Part 1. Leaving Bucharest, Mihail & The Romani People.
Excerpts from my journal, updated and rewritten for your reading pleasure.
Boyana (A small town on the periphery of Sofia, Bulgaria).
I left the hostel around midday and took a few buses to the outskirts of Bucharest. I feared finding a lift to take me further on my journey would prove unsuccessful but to my surprise I was picked up almost instantly by a young guy. Mihail was heading for a town not far from the Romanian/Bulgarian border and so very kindly offered to take me directly there. I couldn’t believe my luck. We got to talking about all things Romanian and about my presence in an impoverished area. How he felt compelled to pull over and help me as there were never many foreigners in this part of town.
He began to speak about the persistent stereotypes of Romanians around the world, specifically as ‘gypsies’. Gypsy is a more commonly known term for the Romani people, an ethnic population who have wandered and settled across the Eurasian regions of the world for over 1500 years. And although the names are very similar Romani’s are not Romanian. Instead their origins are thought to be based in specific regions in India and Pakistan whereas Romanians are generally believed to descend from a combination of Balkan, Latin and Austro-Hungarian cultures (Obviously with every other country in this region, it isn’t so clear). The Romani’s are normally referred to as a ‘stateless’ group, similar in nature to the Israelites who were regarded in the same category before the 1948 occupation and settlement of what is now known as Israel. The Romani’s have never had the pleasure that the Israeli people now have and its caused many issues wherever they have gone. Whether they are to blame for this is another story altogether.
Mihail spoke to me of the wrongdoing the Romani’s were guilty of that gave a bad name to Romania. They would apply for social benefits from the Romanian government while simultaneously travelling across Europe working, hustling or begging for money in the Metropolitan streets of Europe. Once they had achieved whatever felt necessary they would return to Romania and enjoy the fruits of their cunning methods and continue to enjoy government handouts and a lifestyle that contributed nothing to the system of their home nation. At one point we passed a huge house currently being built on the edge of a small town. Mihail explained this was a Romani owned house. The same people who owned this house would probably own a nice fancy car. For him this is a common occurrence to happen all over and it angered him greatly how the guilty in question were ruining Romania’s reputation abroad and holding down the country’s efforts to improve at a structural level.
**Since coming home I have researched a little into the Romani story. It seems that this portrayal is not as black and white as it’s portrayed. Romani’s are subjected to very shitty treatment. From casual racism, unfair representation on a political level and even having their homes removed without being resettled. In some cases their story reflects those of other ethnic struggles in countries all over the world. In all honesty however I wouldn’t go any further as I am just an outsider looking in and learning to observe rather than intrude is a powerful skill I’m beginning to acquire.**
We continued to speak about various Romanian issues. Of the country’s natural beauty, it’s struggle to move on from the era of Communism and the very serious problem of governmental corruption. Even now as I write this I am saddened to learn of the ongoing demonstrations against these problems. But as I am sad, I am also proud to see these people stand up for what they believe in. I admired Mihail’s pride and dedication to his country. He spoke humbly, honestly and with a blunt frustration because he believed that Romania still has much more to give than what it currently displays. He pointed to the growing number of tourists visiting, and of the nightlife which has begun to earn a name for itself internationally. Allegedly tourists would come to Romania simply for the reputed volume of beautiful girls who contributed to a kind of ‘sex industry’. However he continued to add that prostitution was also a concerning issue.
And so Mihail dropped me directly at the border. I thanked him for everything before I trudged on over in the blistering Balkan sun, past the trucks and the tollbooths and set my sail for Bulgaria…