This page has some e-mail comments I received when I first published this story, and also excepts from some letters I received from Slovakia shortly after my trip.
Letter from Cousin Marta (translated by Paula 5/00)
My dear cousin Walter Peterko,
I greet you from the bottom of my heart and greet your whole family. My mum (Aunt Anna) sends greetings to your whole family. She always speaks about you. She stayed with Katka in Slovinky, but she unceasingly wants to go home; after her, “Everywhere is well, but at home is best.” She is quite weak, I do not know how she will be in the future.
Walter, I do not know what is the weather like where you live, but we had during the winter a lot of snow, so much that old people did not remember, and now there is such drought here and so hot during the day, but nights are very cold and frosty.
There is one other news. They had taken from us our priest Sturak in August and have given him to Sabinov. We all were very sad for it and had great sorrow. It was for him very difficult to leave. We could do nothing, we must reconcile with it.
So it is all what I wanted to write you, once more greetings.
Letter from Maria Promcakova (3/00)
Dear family Turek!
I would like to send you our regards from our small Slovakia. My name is Mary (54) and I am a daughter of dead uncle George. I live in the town Podolinec near the Stara Lubovna. I live in a flat with my husband Emil (60), with my son Miroslav (32) and with my daughter Daniela (18). My daughter Monika (33) is a nun and my daughter Jana (33) is married. Her husband Ivan (36) is a teacher. They have two daughters: Monika (7) and Anna-Maria (6 months). This is my family.
Our father died quietly, peacefully, the priest administered him extreme unction. He was buried with gravity and honour. Since his death, his wife Catherine lives with us, because we didn’t want her to live in Torysky alone. She overcame slight heart-attack, but the cures help her to feel better. I would like to sweeten another days of her life, because in winter in Torysky she would feel very lonely.
There is a photo in the letter from the funeral of our daddy, because I would like you to have some commemoration.
Your sincerely, the family Promčak and Turek
Letter from Petak family (translated by Paula 2/00)
Dear uncle Walter, dear Leslie,
Eventually I have found time for writing you something about our family, about Slovakia. At first: we thank you for pictures of our relatives from USA and for the cards. We are, thanks God OK and we have a job.
Uncle Juraj died. We were on a funeral in Torysky. Surely, they will write you about it, from Košice.
Grandmother Anna Kašperova is now, during winter, at her daughter Katka in Slovinky. We phone her from time to time. She is quite well now. Illnesses goes round her. Mum, Marta Petakova sends you greetings too. She thanks you for you letter. She was in a hospital one month ago, she had high blood pressure. It is better now.
It has fallen 2 m of snow in January in Torysky. It was impossible to get to wooden grandmothers house. The door even could not be seen. We four all the day have thrown away snow before we got in the house.
Mirka and Miška had Christmas holiday so we went skiing to High Tatras and to (winter) swimming pool. Slavka had underwent bladder operation. Thanks God it is already OK and she goes to work.
Do you remember our discussion about politics in Slovakia? New prime minister has promised us that we would be better, but so far it is in a opposite way. Everybody is afraid about his job (unemployment to 22%). Promises are promised – fools rejoice! (Slovak saying)
By the way, Miška has learned to ski quite well this winter, I am glad for it. They learn well. If we have more money we will think about internet (mainly for Mirka). We will see how it will be. My English does not go well (I did not try as I am short of time). I am sure Leslinka knows Slovak better. But Mirka makes progress. We are looking forward to you. Please, write.
Many greetings from Jano, Slavka, Mirka, and Miška
E-mail from Patricia M. Shirock (12/99)
I saw your web address in this recent issue of Slovakia and just finished reading about your trip. I found it very interesting because in August of 1998, my cousin and I went on Helene Cincebeaux’s 2 week trip to Eastern Slovakia and loved every minute of it. We also were in Bardejov, Presov, Kocise, Levoca, etc. And we were in Torysky. In fact, since Helene knows many of the women there, we went to the home of one lady who does eggs (neolithic designs) and one who makes skirts, and that night they all threw a wonderful party for us in the social hall. We found some very distant relatives from my grandfather’s village, L’ubtice, which is now a suburb of Presov. We found descendants of our grandmother’s sister in Bodovce, which is a small village north of Presov. We never knew about them. As part of the trip we were able to hire a translator one day and drive out to visit both families.
I found the country beautiful. And all I could think of was how in a few years that may all change. I was so happy to see the women in their babuskas (and when they die, who will wear them anymore). I was thrilled to be in the villages and felt very close to my grandparents there. I hate to see MacDonalds in Slovakia. I know the people deserve the same modern conveniences as we have, but I can’t explain the deep emotional feeling of being in a setting not too far different from what my grandparents left.
And yes, the pressing on of food and drink. I have a bad digestive system and felt awful having to say I really couldn’t eat or drink anything or I’d get sick. It was the day before we were leaving for home and I was nervous enough without getting sick from eating or drinking the wrong thing. But everyone was so hospitable and so happy to see us. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading about your adventure.
Budziniakova family (letter translated by Paula 8/99)
Janka was on her exam, they accepted her and when she succesfuly ends her study she becomes a teacher of biology and physics. During her vacation she works in a confectionery, she sells ice cream.
Katka with Lubo are looking forward to their baby, they wait it in November. We are looking forward to together with them.
Walter, I want to thank you for your willingness and endeavor you give for us. We are thinking on Leslienka too, greetings for her.
Jan Petak (letter translated by Paula 8/99)
At the beginning of my letter greetings to you and thanks for doing in the case of green card.
Granny [Great-Aunt Anna] stays with our parents [Marta], so mum need not walk so much. But she wants to go to her wooden house uninterruptedly. It is of all sorts with her health. Once it is good at some other time she does not eat even two days and she is not well.
At the time we were working with hay for cattle so there was bustle and toiling. Granny sends greetings for you. We (in Poprad) are working and children have holidays. If I get vacation from my work we are going on holiday probably to Croatia. When weather is fine we go to swimming place and to wood. We were together with our mum to pick bilberries. We had found enough mushrooms, as weather was good and they grew (in blessing way) well. Probably you do not go pick such things. I do not know how it goes in USA. In our country there is much relax connected with advantage (work).
They are to change our priest in Torysky. People do not want him to go away, for that reason they wrote to the bishop. Saturday mama even cried because of it.
Many greetings for you – only more – and we are looking forward to your letter from the USA. Be well. I wish you only the best.
Paula Kieferova (letter 6/99)
Thank you very much for your nice letter and for the enclosed Leslie Turek’s Home.
Not only your aunts but I too enjoyed it very, very much. I am looking forward to reading next parts. I admire your perfect memory. You describe situations so exactly that it surprise me.
[My memory is not that good. I was taking detailed notes the whole time. –LT]
When I read about your attitude to your garden (I have read the story and letter 3 times so far – I will read them more times, they are interesting) I think you describe me. The difference is that my love to gardening began when I was adult. As a young girl I hated work in the garden. I never help my mother in our big garden. I had chosen the hardest work instead. My mother tried to make me but it did not work. I preferred to scour wooden floors in our three rooms once a week. My mother could not understand it.
But blood is blood, genes are genes. My ancestors were peasants as maybe all old Slovaks, so now I toil in my garden with pleasure.
Your story as I have written is very interesting and pictures makes it even more interesting. They complete your story beautifully. I didn’t know that you took so many pictures. When did you do it?
Leslinka, I am afraid you could not see nuclear power plant. I know there are some big container (?) (I think blue, in cylinder shape) on the way from Bratislava to the east. It belongs to a factory.
[My father concurs with this comment. He found a list of the three or four nuclear power plants in Slovakia, and none of them were in the area where we thought we saw one. So it must have just been a factory. — LT]
Sincerely I envy you that you could see oxen draw plows. I did not see it once my ten or twelve years, and I have never seen plow being pulled by men.
Living standard ten years now goes continuously down. So, you can be right. In little gardens – till 400 square meters – nobody uses agricultural machinery. And in big farms they surely had got and have got agricultural machinery. Big farms have small number of employees, so they have to use agricultural machinery.
I, too, do all works in my garden by my hand. Maybe it is funny but I like to do everything in my garden by my hands.
You are right about meat meals. Meat is now very expensive, especially ham and some sorts of salami. Your family wanted to treat you with expensive meals as honoured guests. I do not think that people themselves eat a lot of meat nowadays. Most of them hae not enought money to buy meat very often. During communistic era meat was very cheap.
There are some rich people now, very rich, but they are less than 10% of the population. I hope the situation will change for the better. This government promised to make things better, but instead they increased prices of everything without paying higher pension. Something is bad in Dane state. Shakespeare did not know Slovakia.
I am not afraid about myself. I’ll survive. There are almost 20% of unemployment in Slovakia. It is too much for our economy. This is not good for young people. This government blames former government. Next will, maybe, blame this government. Thank goodness my son Daniel works – so far. No one can be sure for the future. In spite of what it is now, I am an optimist. I hope my granddaughters will live in better time. Elder Maria is 8, she is learning second year at school English. Younger Daniela is five so she starts going to school next September (2000).
Please excuse my mistakes. I am sure you will understand everything.
Kay Hicks (e-mail 6/19/99)
[Kay is one of my mother’s Dusenack cousins who visited Kyjov in 1974.]
I’ve been going to tell you thank you for going with your Dad to Slovakia and how much I’m enjoying your web page. I was your age when I made my trip, but it was my first plane ride and I don’t think I even realized what a part of my life it was to become. It started because of a cookbook I had bought and my husband read the part where a travel agency was organizing this trip and he thought my sisters and I ought to go. My mother had passed away a couple years before, but she would have been 115 years old this month. We landed in Prague on her birthday. I didn’t have much information but I knew we were going to visit first cousins. As you may have gathered from your Dad – there were six of us and only one spoke the language. I know as a kid my folks spoke most of the time in the slavish to each other, but we kids didn’t. Anne and Mary couldn’t speak American until they went to school so my Dad said the rest of us wouldn’t speak it. I think after all the years it was amazing my Dad and all of his siblings didn’t have an accent. They all could speak it because his mother never spoke American and I think that’s another reason I never new her even tho we never lived further than 16 miles away.
I compared the women to my pictures and I’m sure Helen is the one standing and never married. Maria would be the one sitting and those must be her children. I shall send you copies of their wedding and when we were there. I sure don’t know how the mayor would remember me because I sure don’t remember him. But the kitchen in the background is exactly the same except it was yellow when we were there. George is exactly the same except for a few years. He had sent the picture of Anna’s corpse to my sister Anne since she was the eldest and a note telling of her passing.
Will be waiting for #9.
Theresa Renner Smith (e-mail 6/5/99)
I really enjoyed the parts that you’ve written so far – there are a lot of similarities to life in the part of Russian that I’m in, including the random cash fines upon demand (luckily, diplomats don’t pay those things – we have to tell them to go through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs! Here, it tends to be a second source of income for the militsia themselves, rather than government revenue…).
I’ll check back later to see what’s been added. I like the pictures, too. I haven’t had much time to do something like this, but hope to have more time when I get out of the consular section and into the Political/Economic reporting position.
I really do feel sorry for our visa applicants, but they really don’t understand the difference between the various types of visas, nor do they understand that unlike many countries within the Former Soviet Union, our laws do tend to be enforced and they can’t just do what they want. All this results in many people being refused non-immigrant visas because we have good reason to believe they’re going to overstay their visas or work illegally. I think Slovakia’s refusal rate is lower than Russia’s now, but I can’t swear to it.
I’ll tell you, another thing our visa applicants don’t understand is that our salaries look huge for a reason – they can’t even conceive of an apartment costing hundreds of dollars per month or how much milk costs or how expensive medical care is. I have this particular conversation on a regular basis. They Russians say, “Oh, I could make $25,000 working in the US as a nanny – I’ll be rich!” They don’t see how expensive things really are. Here, we can get a liter of milk at an expensive store for about 50 cents – try buying a quart of milk for that little! Or a loaf of bread – here it costs 3 or 4 rubles (less than a nickel now) – the same size loaf costs 2 or 3 dollars in the US! Then there’s the requirement to pay taxes, medical insurance, transportation is so much more expensive (you can ride the subway in Moscow for only 4 rubles, compared to Metro in DC, where the minimum is $1.50 during rush hour now). The list just goes on and on. Of course, if they’re sending money home, the folks at home really make out.
[Yes, we tried to explain this, too, but you’re right, it just falls on deaf ears. We also tried to explain that good jobs aren’t so easy to get if you don’t speak English.– LT]
As for work visas – nowadays, I think most of our work visa applicants are going to end up immigrating, instead of returning home after their contract ends. There are so few of them who return, it’s the equivalent of an immigrant visa, now.