By Jana Al Obeidyine
On the Way
When we first arrived to Transylvania I had, already, forgotten the hard time I have had at the Romanian consulate in Szeged acquiring the Romanian visa. We have had a stop on the highway for lunch; the first encounter with the Romanian territory was a quite contrast in relation to the Hungarian one. First thing I have noticed was a chain of stores exhibiting all kind of products, towels, decorative statues, house equipment, dolls etc., the scenery was very familiar to me, since in my home city a very similar shops exist in certain areas, precisely on the sea side of city suburb. However, the interesting aspect of the scenery was not this similarity but the change that occurred in a short distance from the Hungarian borders. When we went looking for a restaurant, a flash back has struck me, Beirut end of 1990s, before the neoliberalism incursion. Restaurants were full of smoke, crowded yet quite. The whole set amused me and appealed to my cinematographic taste; I felt that I am entering a new and exciting experience.
After the thrilling opening, I had another wonder on the way to Gherla!
Gherla & the twirling skirts
Once we arrived to Gherla the scenery started to seem a bit familiar again. We were accommodated by Téka house, a foundation working on the educational and cultural domains with the Hungarian community living in the region. The environment was warm and welcoming. That weekend, Téka foundation was organizing a dance festival to which we were invited. Before heading to the first night of the event we had a nice dinner within the premises. At the event location we, as an international students group working in the field of dance anthropology, were invited to perform a short dance piece as an introduction to the event. Audience, which at that point was still unidentified by us, seemed to be in a state of silent shock, we could sense to which extent our performance was unfamiliar to them. The evening continued with the initial theme and we were thrilled to be introduced to the singing and dancing of some groups of neighbouring villages’ inhabitants.
The beginning of the event featured performances form diverse dancing groups composed mainly of elderly and each of them represented a Transylvanian village. I enjoyed the performances and my photographic assignment, while my colleagues were taking notes and videos. The venue was crowded and an ambition of well-being was overwhelming. Tables prepared for the audience were evacuated one after the other. The audience was moving to the foreground to enjoy a closer look of the show. Around 11pm the “social dancing” or better to call it “free dancing” aspect of the event started and everyone moved to the dance floor. At one point, one of my colleagues who is a Hungarian asked me if I could takeover his video recording for a short moment so he could dance. While recording the packed dance floor, I was offered a chair to help me take a better shot of the dance floor. It was thrilling to see old and young couples dancing side by side with the same eagerness and dancing abilities. The most remarkable and interesting aspect I have got to notice during this part of the evening, was the communication between the dancing couples and the extreme respect they hold for each other. Since the dance floor was smaller than the number of dancers, some couple took a break to stand at the edge of the dance floor gracefully offering their place other couples.
Visea & the unforgettable faces
We were supposed to spend Sunday night after the festival at Téka foundation like the previous nights, but mitigating circumstances led us to Visea, a nearby village. This unplanned event ended up being the dearest memory to my heart. We arrived to Visea at sometime in the afternoon to be invited by a Visea to a Palinka-making demonstration. On our way to his house, the village was calm carrying a deep feel of serenity. Afterwards we were invited to savour some of the homemade Palinka, a homemade cake was served and a singing session started in the house backyard. The sky was clear, filled by twinkling stars, the melody of a Hungarian song generated my tears. I was unable to understand a word from the lyrics and yet I was deeply touched. I have been told later that it is, actually, a very sad song that talks about people of Hungary sending their youth to the war knowing that they may never return.
The rest of the evening continued with more incomprehensible international lovely singing by some of us, the students. After lunch we were invited into another warm family’s house. Everything that night made me feel at home, although geographically and linguistically I was far away. I don’t remember taking a photo, a video or writing a single note that night. Yet, Visea’s night was fully lived, memorized and made me wants to go back spend more time and know much more about its people.
We left Visea the next morning heading to Cluj-Napoka, the Transylvanian capital where we had the chance to present of our academic dissertation topics at a conference held by Pr. Csilla Konczei from the university of Cluj and hosted by Transit House, a private cultural institution. The two days spent in Cluj the exchange was enriching on both academic and human levels.
We spent two days in Frata, a Romanian village of Transylvanian where we were distributed into village families’ houses. During these two days, we have attended two organised dance events. The first one featured the dance and music skills of the village's gypsy community, the second one featured Frata’s Romanian inhabitants skills. The first event took place shortly after our arrival to the village at the municipality. The gypsy community was gathered in and around the place. Five professors and we seventeen students were ready with all kind of ethnographic equipment (several cameras, sound recorders, notebooks) to capture the moment in motion. I stood near the exit, contemplating the setting; nothing could have looked more surreal than that image. Who are we? Who are those people? And why are we doing this? All these basic questions, suddenly, prompt into my mind. The cherry on the cake was the dispute that occurred towards the end of the event between the two groups and from which I couldn’t discern a word, due to the lack of Hungarian and Romanian language skills. I can confess being slightly amused by the surrealism of the events since such an understandable situations do not occur often in life.
Our host in Frata or “our Frata mother”, the way we liked to call her, was an adorable middle age very hospitable woman. Despite our lack of verbal communication, we managed to perfectly relate to her. After a goodnight sleep at her house and a morning tour in the village, our host insisted on showing us her working place; a bakery that deliver bread to a wide area. When we arrived to the bakery we were tired, hoping if we could have skipped the visit. The welcoming ceremony led by one the backer, along with the joyful attitude of his colleagues boosted our energy and made us regret even the thought of skipping the invitation. We left with as many bread as we could have carried. Some of the bread we got was made for the “dead”, since the following morning was Friday 1st of November, All Saints’ Day and apparently also the day of remembrance of the dead.
At the second organized dance event I have had finally the chance to try the men dance slapping movements that I have been admiring for almost a year, and I got the chance to dance with a dance teacher from Cluj how happened to be attending the event.
We headed back to Szeged at the end of the event.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in all posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the association or the MA program.