Slovakia—what an awesome experience. Having never been to Europe or Asia I arrived burdened with a full-blown case of new-traveler anxiety and three overstuffed bags as uncooperative as toddlers on shopping day. Yet, Slovakia’s similarities to the Pacific Northwest immediately surprised and comforted me. With the exception of ancient castles that here and there dominate the mountainsides and drew my mind back to days of knights on horseback and damsels in distress, the topography is very similar to our own—even greener if that’s possible. Tidbits of America were everywhere. Slovaks look and dress just like us, flashing familiar labels and monograms like Abercrombie & Fitch on their shirts and NY on their baseball caps. As my husband Scott and I walked the town square, American music sung by the original artists welcomed us and made us feel right at home. Even the gypsy band that played at the Bible School’s closing celebration entertained us with folk tunes from our childhood that our new Slovak friends swore were original Slovak tunes from their ancestry.
Yet, despite the similarities, I soon felt like the protagonist of my own Slovakian fairy tale as I wound up the narrow staircases of Orava Castle and stepped out onto a decaying balcony near its lofty peek to survey the quiet valley below. I pondered the castle’s public Tower of Shame sporting shackles for the foolish as well as its more intimate torture chamber complete with iron implements reserved for the doomed. Days later we were still soaking up Slovakia’s wonders as we explored the dripping intestines of an aragonite cave.
Though these sights were amazing, I was surprised to find that my favorite experiences were the more subdued and non-commercialized events like the worship and communion service held for us in a small forgotten church in Turčianske Jaseno. Treasured frescos decorating the inside walls, painted over by the Communists, remain substantially hidden for lack of restoration funds. The acoustics in the small chapel made our group of forty sound like a choir of hundreds and left many not only in awe but in tears. And the mountain top sausage roast that followed. We cooked our own sausage on long pokers over a fire pit then ate lavishly to the strumming of two talented guitarists. All the while, the small children of our hosts played with and amongst us, relaxed and content as always. Indeed, though their parents were often consumed with our needs, the children were accustom to multiple caretakers and seemed to have no other state than happy. They were an added delight to my experience.
It is hardest to write of my new Slovak friends, both our hosts and our students, for it is through them that I was most deeply touched. It is difficult to explain the bonds of friendship that grew in such a short time. At the end of our two-week session, I was not ready to leave. I wanted only to show up on Monday morning and begin again where we left off. I pray that at least one from our class of twenty students someday comes to Vancouver and I can have the privilege of sharing the beauty of my community and country with them.

Leave a reply