First step – stop dreaming

Mofleni – near by Craiova 2003

Irina was 16years old in 2003. She had AIDS. Her hands, face and clothes were filthy as she spent most of her time scavenging through garbage to help support her single mother who also had AIDS and her siblings, one also with AIDS. She lived in a tiny shack with just three walls and a cardboard roof, along with 7 other people (see picture). Irina received medication to keep her healthy from a charity organisation in Belgium . When the medication ran out her sores would not heal. The hospital in Craiova would give her medication that did little to help.


The smell was terrible as the shacks were built right on the garbage dump. The air was toxic, thick and sticky due to the fact that there was always some garbage burning. Corpses of animals rot meters away from the crooked houses, where the children plaid. Around 130 lived on the garbage dump in Mofleni. 82 of them were children in 2003.

When it rained, the floors of the houses became mud. The rooms were full of flies and there was no electricity or running water. Rats were everywhere and rats bit many times children. Two children died in 2001 in an accident buried under trash .The houses built on the garbage dump were slowly sinking into the ground. Some of them grew pigs which were almost wild. The pigs eat from the garbage dump.

Irina died. So did her mother.

Most of the people that I knew there migrated to Italy starting in 2007. They live of garbage there as they did on Romania. Others took their place on the garbage dump in Mofleni dreaming that one day will also sort garbage in Italy.

Ferentari – Bucharest 2013

There are lots of syringes are on the ground. Many children’s parents are drug addicted.  Sometimes they send their children to gather syringes for the periodical exchange syringes programs. Needles prick some of them during the process. Too many have hepatitis B or C. Rarely the illness will be detected in time.


Many of the drug addicts are at a very high risk of HIV. Most probably in their majority they are HIV positives but they have never been tested. The number of overdose deaths has increased in the last years. Since the beginning of the year 5 of the people I knew including a 13 years old died of overdose. His brother died of overdose 4 years ago. The mother is left with just one child. He is 5. The probability for him to end up the same way is high; out of the 109 young adults ( between 21 and 23 years old) that I polled – 46  were addicted.

Sewage from one building leaks out in the street. Rats are common; so are the stray dogs.  During the summer the rats population explodes and there are cases of children being bitten by the big rats. There are two women washing their carpets on the street. Too many children are on the street – it is a school day – education it is rarely a priority for them or their families.

On the street close to the near by cemetery there are always 4-5 prostitutes waiting for their clients. Drug addiction and HIV among the prostitutes is more of the norm than the exception. Some of them make enough money to feed the addiction of their boyfriends and friends.

Two of them live in the shacks behind the big hot-water pipes near by.  There is one girl that lives on the pipes. Children call her the Owl – her big eyes, the uncanny way she walks on the pipes and her abilities to kill rats are the reasons why this nickname seems appropriate. She sleeps on the pipes inside a cement casing built to protect the pipes. The space between the pipe and the cement ceiling is around 40 cm.I had the feeling of looking into a grave.


Most of the children, youth and adults in the ghetto are part of lost generations. Their choices are limited and their lives are Hobbesian -shorter, nastier and more violent than most of us could imagine.


The chances are that a good number of the children will become him. He lives wherever he can. In the winter he lived on the 4th floor on the stairways of the building. He will do whatever he could to get his fix.

The children that are playing now in the dumpsters looking for toys will turn at best into old people that collect garbage for living. The cycle is simple, cynical and scary similar in all the ghettoes I know.

The ghettoes are exploding in numbers and everywhere I went the majority of those living in the ghettoes were children. These children could be part of a positive European future but due to hypocrisy, ineptitude and racism they more likely will become a European nightmare. Mofleni and Ferentari are more trends nowadays than exceptions. Many of these children will end up in ghettoes in Western Europe. Prostitution, begging, theft and garbage recycling will be the best options available for them there.

In the meantime in Brussels and elegant hotels and conference rooms all over Europe most of those that should bring about a change waste money and time on dreams and words that are meaningless for most of us who work in the ghettoes.

The EU Commissioner in charge of Roma issues (most of the children in ghettoes in Europe are Roma) has done nothing in the last 4 years since she is in charge besides strengthening a culture of shameless self-promotion and lip-service.

The national governments are not doing much better. A good part of the civil society has become a mirror of the institution they are supposed to force to reform. Experience is built on facebook , internet and emails while work at the grassroots has become “obsolete”.

Nightmares that explode into reality will for sure bring about dramatic reform due to enormous loses.

It is easy to avoid a crisis and improve the situation that but for that we need first to stop dreaming and confront the nightmarish reality in the ghettoes.


  1. Dear Valery,

    This is an important article and should be widely read all over Europe as a response to the growing media and public concern about Roma immigrants in West European countries.
    Ruth Barnett
    Speaker challenging prejudice and racism and Human rights activist for Rene Cassin.

  2. Thanks Valery,

    So few have the courage to tell it as it is, or to get into the front line and do something hands on. I’ve been to such places, in France – perhaps not so bad, but bad enough.

    There are so many obvious solutions – and they are all wrong. To me (I’m Gadjo), at first sight it seemed a simple humanitarian issue, throw some serious money at it and all will become well. But that doesn’t seem to work, neither on the small nor the larger scale.

    Our communities met (in western Europe at least) at the close of the Middle Ages. Since then we Gadje have seen the rise of humanism and the enlightenment, the religious/political upheavals of the reformation, the transition from mediaeval kingdom to modern nation-state – in recent times the (maybe not permanent) defeat of fascism, the rise and collapse of communism. Yet our relationship with the Roma has not changed at all – what happened in Paris in the 14th century is happening in Paris now. And not just in Paris.

    After 6 centuries of parallel existence, we do not know each other. Most of the history I have described in the last paragraph, which has shaped my culture, my patterns of thought, is unknown and meaningless to most Roma.
    And of those things which have shaped the Romani culture and the thought patterns of the Roma I can say nothing, for they are unknown and meaningless to me.
    I have known a Kalderash family for 15 years. I love them and they love me – the friendship is deep; yet we do not understand each other – and somehow, it seems, we cannot.

    Here, I feel, is the real issue.

    With great respect,


  3. Dear Valery,
    Your article reminded me of this:
    The guest of honor

    The guest of honor
    Divine, warm September evening
    Spread its dark wings exhaustion
    Like old age gently the peace descends
    The Earth is sleeping.

    I raise my eyes to the blessed sky
    Billions of stars that shine
    In enchanting dance compete each other
    Giving birth to magic.

    „Rich is the sky, strong is Thee Love!
    The Spirit drunk with beauty whispers
    Celestial Extravaganza gives rise to magic
    Spirit Rejoice!

    Among the exceeding riches of heaven
    The Spirit walk, seeking to find
    The little one, once the path to the 3 wise

    „Come magical star of Bethlehem
    Guide us on the sacred path of Justice
    European leaders meet again tomorrow
    To judge us! ”

    The night embraced with exhaustion went
    Defeating the night in the fight
    Glowing with strength and light enters
    A new day.

    European Summit called many guests
    Famous names took honour place in board
    All are waiting the special guest to arrive
    On the tribune to honor.

    „Respected guests I expected this special day
    To present you the new strategy bringing
    A better life for our poor Romani people
    The Justice we expect ”

    Using fine words and lofty rhetorics
    The guests demonstrates to each other their effort
    The life of Roma have transformed in better
    Deh…elite’s „sacrifices”.

    „Honoured guests (the leared fluff up)
    With joy we expect the guest of honour
    It seem like he lost himself between the offices
    He did not arrived!”

    In the break with elegance eat, drink, talk
    Laugh. With cultured voices changes news
    False elegance in desired noble gestures
    Have to claim it, isn’t it?
    From the end of the hall a shadow rises
    On fingertips to gently creeping out
    „Honoured lady come closer, your success in work
    With us share.”

    Clothed in white, with gently stroll like around death
    Eyes nailed in the ground and long hair hung
    Starring with black stars slowly approaches
    Shadow of other worlds.

    „Guests, today we’ve heard beautiful retorics
    But right for Roma I haven’t seen anywhere
    You never made room to Justice between yourselves
    You are watching her blindly.

    Their rights with your rhetoric you have destroyed
    The poorer You impoverished, racism embrace
    Their Present and Future you have sold for crumbs
    You have no God!”

    Justice cries bitter tears and…runs
    Can;t bear to hear any other hipocritical words.
    Running she her children after herself
    The death rights.

    „So negativist this young Romnj”
    The guilty elites decrees, guilt in anger
    Against the shadow of Justice they hide
    Deh…priviledge of elites!

    The summit ended, the hall is empty
    The free seats, the wind blows the forgotten
    Papers writen in fine rethorics
    Empty words.

    In the dark night mighty the sky dances
    Stubornly the shadow rise her eyes to the stars
    Searching the litlle one, which once have shoved
    The path to Bethleem.

    „Where are you Hope, give me strength, open path
    In the human conscience which has forgotten
    Their hearts without justice are dead, and zombies
    Walk in the night. ”

    In the dark night, grieving song the shadow
    With tears in throat sings to the stars, mourns
    In an corner of the sky appears and with the shadow
    Started to sing the litlle, the strong star Hope
    „Do not worry – have trust in me!

    Caly Phvly- London, Oct. 2011

  4. This hits home all too much, since I happen to live very close to said cemetery and hot water pipes. At least one of those prostitutes is a minor(the youngest I think is maybe 14, maybe smaller), and even the policemen that do their rounds there don’t seem to mind them anymore, that or they have an understanding with their pimps. It’s a harsh reality, that the Government and committees working in the domain don’t fully grasp, and probably never will

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