Village Life Along the Danube


We’re continuing our 6 week sojourn in Southern Slovakia, along the Hungarian border, before we move to Ukraine. This is a region of small, rural villages in which contemporary and historic influences coexist in an uneasy patchwork. In the last two days, we helped the women of Chl’aba clean the village church, took a long walk along the Ipel River, which together with the Danube forms the border with Hungary, and took a bus trip with the choir to the nearby village of Letkes, where they performed folk songs in traditional dress at the yearly village festival.

The experience in Letkes was particularly surreal. The women performed their songs early in the program of the festival, then were joined by a Slovak-Hungarian sitar band for musical accompaniment. Up next was a Hungarian pop duo whose upbeat songs inspired an eccentric couple to dance wildly and french kiss near the stage while the audience applauded. (The man later kissed Mark on the neck; the woman sat uninvited in Gabriela’s lap; and they both refused to believe that we didn’t understand their language.) Then a Hungarian heavy metal band called Crazy Granat started its screeching warm-ups, sending the choir and the rest of the Chl’aba contingent scurrying back onto their rental bus.

The Chl’aba choir is an example of a key generational challenge facing Chl’aba and other rural communities. The choir is overwhelmingly elderly, and the women don’t know how much longer they will continue performing. The next generation is absent -- in part because working age people are drawn abroad for better opportunities. While there are some children who perform, there aren’t enough to replace the older generation, and thus no certainty about whether local folk traditions will be preserved.

In this post, we’re sharing some images from Letkes -- images gathered in support of our long-term project, Returns, which documents village life in Chl’aba and also focuses on several generations of Gabriela’s family. Our eventual goal is to create a book that captures all the intricacies of this village and its environs.