-raising. There are areas like Mount Hrgud where strong winds blow, which is where the residents see the potential in renewable energy sources. This might be a tiny municipality, but its leaders want to bring in investments and develop the economy, in hope of preventing young people from leaving.
Once you get off the main road that goes to the center of the municipality, it takes you about half an hour along a dirt road to get to the Kubaš village, which is spread out over a hilly terrain that is good for raising cows, sheep, and goats. The rare travelers driving through Kubaš can see the villagers waving at them from a handful of houses in the distance.
Lights On for First Time in Village Home
This spring, Jovo and Smilja were able to turn on the lights in their house for the first time, after their roof was fitted with solar panels they received from the Green Economic Development project, funded by Sweden and implemented by the UNDP in BiH. The project includes, among other things, installing of hybrid photovoltaic and solar systems in remote areas off the grid.
"I saw that Čedo and Barba have them, and they're easy to use," Jovo told us previously, describing his neighbors' solar panels. Now that they have power in their own house, the Skočos got a brand new refrigerator, an electric cooker, a television, and room lighting. As part of the same donation, they were given new beds and bedsheets, as well as a door and a window in the bedroom.
"Everyone came over. The kids just love it. They told me, 'Granny, isn't it amazing there's a bed and TV in the countryside!'" Smilja told us joyfully.
After living in Kubaš for decades, it is the first time this couple have power in their house, where they spend most of the year. They also have a house down the slope toward Berkovići, in the village of Suzina, where they usually spend one month a year grazing the sheep.
„"I ain't going anywhere. We got all we need here. We don't need anything, plus I ain't got to talk to anyone," Jovo says, describing the tranquility in the village where the neighbors' houses are several hundred meters apart from each other.
In a pantry in the extension of the house, Smilja carefully stores the bellows cheese she makes. As she talks about all the places the cheese has ended up in, from Trebinje to Čapljina and Dubrovnik, she shows us the room where it is dried. She frequently ships dry fruit, potatoes, and onions to sell at the Ljubinje marketplace. In addition to praise for her bellows cheese, she gets a lot of questions about what her secret is.
"They ask, 'What do your cows graze on?' And I tell them, 'Nature, hills and rocks.'"
Jovo and Smilja have eight cows and a flock of some 70 sheep. They usually get up at dawn; following a hard day's work and after they feed the animals, they withdraw to their quarters when it gets dark, which means four in the afternoon if it is wintertime. Previously, they would get the news from a battery-powered radio.
In those days, they would listen to the evening news by the light of the oil lamp before falling asleep around 7 pm, and then get up at four in the morning.
"Now we turn the TV on and watch the news and other shows as late as until ten in the evening! When we get up, we turn it back on in the morning. We don't listen to the radio anymore, but we keep it next to the TV just in case," Smilja says and laughs.
Thanks to the sun and new technologies, even in this remote village it's possible to have an easier everyday life facilitated by electric power.
"The grandkids are happy, overjoyed -- they have a place to stay. They take and post pictures of nature all the time," Smilja says. "Nowadays in particular you realize you're better off in nature."
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