Saturday, November 13, 2010
Staying with the Roma.
We stayed with the Gabori family, Gabi, Ghizele, Gabrielle, and Gabi, on a rural homestay arranged by Tigani Tours. Gabi, the father, is a tinsmith, a highly respectable trade in Roma society (that's gypsy to our American friends).
After meeting the family and settling into our rooms, we drove an hour to another Roma family who was hosting a birthday party for one of our group, Laura. The party was in a remote Roma village, where the entire village came out for the food, music and dancing.
They had musicians and a traditional dance group that entertained us. After the Roma danced for us, then we all danced the afternoon away while we waited for dinner to cook.
They grilled meats, and even sacrificed a rabbit to honor our birthday guest. Someone brought the biggest fish I’ve ever seen, caught that morning in a local lake.
The party wound down about sunset, and all the tourists went to the Gabori home to their beds. The next day, the girls tried on traditional Roma clothing before we left for our world. Ghizelle sells these dresses and proudly showed the craft and detail that goes into each one.
Visiting a Roma village for 24 hours was like dropping into a vortex where everything is upside down. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” The Roma experience great discrimination in Eastern Europe and make no effort to assimilate into the larger culture. The purpose of Tigani Tours was a cultural exchange to create greater understanding of the Roma among non-Roma, and greater understanding of non-Roma among the Roma.
It was clear that they were sharing their family with us, accepting us into their family. One of the many highlights was sitting around the kitchen table as Ghizelle showed us a box of family pictures, telling stories about each one. At the end of our stay, they invited us back, saying "you're now family."
Family is important to the Roma. They don't leave their families, if one gets a better opportunity in another city, the entire family moves. Their family roles are strictly defined: the women are responsible for running the household and the men are responsible for going out into the world. So as we were introduced to the family, it was clear the father was the gatekeeper, and once we had made introductions, the women took over with hospitality. Which included țuika (tsuika), a powerful homemade alcohol, at 10:00 in the morning. The next morning we had wine with breakfast; nothing like sausage, eggs, and a little sweet wine!
It was clear to them that the girls would grow up to marry a Roma boy, at about age 14, live in his parents house and become housekeeper to the family until the couple become productive wage earners. At that point she would become the dominant women of the household. One daughter had recently married, and the fact that they didn't see her much was related in a matter-of-fact way: she's busy taking care of his family and can't come for visits. The boys would grow up to live with the parents or nearby, if one already lived with the parents, and learn the same trade as the father. Too much education for the children and they would slip away from the community, a fate they considered worse than death.
Having a boy, then, is very important in Roma families. Ghizelle asked Nancy about how many children we had, and when she discovered that we had one daughter, sitting at the table, and one boy, living far away, she expressed great joy at the fact that we had a boy. (Didn't make Cami feel very important!)