Stigma


As many Gypsies, as many cultures. We are Gyspies, too, but different.


At the beginning there only were four families here. Four huts. Oh, here grass grew everywhere. It was beautiful, when there were fewer of us. And then came the others and each built his own hut.

We don’t like those Polish Gypsies. They don’t want us here, either. When they see us in the street they laugh at us. That we’re poor, that we beg, that we’re Romanians. They don’t help us. They are rich, they steal, they lie to others and the blame always falls on us, because we are Gypsies like them. Gypsies are Gypsies – they say. Folks in this neighborhood already know us that we don’t steal. They were even helping us. Bringing hot water, Pampers for the kids, food, clothes, a blanket. And they were helping us so that we could build huts for ourselves.

But it bothers me that when you go to the store, they kick you out. And if they don’t kick you out they follow you and watch you. They don’t trust you. I get it, ‘cause Gypsies steal – that’s true – and if one does that it doesn’t necessarily mean we all do. I don’t care if they treat me like a Polish woman. I wear long skirts and think they wouldn’t accept me because of that. And this is a very important tradition for us, ‘cause when Mother of God gave birth to the son she was wearing long skirts and shawl on her head, and we follow her model. I would only like the Polish to respect me.

When I met Sebastian I already had two children – I gave birth to the first one at thirteen, second – at fourteen. We met at the fair in Zakopane, by accident. I came with my parents from Romania. He, Polish, was dealing clothes. He didn’t have a wife and I already didn’t have a husband anymore, ‘cause mine in Romania was a heavy drinker, so we got married. But my mother didn’t want to allow this marriage. So, Sebastian came by car at dawn and kidnapped me and my kids. And so we were together. We lived in Zabrze, Częstochowa, Zakopane, Warsaw, Toruń, Ciechocinek. We kept moving. And finally we went to a wedding reception in Zabrze, Sebastian drank a little and on the way back we crashed into a tree. My bones were broken, Taissa stayed in the hospital for four months. Aleksander, my son, has a poor contact with his head ever since, he hit it really hard. And Percida, who was born couple of days before, can’t walk, she won’t do anything on her own. Sebastian’s spine is bad. He got probation, but two years later police caught him again, ‘cause he was drunk driving. And he went to prison. And I stayed alone with four kids. They took away my apartment in Zakopane, ‘cause everything was written in my husband’s name. I had brothers and a sister in Wrocław – and so I got here to the encampment. Right after that I gave birth to the fifth child, Elwecian, who I call Ciri, ‘cause I would like him to be a girl. Ciri saw his father for the first time when he was two, when Sebastian got out of prison. We went back to Zakopane together. Now I am pregnant again.

We don’t do fortune telling like other Gypsies. We mustn’t, because it’s a sin. Cheating people is a sin. And faith is very important. When we were living in Romania we were going to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and here, in Poland, we go to the Catholic Church – only that we go there like to work, every Sunday. I go to Masses too, ‘cause I am a believer. And I don’t know what to think about it: am I still an Orthodox or a Catholic now? My kids were baptized here. It is so important to be baptized and be able to confess. It’s just that I don’t know if the priest would allow me to go to confession. Maybe he would.

60 -member family of Romanian Roma, living in an encampment on the outskirts of the city of Wroclaw in Poland.
Wroclaw 15.04.2013 Poland Young Roma boy poses with mask. Family of Sixty Romanian Romas, living in slums in Wroclaw (south-western Poland). They live in conditions similar to those in animal shelters. Without running water, heating, with a daily budget of about 1 Euro per person. Photo: Adam Lach / Napo Images

All Kalici’s children are white and look like Poles. They all have blue eyes and white hair – and he is black, black eyes. Even the police ask him: “Where do you have this kid from, who did you steal it from?” But they are simply white and blonde. Even when Kalicie dyed them black, they came out blonde again. He has to dye them, ‘cause when he goes to town with them he gets stopped right away and they are saying: “Romanian has Polish kid!” So, he wants them to look like Gypsies.

Kalici has a wife, Marija. She had a venereal disease. But Kalici wanted to marry her. Grandfather said no, grandmother too. But he wanted to. Marija wasn’t ugly, everybody was just disgusted by this disease of hers. This disease ruined it all. Kalici and Marija were staying in the most special hospital in Romania for three weeks. Then they got injections for three more weeks.  But Marija ran away from Kalici and when she got back she was pregnant. When she gave birth to Sebastian, Kalici decided to keep him as his son. But his wife ran away again as far as to France – to her mother – and stayed there for some six months or more. Kalici was in despair and didn’t know what to do. He was calling Marija’s mother saying: “Give me your daughter back, ‘cause I can’t deal with this child on my own”. And Marija returned to Romania, but not to her husband, to her brother. Then Kalici went to get her by car, all the way across Romania losing 700 euro on the gas. He came back with her. He would give his life for her. She hasn’t run away since then, but leaves whenever she feels like it – and comes back whenever she wants to.

It’s hard to say how they met – Zabar came to Poland when Taissa had already been here. They were dating each other for quite some time. Then, finally, at some baptism their parents started to talk about their marriage. Taissa’s mother and father didn’t want to agree with the thought of giving their daughter away, ‘cause she was very young and Zabar was a lot older than her. But eventually they got married. And Taissa husband’s family took her to live with them. At first everything seemed normal. But after some time they forbade Taissa to meet with her parents, they were making her stay at home and wanted to take her away to Romania. Yet Taissa nor her mother Florica – my father’s sister – wanted to agree to it. So, one day her parents went to her husband’s home and took Taissa away – she wouldn’t have managed to escape on her own. We were all talking them into it. But then the war started – the husband’s family came to Floricia, they started to beat her and yell at her to give them the money back which Zabar’s parents lost as wedding expenses. Florica didn’t have that much money. Then our whole family had to move to some other place, in order not to provoke them since we were living nearby. We moved to Kamińskiego Street and started all over again. But it just wasn’t over. They came after us – put huts at the other side of encampment. Since then we had nothing but fights

After a couple of months the brawl started over again. All because of Florian – Zabar’s brother – who was looking for a reason to attack my father. It was Sunday, we went to town. When we got back Florian was drunk. And he came to my father yelling that he argued with somebody from his family. Father told him it wasn’t true. Florian started to curse and hit him. I didn’t see it, but when my father came back to barrack his whole face was covered with blood. I got pissed off really bad and wanted to go to Florian’s and retaliate. But my mother and father didn’t let me out. I couldn’t take it so bad that I kicked the window, broke glass and cut my leg. I grabbed random bat – and limping – started to chase Florian. My brother joined me. They got scared and ran hiding in the bushes. When my mom saw that they escaped, that they are not there anymore, she called the police. And when Florian found out about it he rushed to my mom’s, grabbed her by her head and started beating her. Then I and Mikołaj – my sister Mändra’s husband – got on him together and did to him what he did to her – ‘cause you mustn’t hit mom. Then somebody from Florian’s family came to help them, caught my brother in the barrack, knocked him down and started kicking him in the stomach and ribs. When I saw this I rushed into this barrack, separated him from my brother, knocked him down and did the same to him. And when he was lying I told him: “We will meet again in ten, twenty years. Maybe you will die by then, but your son will remain and then we’ll be back”. ‘Cause this is our tradition – to pay the son back what we should pay back to his father.

That very evening they were calling my mother and father begging their forgiveness. My dad didn’t want to agree at first, but then he thought and said: “I will forgive them when they will come to my sons on their knees begging their forgiveness and swearing this was the first and the last time they raised their hand on us”. And they agreed to it. Next morning we dug a big hole and put candles, crucifix and picture of Mother of God. When they came they were getting into that hole wearing only their underwear and swore on their knees, begging mine and my brother’s forgiveness.

In Poland you build a hut in one day. Here on scrapheaps you can find a lot of materials. First you need to level the ground with sand. Then you drive two pillars – at the opposite ends – and put a beam on them. Then you take old doors and make walls of them. You make one wall with four doors. You need to insert the window into the front wall, then door and another window. As a roof – you put eight doors, then plastic wrap on them, then a carpet, plastic wrap again and finally linoleum. So that it doesn’t rain on you.

It’s different inside. First linoleum, then a carpet and finally linoleum. Who wants can put a carpet on the ground. Then you cover the wall with anything you got, so it doesn’t get dusty. And you bring in the couch, closets and all you got.

EPILOGUE

I watch this series on TV, it’s called “The Woman in the Mirror”. I love it like crazy. It’s about this girl who is ugly, skinny and poor. But she gets a wondrous mirror and during the day she becomes a beautiful woman, starts seeing herself differently. And at night she is herself again. I like this series so much, ‘cause they talk about love a lot. And there is no love between us anymore – there used to be, but not anymore. Life changes everything.

If I could, I would change this mind of mine. ‘Cause I wouldn’t like to be that smart. It makes everybody nervous and gets in their way. I would like to change it somehow, but I can’t. Sometimes I am angry, ‘cause I see I got married so early. When I met Mikołaj I was twelve. I was too young to know anything about sex. When I asked my mom once how the children are born, she told me that when I am twenty I will go to the hospital and will give birth from my knee. I knew nothing. And Mikołaj travelled across Europe, so he knew. I gave birth to the first kid at the age of fourteen. I didn’t think I was going to be pregnant so soon. And I wasn’t happy. Well, maybe at the beginning – as I always loved dolls and teddy bears. But now the kids are the most important, they changed my world. I have this dream, that my kids go to school and don’t roam the streets anymore. That they have a home – and it is finally silent around. That I could leave all this hell behind and as those three wise monkeys – that see, hear and speak nothing – run to the forest all alone. Only then I will feel free.


Text: Dyba Lach


ABOUT

It is easy to fight for the rights of people who shout out loud in protest. It is much more difficult to notice those who do not manifest openly. The Stigma Project tells the story of the 60 -member family of Romanian Roma, living in an encampment on the outskirts of the city of Wroclaw in Poland. But this is not another chapter of a colorful Gypsy legend, to which the Roma community is often wrongly classified.
Limiting the photo sessions to the location of the Dog Field – the district of Wroclaw occupied by the Roma slums –  I deprived the recipient of the opportunity to observe the Roma people during what is commonly considered to be their everyday life – begging and theft. Surrounded by family, separated from the rest of society, they turn out to be completely different people, unfitting the conventional ideas. There are no typical camps with campfires, songs and spells – instead, there are good people with unusual interior and dramatic life stories, hurt by many whom they met on their way. They struggle not only with severe everyday life, but also with the city authorities and neighbors. They have a reputation of being beggars, thieves and crooks, among the local inhabitants, which causes frequent acts of aggression against them. All the actions of municipal authorities, with a view to solve the Roma problem, are leading to attempts to intimidate and evict them.

This story of the Roma,  is primarily a story about family, relationships and emotions of people, who despite all, seem happy and peaceful.
It is also an attempt to analyze the condition of the modern family, on the border between tradition and modernity. This group of nomads , dependent on the constant search for a better world , unconsciously surrenders to the influence of mass culture , struggling with the same concerns as any modern man.