Untold stories of the Roma

In May 2016 I received funding from the British Arts Council to return to Eastern Romania with the musician and journalist Harriet Paintin, to create collaborative music and art workshops and document the individual stories of Roma Gypsies through illustrations.

Originally published in  https://brushandbow.com/ When Roma gypsy communities lose their trade they also lose their traditions. In Podu Turcului, in the Moldavia region of eastern Romania, Roma gypsy families have struggled for generations to make a living after centuries of slavery and serfdom have caused them to lose their traditional professions and culture. This, combined with the systematic discrimination that Roma communities face, means that today the only thing that distinguishes them from the Romanian community is the extreme poverty they experience. Simona and 9 of her siblings live in a 2 roomed house up a dusty side street while her eldest sister works in Germany and sends a little money back to supplement her parents’ small income from daily agricultural labour. “The other day we heard that my sister is coming back to visit us! This is the most exciting news my family has heard in a long time. She’s doing well there but she wants to come back because she misses her family,” Simona told us, fidgeting on her chair as she struggled to sit still to have her portrait drawn. Quick to love and quick to hate, Simona’s strong and feisty nature, grown from a childhood on the streets where self-defence is learnt quickly and by necessity, was evident in our interactions with her. However, over time the complexities of her character came forth. The struggles she faces have left her cut off and closed, quick to push the outside world away from her. But positive attention and affection was all it took for her face to open and light up, for her to reach into her back pocket and proudly share one of her grimy sweets wrapped in plastic. In this community economic security is one of the reasons why parents have many children. There is no state support, pension, or care for the elderly and so the more children they have the more chance they have of being looked after in their old age, the more chance there is that someone will go abroad to work and send remittances. But these many children will need to be supported during their childhood, and so families like Simona’s end up living in cramped conditions with parents pushed to their limit of what they can provide financially, physically and emotionally for their 9 children. “My mum and dad fight a lot. It makes me so sad”, Simona said quietly, before jumping up and dashing off outside.

Originally published in https://brushandbow.com/
When Roma gypsy communities lose their trade they also lose their traditions. In Podu Turcului, in the Moldavia region of eastern Romania, Roma gypsy families have struggled for generations to make a living after centuries of slavery and serfdom have caused them to lose their traditional professions and culture. This, combined with the systematic discrimination that Roma communities face, means that today the only thing that distinguishes them from the Romanian community is the extreme poverty they experience.
Simona and 9 of her siblings live in a 2 roomed house up a dusty side street while her eldest sister works in Germany and sends a little money back to supplement her parents’ small income from daily agricultural labour.
“The other day we heard that my sister is coming back to visit us! This is the most exciting news my family has heard in a long time. She’s doing well there but she wants to come back because she misses her family,” Simona told us, fidgeting on her chair as she struggled to sit still to have her portrait drawn.
Quick to love and quick to hate, Simona’s strong and feisty nature, grown from a childhood on the streets where self-defence is learnt quickly and by necessity, was evident in our interactions with her. However, over time the complexities of her character came forth. The struggles she faces have left her cut off and closed, quick to push the outside world away from her. But positive attention and affection was all it took for her face to open and light up, for her to reach into her back pocket and proudly share one of her grimy sweets wrapped in plastic.
In this community economic security is one of the reasons why parents have many children. There is no state support, pension, or care for the elderly and so the more children they have the more chance they have of being looked after in their old age, the more chance there is that someone will go abroad to work and send remittances. But these many children will need to be supported during their childhood, and so families like Simona’s end up living in cramped conditions with parents pushed to their limit of what they can provide financially, physically and emotionally for their 9 children.
“My mum and dad fight a lot. It makes me so sad”, Simona said quietly, before jumping up and dashing off outside.

Originally published in https://brushandbow.com/  For the past month we have been in Podu Turcului, a small, forgotten town in eastern Romania, holding art and music workshops with a group of Roma children. In these parts, the Roma identity is forgotten and denied in the face of prolonged systematic and social discrimination and the only thing that differentiates these children from Romanian children is the poverty and the racism that they experience from a very young age. Until 2 years ago the Roma children went to a separate school; when the roof fell in they went to the main school, amongst complaints from the teachers that they would all ‘give diseases to the other children’. A temporary wall was built to divide the classrooms, and they are now taught in separate classrooms. This is Ionutz’s story, a 12 year old boy who threw himself into each art workshop with focus and passion. ‘I live with my grandfather. He is very old and he used to work in the fields. My great-grandfather was a musician. My parents live 10km away, I go to see them quite often. I don’t go to school because I got into lots of trouble with the other children. They were hitting me and spitting on me and I would hit back. I gave up school when I was 6 or 7 years old. When the other kids are at school I watch TV or visit my aunt who lives next to us. My parents and my grandfather are sad that I don’t go to school. My grandfather is very sick (he has kidney problems and needs dialysis); he told me that he got sick because he was so worried when I stopped going to school. I want to go to school, it would be nice to learn. When I grow up I want to do a lot, I want to be a footballer, a driver, a doctor. My happiest memory is when I came to the centre for the first time and I did drawings with the other children and ate nice sweets. If I could change one thing about my life I would be bigger, older, tougher because the other kids pick on me and I can’t defend myself.’

Originally published in https://brushandbow.com/
For the past month we have been in Podu Turcului, a small, forgotten town in eastern Romania, holding art and music workshops with a group of Roma children. In these parts, the Roma identity is forgotten and denied in the face of prolonged systematic and social discrimination and the only thing that differentiates these children from Romanian children is the poverty and the racism that they experience from a very young age. Until 2 years ago the Roma children went to a separate school; when the roof fell in they went to the main school, amongst complaints from the teachers that they would all ‘give diseases to the other children’. A temporary wall was built to divide the classrooms, and they are now taught in separate classrooms.
This is Ionutz’s story, a 12 year old boy who threw himself into each art workshop with focus and passion.
‘I live with my grandfather. He is very old and he used to work in the fields. My great-grandfather was a musician. My parents live 10km away, I go to see them quite often.
I don’t go to school because I got into lots of trouble with the other children. They were hitting me and spitting on me and I would hit back. I gave up school when I was 6 or 7 years old.
When the other kids are at school I watch TV or visit my aunt who lives next to us.
My parents and my grandfather are sad that I don’t go to school. My grandfather is very sick (he has kidney problems and needs dialysis); he told me that he got sick because he was so worried when I stopped going to school. I want to go to school, it would be nice to learn.
When I grow up I want to do a lot, I want to be a footballer, a driver, a doctor.
My happiest memory is when I came to the centre for the first time and I did drawings with the other children and ate nice sweets.
If I could change one thing about my life I would be bigger, older, tougher because the other kids pick on me and I can’t defend myself.’

Originally published in https://brushandbow.com/ Podu Turcului weekly market – a cacophony of horse carts, pigs being sold from the boot of a car and homemade alcohol. Different Roma communities from across Romania gather here every Monday morning to sell their wares, and the usually quiet streets of Podu Turcului are full of life and laughter. The bars are already open at 8am, and groups gather over beer and succulent grilled sausages to catch up on the week’s happenings. A dusty parking lot is filled with tables piled high with second hand clothes, horse saddles and harnesses, in the background the livestock market is full of strong, working horses and squealing, fat pigs. Margarita was sitting on a small stool surrounded by second hand shoes spread out on a plastic sheet; she stood out amongst the other stallholders in her bright pleated skirt and colourful headscarf. Her deeply lined face crinkled into a smile as she enthusiastically gestured for us to sit down. “Jesus didn’t make a distinction between gypsies and non-gypsies, so why do people? We’re honest people, we want to work and take care of our family. That’s it”. Her voice was strong and impassioned, her gestures were so emotive. “There’s a lot of discrimination when people don’t understand the gypsy culture. Where I come from, in Transylvania, it’s different. People are more accepting there”. She gestured towards her wares spread out before, shoes of all colours and sizes. “We have all of these things to sell and we try to come to places like this where people don’t have much money, to try and help them in this way. The people are very happy to buy good things, these shoes come from Germany and England, and here we sell a lot cheaper than in the shops.” The Roma community are often portrayed as needy or disadvantaged. Margarita strongly tried to assert that she is neither of those things; rather, her resilient voice insisted of the help that she tries to bring to people within her own community. She waved as we stood up to leave and, as we parted ways, she wished us “health, love and power”.

Originally published in https://brushandbow.com/
Podu Turcului weekly market – a cacophony of horse carts, pigs being sold from the boot of a car and homemade alcohol. Different Roma communities from across Romania gather here every Monday morning to sell their wares, and the usually quiet streets of Podu Turcului are full of life and laughter. The bars are already open at 8am, and groups gather over beer and succulent grilled sausages to catch up on the week’s happenings. A dusty parking lot is filled with tables piled high with second hand clothes, horse saddles and harnesses, in the background the livestock market is full of strong, working horses and squealing, fat pigs.
Margarita was sitting on a small stool surrounded by second hand shoes spread out on a plastic sheet; she stood out amongst the other stallholders in her bright pleated skirt and colourful headscarf. Her deeply lined face crinkled into a smile as she enthusiastically gestured for us to sit down.
“Jesus didn’t make a distinction between gypsies and non-gypsies, so why do people? We’re honest people, we want to work and take care of our family. That’s it”. Her voice was strong and impassioned, her gestures were so emotive. “There’s a lot of discrimination when people don’t understand the gypsy culture. Where I come from, in Transylvania, it’s different. People are more accepting there”.
She gestured towards her wares spread out before, shoes of all colours and sizes. “We have all of these things to sell and we try to come to places like this where people don’t have much money, to try and help them in this way. The people are very happy to buy good things, these shoes come from Germany and England, and here we sell a lot cheaper than in the shops.”
The Roma community are often portrayed as needy or disadvantaged. Margarita strongly tried to assert that she is neither of those things; rather, her resilient voice insisted of the help that she tries to bring to people within her own community. She waved as we stood up to leave and, as we parted ways, she wished us “health, love and power”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s