5 Things You Should Know about Gypsies

489 results. That’s how many I got when I searched “gypsies” on dailymail.co.uk. 80 when I searched “gypsies Romania” and 305 when I searched “immigrants Romania”, of which the most relevant was considered an article that states: “120 immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria arrive in Britain everyday to be circus stars”. 

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1. They are beautiful

I was passing through a Roma neighborhood in Iasi, when I saw the most beautiful girl I have ever seen: dark skin, long dark flowing hair, striking blue eyes, possibly around sixteen and 1.70m tall. She was carrying a baby in her arms, closely followed by a man her age, talking to her and visibly attracted by the way she carried herself.

Every Monday and Thursday night, I go to Zumba classes. When I leave the gym, there are these two Roma children that wait for me and the other girls every night. The little girl is so beautiful that it breaks my heart knowing she probably won’t achieve anything more than a violent, vulgar husband and a bunch of hungry kids. She begs for money using the same story: she needs it to buy herself shoes and lunch for the next day at school. She’s a third grader, but she doesn’t go to school every day. The boy is in 2nd grade, also with worn out shoes and the same story. They’re cute together and I like teasing them, but I never give them money. The money will probably be spent on alcohol anyway and, besides, I don’t want to encourage begging.

It’s not novelty that gypsies are considered beautiful. My great grandma used to have a gypsy help at home. The woman cleaned, cooked and took care of the children and she was trusted and respected by the family. My grandma used to talk with respect and fondness about her:

„She had long dark hair that she kept braided, her eyes were a piercing black, very beautiful… She was also probably cleaner than most Romanian girls I knew and she was almost as part of the family. She cooked and cleaned really well and never stole anything from us. My mother-in-law liked her a lot and demanded everyone to treat her with respect.”

2. They can be integrated

I’m sure you’ve heard of Ethan Hawke, but have you heard of his mother, Leslie Hawke? She is a wonderful lady, that has done volunteer work most of her life, she is very dedicated to social causes and truly believes in bettering the world.

In 2004, Hawke and a Romanian teacher, Maria Gheorghiu, founded Ovidiu Ro – a charitable association dedicated to integrating poor children from rural areas in schools. Their motto is: Every child in kindergarten. Basically, they train educators and counselors in rural areas, renovate and remodel schools and then try to convince parents with a bad financial situation to let their children attend kindergarten every day. What’s the big deal, you might ask? Well, it is, because in rural areas, most of the poor families are Roma families. And, even though they enroll the kids in kindergarten, after a while they withdraw them because they see no benefits in it. It’s less expensive and time-consuming to keep a child at home and have him work around the house or beg on the streets than keeping him/her clean, providing clothes and a sandwich and send them to kindergarten.

But Leslie found a way. Through donations, she and her team give the families involved in the program a monthly financial reward if their child has an attendance rate of at least 90% and the parents attend every parent-teacher meeting. They have professional counselors, highly skilled teachers and they keep an eye on the families as well, often helping them too, just so the child would have as healthy a development as possible.

I think it’s one of the best strategies to integrate Roma children in the schools system. Not only because it actually helps them get in contact with other children, to become more disciplined or because it provides a small financial support for the families, but mostly because, as Leslie stated various times, the earlier we start educating children, the less probable is that they will drop out of middle school or high school. They become accustomed to the daily routine, they make friends, learn new things (small children are more curious to learn new things than the ones over 10 year-old), they start to see the utility of school.

When I talked to Leslie, in Iasi, she annoyed me a lot. She said it was our fault for how the Roma had turned out, because we neglected them, discriminated against them, we treated them badly. At the moment, I pointed out the Americans did the same with African American people and we both started arguing on the subject, but without finality. On the way home, I asked myself: why repeat history and not learn from others’ mistakes? That was the day this lady got my respect for what she does for poor children.

3. Not all of them have Romanian origins

For many of you who read this, the fact that Roma are of Indian descent might not be novelty. For many people in the EU, this may sound untrue, because they think the Roma people come from Romania. A good part of the gypsies in Western Europe do come from Romania, they migrated after Romania became part of the European Union, but a good part of them was already there.

Recent DNA studies have reconfirmed that gypsies are of Indian origin and history shows they migrated all over the world: Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the American Continents. Actually, according to Wikipedia, Brazil has one of the largest gypsy community in the world – about 800.000 people.

Why do I give you this information that you already knew? Because people call Romanians gypsies way too often, in the negative way. Yes, those that steal, beg and camp outside European capitals came from Romania. But that does not mean all Romanian people are like them. I think it’s high time society paid attention to more than stereotypes. The Roma problem has roots way deeper than the poverty in Romania. It tracks back all the way to their medieval lifestyle, when they used to migrate from place to place, than to their status as slaves in Romania, in the late 1600s towards the late 1800s, to the communist era, when they were treated as bad as the Jews (controversial subject, but my affirmation is based on what older people around me have told me about the communists hating and hunting down the gypsies). Taking into consideration the instability of the Romanian society throughout the past 23 years, no wonder they want to leave this country. Even the young Romanians are anxious to emigrate after they graduate from college, why wouldn’t the gypsies want to go abroad too? But that’s another subject, so I’ll stop here.

The bottom line is, nowadays origin should be less important than the effort to adapt, integrate, treat equally, support each other. Maybe we ought to think of what happened in the past when xenophobic feelings started to drive the actions of a society.

4. They can be honest, hardworking people

When I was a kid, gypsies would come to our village every winter. They were craftsmen: they made household utensils from wood or metal and traded them for cereal – grain, corn -, walnuts or chickens. My grandma – who is a mix between a human being and a mythical creature – had a friend. Her name was Paula, she was a gypsy woman who sold what her husband made. She arrived every winter in the village, loaded with merchandise and stayed for a few days, until she sold them all. Grandma provided her with shelter for those days and in exchange, the woman gave us some of her best wooden spoons and metal buckets (perfect to keep the water cool during hot summer days). She used to have dinner with us, then go and sleep in the summer kitchen. Even if offered a nice, warm bed in the house, she preferred  the improvised sleeping bag by the fire in the summer kitchen (traditional Romanian households in the south part of the country have an adjacent summer kitchen with a fireplace where bread was baked and sausages hanged for smoking).

Paula told us stories and laughed with us, stayed for days, but never stole anything or tried to trick us. She worked all day long – travelled the surrounding villages by foot, selling her merchandise, she carried very heavy sacks with flour or corn and, every once in a while, she got a ride from a generous men who felt sorry for her.

At the end of her business journey, her husband came back, they loaded the covered carriage and went back to their house. I don’t know where they lived, but something tells me it was more of a tent than a house.

5. They’ve always been treated as outsiders or even worse

Mihail Kogalniceanu, a Romanian historian, wrote about gypsies and the way they were treated in medieval times and even the 1800s. He described them as “human beings with chains around their wrists and ankles, with iron circles around their foreheads, or metallic collars around their necks. Bloody whipping sessions and other punishments, such as being starved, hanged above a burning fire, being kept in isolation or thrown naked in a frozen river or snow, that was the treatment applied to the unfortunate gypsy.”

When I was in school, we had two Roma kids in our class. They were pretty clean, no lice or diseases (which is what our parents feared most), but they didn’t really like school. I’d say they had pretty good reasons for that too. They were bullied and teased every day, the best days were when they were ignored. They were seated in the back of the class and given the used books – they won’t study anyway, why waste good books on them? And most of the days, they didn’t have a lunch pack, their families were too poor to afford to give them a sandwich for school. They were outsiders, just watching us playing, laughing, having fun. Silent witnesses most often, as opposed to the violent beings they became once their limits were being pushed too far.

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The Daily Mail is more or less representative of how Western Europeans view Romanians and Roma people, but the constant attacks and negative articles about them and us makes me revolt. I don’t want to take part in a politically correct society that still discriminates and throws people out based on their origin, that uses media to suggest with apparent tolerance that gypsies deserve to be deported to a remote place.

Oh, yeah, I forgot. Romanian children that don’t behave are given to the gypsies. 

For those of you who want to see another side of Romania and Roma people, I recommend these links:

Disclaimer: The featured photo originates from Ovidiu Ro Foundation’s official website and was taken by Cosmin Bumbut, therefore I don’t claim any credits for it. 

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2 thoughts on “5 Things You Should Know about Gypsies

  1. Pingback: Wary of Roma, Europe cold-shoulders its new eastern workmates | Reuters.com « Dr Alf's Blog

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