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First, though, the Mayor says the Lord’s Prayer; talk then turns to food and village matters. Long mistrustful of bureaucratic decrees, Anna half-fears that one day the government will have its way. Years before, her family had ignored the prohibition on new housing and built a house. For that, they were fined 10 percent of their income for three months. She believes, though, that the proposed dam was just one factor in the building prohibition. More important, she says, was the desire to expand the army training ground that now isolates Tichy Potok from other villages in the region. The installation of that training ground in the 1970’s forced the evacuation of what was once the adjacent village of Blazov.

Mayor Dzuganova agrees that the training ground has isolated Tichy Potok. But it is just one of many problems she has tackled since her election in 1994, when at age 25 she became the youngest mayor in Slovakia. With the dam shelved, the focus has shifted to village revitalization and rural development. Much-needed water management, sewage and gas line installation as well as educational and cultural programs vie for priority. Despite assistance from domestic and international nongovernmental organizations, financial resources remain limited. As a result, unemployment and alcoholism are chronic in the region.

“Little problems can become big ones,” says the Mayor.

On the way to lunch, we walk along the river, glinting golden in the sunlight. Not always quiet, the river floods periodically. In 1997, flooding swept away a bridge and funds tagged for other projects had to be used to replace it.

After lunch Anna shows us her loom, while the Mayor hurries to church to arrange the Easter flowers. Anna and other villagers are involved in an ambitious, new Slovak-Polish project to revive the traditional arts and crafts of three sub-Carpathian regions, with the goal of making handwork economically viable for future artisans. To encourage interest, a small museum of traditional craft items, including textiles, folk costumes, baskets and furniture, has been opened in a traditional village house.

The Church of the Dormition of the Virgin stands on a small knoll in the heart of Tichy Potok. A modest but pleasing structure, it was built in 1861 on the site of the original 15th-century Gothic church, which was destroyed by fire in 1682. For the Good Friday liturgy, women fill the pews on the left, children the benches on the right while the men gather in the back and choir loft. As the liturgy ends, the serious young priest, holding aloft a simple cloth that features an icon of the dead Christ, leads his parishioners outside into the soft spring air and processes around the church three times before placing the cloth on a table in the darkened church.

Afterward we join the villagers around Father Jaroslav Matolak, who was ordained in 1998. Tichy Potok is his first assignment; he also serves another village 15 miles away. Doubly busy with Holy Week duties, he nonetheless makes time to talk later.

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Tags: Village life Easter Slovakia Carpatho-Rusyn Central Europe