ROCKINGHAM — It isn’t the kind of thing Nancy Baucom usually does, inviting strangers to visit. But when she met Marek Marchot, a young priest in Slovakia, she immediately took to him.
For a few months after she returned from the river cruise on which she had met Marchot, Baucom and he corresponded irregularly by email — about travel, which both love; and about faith — she’s a devout Episcopalian and, well, he’s a priest. During one cross-Atlantic chat about this and that, “all of a sudden,” she asked him whether he’d ever considered visiting America. He had not, but he was open to the idea.
“I thought it would be funny, to ask him if he wanted to come to the United States,” says Baucom, 83, who has lived all her life in Rockingham but spent the past few years traveling worldwide. “He’s sort of like my exchange student.”
Marchot, 27, arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Thursday. Until next Thursday, he will spend his time in Rockingham and thereabouts, staying with the local priest and letting Baucom shepherd him about during the days as somewhat of a curiosity: that priest she met in Slovakia.
“I always thought it would be fun for (a tourist) to come to a small town,” Baucom said Monday. But “I warned him that this is not New York.”
Together, the two have been to Southern Pines, Myrtle Beach and Hamlet, where he met the elderly men who gather at Birmingham Drug Co. every day to solve the troubles of the world.
Marchot, who speaks good English but trips over idiom, said he had felt “embraced” in his encounters with “normal people” in America. But then he changed that to “embarrassed” when he admitted that sometimes, he felt like an exhibit, if a welcome one. He’s about 7 feet tall and skinny as a rail.
“Even in the stores, he has people coming up to him” to comment on his height, Baucom said.
Marchot has spent much of his time on a busman’s tour; his camera is full of photos of stained glass. Back home, he works in a cathedral that could put almost every American church to shame — the famed Blue Cathedral of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Inside and out, the cathedral boasts an unlikely paint shade: a soft blue.
He also has sampled much American food. Greens, he said, are “not something that I’m going to eat every day. … Some of them (foods) were fine. Some of them were not so fine.” Today, he’ll most likely sample Southern-fried chicken after touring Hamlet’s historic depot.
The trip has been enlightening, said the priest, who works with a parish in Bratislava (population: 400,000) but grew up in a small town (population 2,000).
He likes the people. They’re friendly and welcoming — even the ones Baucom surprises by pulling alongside while they’re taking out the trash. She did that with a local minister she wanted Marchot to meet.
“We’ve been many places and talked to many people (about) where I am from, how tall I am, what I am doing here,” Marchot said. He also preached two sermons at St. James Catholic Church.
For a man who has been to Egypt, the Holy Land, Rome, Paris, Lourdes and Istanbul, visiting Rockingham, North Carolina, U.S.A., has provided a closer look at people and places he has seen only on the Internet.
“It’s another kind of things to see,” Marchot said. “I do not (get) so many chances (on other trips) to talk to local people like here, and that is a bonus, a plus.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.