Gypsy’s story

Artur (Trandafir – gypsy’s name), 17 years old, lives in the village with two sisters, mother and father. Comes to Chisinau almost every day with his mother and sisters.

I saw Artur at the bus station, next to a lady (as I found out later, she was his mother), discussing with a man of about 45 years old, who did not seem to be a Gypsy, but rather a Russian or Moldovan, well dressed, in a leather jacket. I knew Gypsies can be found at the market place, or bus station, nearby. I noticed that the man he was discussing with could not be from police, but rather an authority for them. I came up and asked them help me talk to a young gypsy, and explained them why I needed to talk to him. The man in jacket and the elder lady listened to me and then asked me to show them my ID. „You see, nowadays I do not trust even myself, not to speak of stranger”. I showed them my journalist’s ID, and after I convinced them I am not from the police, they introduced Artur, who meanwhile was staring at us.
I ordered three cups of coffee from the bar (Gosh, additional costs! I am kidding!), because the guy who said his name is Costacke, also followed us. Before starting the discussion, the young man asked one Leu (MDL 1) from me, to go to the toilet „because I have not a single penny in my pocket”. I gave him one Leu and he disappeared for some time. I asked Costacke if he would come again. „Do not worry, we are serious people”. A found out from Costacke that he is a village mate of the gypsies and who has good relations with „the whole world”, both with “good people” and “bad people”. “You see – said Costache – I was jailed for some time, and I am acquainted by many people”.
The boy came back. He started to tell me that he comes with his mother and sisters to Chisinau to sell something, to earn a penny, that they have nothing, that they must have a cloth to put on and something to eat. Initially it was difficult to control the interview.
Nutrition. „Today in the morning I drank a cup of tea with bread and butter. Now in the afternoon I ate nothing, but I can stand. I have one good meal in the morning and then in the evening, when we go to the village, because here everything is expensive”. He did not comply that he misses food, and said that he is grateful “For whatever God may grant”. From the money they earn, the family buys food „where it is cheapest” and they go to the village (with potatoes, macaroni, bread, onion, edible oil, and other items).
Clothes. He has all the clothes from the last year. „When there is some money, and they want to buy something, the mother and father buy first of all for the girls. I am the last in terms of buying clothes. I also wanted to buy “creased trousers”, and pumps, but mother said I should wait some more time”. He buys clothes from “humanitarians” because it is cheaper there.
Family income. From the words of the young man, everybody contributes to building up the family budget. His father has a „forge” at home and makes many things: hoes, horseshoes, metal rigs, sieves, staples, gates and decorations of metal. He is on the market place from raion (Hyncheshti) almost every day, and sells his products. This business provides to his family a monthly income of about MDL 500–600 (Initially the boy hesitated to tell how much his farther earns, telling that his products do not sell very well, also complaining that they are poor, starting in a way to raise a feeling of sympathy. However, I knew that these goods sell very well now, at the beginning of agricultural season). In Chisinau I come to sell candles (it is a traditional business for gypsies in Moldova), and bone-made combs. I do not have a “machine” for making combs at home. „We make them of bones, of cattle horns, what should we do else? We go to the slaughter and take the horns for free. The combs are selling well, because ours are cheaper than those from the store, and the people buy them because, frankly speaking, have lice”. Both mother and girls buy and sell, sell and buy. „Now we buy colors for eggs for Easter, because Easter is coming and we must color eggs to be like the next men”. From daily sales they earn about MDL 100. Sometimes the young gypsy goes as “day-worker” through the village: shovels, pills off corn, loads something or welds something for some household. „ For my work I am given to eat and about MDL 5, but mostly flour, oil, or whatever to “put in the mouth””.
Education. Artur attended 3 grades in the school of the native village. His parents counseled and took him out of school „because he has nothing to learn there”. ”If my father dies, I am supposed to be skillful in the household and learn everything”. His father has trained the boy in his handicrafts. Artur tells with pride that he can weld, make hoes and metal rigs, sell on the market, shoe a horse… His sisters can knit sieves and sell them. „Several years ago there were gypsies who attended 8 grades, but nowadays they go to school just for primary classes, both boys and girls”. He does not think to take other studies. „I heard there are schools, but as far as I know, gypsies do not go there”. When asked when does he intend to get married, Artur siad after he gets the age of 22. „My parents do not allow me. I could get married younger, because it is allowed among us, but I have to grow more reasonable and be able to handle better in my life, to listen and learn what others do”. Artur has a gypsy girl-friend and thinks that he will marry her, that he loves her very much. He takes her to the capital, because she also sells… „I do not need a Moldovan or Russian girl, because those… what can they do?, only cook, may be wash plates too, to make up” (he laughs). “A gypsy-woman can do everything: sell, earn and save money, grow children”. He knows about venereal diseases from his friend and does his best to avoid that. He heard about syphilis and gonorrhea, but he knows that most terrible is AIDS. He heard that it can be healed, but the patient, once he gets this disease, can die. But one can also get contaminated by „drinking from the same glass, by shaking the hand of the sick”, this is why Artur is always very attentive and „Heaven forbid”, never knew such people…
Household. The boy tried to answer all the questions by „we do not have” or „e-he-he-e-e”, how can we buy furniture or have poultry… where from?” They have a house which is „small and it’s in a bad way, it is a slum that you have nothing to see, let uncle Costică confirm, he was on visits to us”. Costică shook his head affirmatively: „I even slept at their place. They have nothing, are as poor as a church mouse”. The boy: „We have neither TV, because it broke, nor radio, nor poultry, nor domestic animals. We have neither land. We have no dog at home, because once we can hardly feed ourselves, how can we feed a dog?” No mention about books or newspapers. When I asked them about this, he looked at me as if wanted to ask: „are you pulling my leg?” „We, gypsies have no time to waste on reading books or newspapers, and we do not like politics”. At winter time they heat their fire place with brushwood, and have no electricity because they did not pay the electricity bill in due time.
Relations with community. From the words of the boy, relations are „normal”. He remembers that when he ceased attending the school, the head-teacher would come to their place, or another teacher, to convince his parents send him in the 4th grade. „We just behave like all the people do and stand well with everybody. In the village they do not say that I am gypsy, and nobody avoids us. I talk to people as it should be and say “good day”. The people talk to us…”. We have never been arrested by the police, or come across scandals with village fellows. Neither in Chisinau, the police does not say a word to them and allows them to sell. „Because we are kind”. It is something different that people think gypsies steal, that gypsies are bad… „The people say bad things about gypsies, what else should they do?, but I know it is not true. Let at least someone say that we do not live from our earnings or that anybody saw me stealing something”. Then Costică shook his head again in affirmation: „I know his father and he is a good master of the house and skillful in everything. He works day and night, pity him, and they still live very hard”.
Health. The gypsies go to the doctor in emergency. Artur had an ear and tooth ache, but he saw that the doctors treat him perfunctorily and charge money in vain. They treat flu and other illnesses “pertaining to cold” at home „with a better meal, with an izvar (boiled wine n.n.) or with massage. The mother goes sometimes to the doctor with “junior ones” (with junior sisters n.t.), but there, again, no use to do without money. He heard from hearsay that for an injection one has to pay MDL 20–30. „If you do not give them money, they leave you die there, without touching you”.
Pass time. At pass time Artur works, in the evening, with his father around the household, helps… He does not go to disco because it is necessary to have money, and in fact, his parents do not allow him. „What should I learn there? Mother says that I can learn only bad things there – drinking, smoking… In fact you cannot imagine a better education than in our gypsy’s milieu”. Artur smokes and his parents know about it. But he smokes extremely rarely „when he has a row with somebody or when he gets nervous”.
Dreams for the future. He dreams that every young gypsy gets married, have his own house, better than the parents’ one. To buy a horse and a cart, „for, why should people need cars if they are so expensive, and you bump it against a pole and you are too late in the day”.

P.S.1: I finished the discussion because his mother came and started to talk with the boy in gypsy language. Then she would turn to me and said: „Will something come out from this, will you help us with something, because I see that you write, and write…? We have never been visited by somebody like you, they were from America. They filmed our house and us, they said would help us, but they left and never saw them again. They gave us for a cheat one-two Leis (MDL) in order to allow the shoot, and that was their help. Do you happen to know them, to spit in their face because they cheated us?”

P.S.2: After his mother left, the son remained for several minutes more in Costea’s accompany. I found out from him that those gypsies are poor, not like in Soroca (a town where the gypsies built-up genuine castles n.n.), because they had no money and support from the beginning (that is since Gorbachiov’s time). In Chisinau they do not need „umbrella” (protectorate from certain criminal authority n.n.) and do not pay anything to anybody from what they earn. I do not know what made me believe that this „umbrella” was Costea personally, and police from the bus-station. Before contacting the gypsies I entered the police station. They listened to me, but tactfully suggested me to go to the railway station, because it is the place where there are more of them…

About Tofan Gheorghe

I was born in Moldova. Have my degree in human communication. Love reading, writing, watercolor. I live and work in Dublin, Ireland.
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