There are 6 children in the big garbage dumpster – and a few others playing around it. It is a sad playground. Some of them play inside it, some look for something to eat or something to sell. None of them is over 13 years old. It is a hot day in Bucharest and the smell of rotten garbage is strong and off-putting. One of the children found an almost new clock in the garbage. It is broken but can be used as a toy. She is happy. A few days ago she discovered a doll. She is very proud when she shows it to me. It is a dirty, medium size doll without a hand.
Garbage dumpster – Ferentari –Alea Livezilor- July 2013
Some 40 meters away there is an empty space of around 600 square meters between 2 apartment buildings. It is full of garbage. One of the many drug addicts that live in the buildings near by looks around in the garbage for anything that he might use to sell and get his fix.
Garbage between the apartment buildings – Alea Livezilor, Bucharest June 2013
A woman – she is in her 30-ties but looks around 50 years old collects the plastic bottles thrown around. She is not on drugs – she struggles every day to gather enough plastic rubbish to put food on the table for her three children at home.
Her husband is in prison. Prison is part of everyday life in the ghetto. The majority of the male adults were in prison at least once. A good part of the females served some years in prison too. Theft, drug related crimes and prostitution are the most common causes for their imprisonment. Their friends or their families framed some people – it is a desperate but sometimes effective way to save somebody from certain death due to drug addiction. Prison is sometimes a choice for people that are left without choice. A harsh winter in prison is preferred to one of sleeping rough.
Woman collecting garbage in a plastic bag- Alea Livezilor, 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. Some of them get pricked by needles 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.
Drugs and garbage – view from the window- Alea Livezilor, Bucharest, June 2013
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.
Children on the stairwell of a apartment building in Ferentari (photo taken during regular school hours) – February 2013
This is one of the 8 different but similar ghettoes in a radius of 1 kilometer. Four of them Amurgului, Zetari, Pangarati and Tunsu Petre are the biggest. Thousands of people live in ghetto like conditions here.
On the street close to the cemetery there are always 4-5 prostitutes waiting for their clients. Drug addiction among the prostitutes is high. Some of them make enough money to feed the addiction of their boyfriends and friends.
Prostitutes – Prelungirea Ferentari-Bucharest June 2013
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 eyes and the uncanny way she walks on the pipes as well as her abilities to kill rats are some of 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.
Living on the hot water-pipes- Prelungirea Ferentari – May 2013
Around 90 people live behind those pipes in shacks. They steal electricity – there is no sewage or running water. Most of them recycle garbage or from collecting and sometimes stealing iron. The majority of the people living in the shacks are children. Most of the women get pregnant at around 14 years old. Men in their majority are addicted to alcohol. Most of them dream of going abroad and have a lucky strike. The teenage girls wish to become strip dancers or prostitutes. Only exceptionally children go to school.
Housing and living conditions – Prelungirea Ferentari May 2013
I meet Sile on the main street. He is high and hungry. He is also happy to see me. We know each other for more than 4 years now. His two other brothers were heavily dependent on drugs too. Ilie went to prison for drug trafficking – it was a set up of people that cared about him. He was heavily addicted and thought most of the time that he was a reincarnation of Jesus. He gave up on washing and looked like a sack of bones. The prison was good for him. He writes regularly to his brothers asking them to give up drugs and he looks healthy.
Ion the other brother is abroad – somewhere in Europe stealing ( now -4 months later since I wrote this part he is in prison for drug trafficking). Seasonal stealing is a regular practice in the ghettoes – a weird way to survive as most of the times they will come back home with just enough money to survive for 2-3 months after paying their debts.
Most of the drug addicted I talked to (interviewed 52 but talked with well over 100) justify their drug addiction as the best or only way to find relief from their previous abuses ( family and street violence, sexual abuse, irresponsible parents, psychological traumas, discrimination) and their hellish present ( homeless, addicted, HIV positive, syphilis or other serious illnesses, forced to live in dangerous situations, forced to prostitute themselves). Alcohol and drugs are in a strange way used as self-medication to treat severe depressions and escape reality for a good part of the people living in the ghettoes.
One of their sisters served 6 years in prison for drug trafficking – the other one has been caught stealing in the UK. One of Sile’s nieces is also in prison for drug trafficking for 5 years. Sile taught her how to use drugs. Both of them are HIV positive. Most probably at least one of his brothers is too.
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 children in the ghettoes are severely underdeveloped due to poor nutrition, health issues and overall living conditions. For children between 8 to 14 years old the development gap is sometimes 2-3 years compared to the average children. Despite clear facts proving that children in ghettoes are at a much higher risk of getting sick the predominant stereotype among the majority populations is that these children are much healthier and resistant than the majority population children.
The children that are playing now in the dumpster 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.
Another ghetto is around 1km away. This time is another agglomeration of apartment buildings. Some of them look almost fine from outside as the buildings were painted last year. Same smell of the ghetto -rotten garbage. Many drunk people and many children on the street. Loud music blasts out of some big speakers.
300 meters away a BMW 7 and a Porsche Cayenne . Both have tinted windows.– there are 4 drug dealers laughing and exposing their bling and muscles. A police car goes by and they spit in the direction of the car. The links between the police, politicians and criminal gangs are rumored to be rather strong. I know for a fact that the illegal drug store near by the school is protected not only by a private security guard but also by the police. I saw many times people buying drugs while the policemen were standing nearby.