Intergovernmental institution meeting. I ended up there as the organisers – people I admire and like – thought my experience/expertise would be useful.
I decided that for once, I would work hard trying to fit, be constructive, and well-behaved all at the same time. This is truly not easy: it takes quite an effort to ignore the protests of the many sarcastic and dissenting voices in my head. I swallowed so much intersectionality, mainstreaming, framework, flexicurity, holistic, scalable, proactive, leverage, and streamlining that I felt ready to give birth simultaneously to a recommendations document, a strategy, a directive, and a 10 to 15 years experienced senior rank bureaucrat.
At one moment I felt the urge to search on YouTube for a communist speech about the amazing achievements of my nation; the kind of speech I recalled from my childhood. I wanted to play it for the participants at the meeting. But I restrained myself: I reminded myself that I had planned to have manners today.
My outlandish idea that we should focus on practical things rather than churning out jargon was elegantly ignored by most of the participants: people with important jobs that contribute to the design of public policies at the European level. They seemed intent on inventing brand new words, comprehensible only for them and their relatives with Ivy League or similar degrees, as the best solution to solve the problems of disabled children forced to beg. This, and “thinking outside the box,” of course.
I tried to make myself heard. I wanted to make sure my points about funding direct actions that would help the children and their families rather than paper manufacturers would be considered. No success whatsoever: it was like they couldn’t hear me at all. It got to the point that I decided to check if I was having an out-of-body experience. I asked for a piece of paper, and for a marker. It worked – the kind and helpful people around me gave me the items I had requested. I was awake, seemingly able to speak English.
But as soon as I mentioned hands-on experience in working with the poorest children with disabilities and communities living in abject poverty, things started to get eerie again. People looked at me with a mixture of pity and compassion, and seemed unable to understand the words that were coming out of my mouth. I thought of trying sign language, but the voice in charge of behaving for the day vetoed it.
And then it struck me: I was inside the box they were talking about; most people around me were already outside of it, and therefore couldn’t hear me.
I felt like I did during my first visit to the ‘mother-ship’ (the Berlaymont building, where Brussels’ Euro-Narnian royalty work). When I got to the elevators I rushed into the first one with open doors, to the stupefaction of the assistant that was taking me to the meeting. I did what any good Romanian who had lived through Ceausescu’s times would do: you see something open, you get inside as fast as you can, because you never know when it will be possible to get in again.
To my surprise, there were no buttons inside the elevator. It stopped on the 4th floor and my meeting was on the 7th. I was left alone in the elevator, the assistant left behind on the ground floor, and no phone service.
I think (many times delusionally) of myself as a smart guy, and after two years in Brussels, I also thought I was fully competent in dealing with EU stuff. I decided that the elevator must be voice activated, so I announced in my pure Romanian-French: ‘siet’ (seven, for those of you that do not speak French). It did not work. I tried in English: I am, at the end of the day, an educated, multilingual Roma/Gypsy. ‘Sieven’ did not work either. I considered saying efta – Romani for 7 – but at that moment being a Roma within an EU institution was quite exotic, and I did not want to waste public money and risk a full evacuation of the building.
Eventually the lift went back down and I learned how it worked. There was a control panel outside the door. You had to press your desired floor number, and the panel would display the number of the elevator you were supposed to take. For years, I had the desire to get in the elevator, wearing a large Romani hat, at the peak hour and start yelling siiieveeen just for the fun of it. I never did it, but still feel a pang of regret.
But I digress.
The meeting went much better after I decided to adapt and input the words in a similar fashion as the EU elevator works. I said in my most serious voice: “I very much agree with the previous speakers, and I think street children holistically and in a streamlined way are often leveraged in their flexicurity and take the mainstreamed framework of intersectionality deeply personally. They are also seriously concerned about the difficult semantics of whether to use the word vulnerable or excluded in the documents of the Gods in Brussels.”
The looks on their faces: priceless. I was happy – finally they heard me. Nobody laughed (tough crowd). I almost took the occasion to say that “now that we have, hopefully, woken up from whatever dreams we were working within, we should try to get a grip and start making some sense,” But again, I obeyed the voices in my head directing me to behave well. The next day was one of the best I have had, attending such meetings.