Wealthy Roma: The outs

We arrived in Buzescu in the morning.  We had no translator and communication was difficult, if not impossible.  After walking the streets we found a man who spoke a few words of English and he invited us onto his patio.  After several shots of palinka, the local alcohol, we popped the question: “you think it would be possible to stay here for a few weeks and document the lives of the Roma in Buzescu?  We were firmly discouraged and sent on our way.  A few hours later we woke up on a bench on the main strip… finally the palinka had worn off.  What now?  On the verge of defeat we wondered the backstreets.  “De donde son?”  Ramona yelled at us.  It turned out, a lot of the Roma had migrated to Spain to work and then had come back.  Spanish was our way in…

Shampi came to the door and started calling my name one day. She told me her brother-in-law had died and the family needed someone to photograph the funeral. At the house, the wife of the deseased cried in a room with his mother and sisters. Their three-year-old daughter played in the patio in a bright pink dress.  Florea Radu, 29, was electrocuted while stripping copper from power lines in Spain. The father dialed the airport’s number with shaky hands. They said perhaps the next day the body would arrive. Early the following morning, the women prepared food for the whole town.  Everyone came to cry.  As the day advanced, so did the expectations of the arriving casket. At night, when it was confirmed Florea’s body was only a few minutes away, everyone came out to the street to welcome him home with a chorus of wails and screams. The intensity was surreal, like a wave of sorrow drenching everyone and everything . I stood paralyzed as the car’s lights blinded all of us. Down came Florea, the cries and shouts reached their crescendo. The men washed and dressed the body behind closed doors. “Bring the photographers in,” someone shouted. We were pushed inside the room where Florea lay in a white suit and shiny black shoes surrounded by a crowd.  Everyone wanted a last photo. The next day, hundreds paraded him down the main strip.  At the cemetery, everyone visited separate tombs, crying for their own dead.

Arranged marriages were common in Buzescu.  By the age of 13, Casi was living with Sammy and his parents (in photo with yellow background).  She cooked and cleaned and when Sammy clapped his hands she was down on her knees cutting his toenails and putting on his socks.  By the age of 17, many of the young Roma men had wives and babies and were preparing to move into their own mansions.  Education was not valued and most dropped out of school early, learning how to make their own fortunes under the guidance of their parents and peers.  As the couples aged, many of the women looked after their children while the men worked in other parts of Romania and beyond.  But during holidays and special celebrations, the abandoned town came back to life as families and friends reunited.

In Buzescu, everyone knows everyone else’s business. The women are not to be seen with other men once they get married, although men can do as they please.  Most women understand the importance of being married in such a conservative society.  Mioara quickly became my friend, she was our next door neighbor.  Having come back from Spain, she found herself an old maid (she was 28) in a town were it’s not well seen for women to hold a job.  An older couple approached her and asked if she would marry their son who was then waiting for a sentence in prison. Mioara accepted at once, left her own family and went to live with them to wait for his return.  The engaged couple had talked on the phone and sent some cell phone pics back and forth.  It occurred to Mioara that she had a job for me. She wanted  a series of portraits that she could send to him in jail. And so the photo shoot started. She liked to dress up in fancy clothes and play with her hair color. We had fun. A year later, when we returned to finish the story, she told me her husband had finally received his sentence: 10 years.

We would like to thank Ramona and her aunt Dida for giving us a home in a place where no one else would. You were key in our understanding of the Roma culture and the characters of Buzescu.

We had fun editing the outs!  Please check out the story on the National Geographic website and in the SEPT issue of Nat Geo and visit Runa on FB


Karla Gachet and Ivan Kashinsky.