Elena, Between Styling School and Activism

Elena, Between Styling School and Activism

She twists her fingers around the braid she’s working on, and above her nose she makes two creases, just like an adult who forgot his eyeglasses. She’s wearing a red T-shirt, a pink shiny jacket around her waist and her hair in a bun that leaves out a few blonde strands of hair. She’s quick and careful, it’s almost impossible to take a picture of her. She doesn’t like to be photographed and instantly vanishes from the camera’s sight. Now she’s too busy doing what she loves: she’s styling someone’s hair. Axl, a boy in the camp, offered to be her model.

She is now 14, lives in Ferentari and, starting this fall, is going to start school at Spiru Haret UCECOM high-school in Bucharest to learn even more hair-does. “It was my choice to go there, to be a hair stylist. I like it a loooot.” she says. Until then, she practices and gets tips and tricks from YouTube. She discovered this passion two years ago, on the street she lives. “A girl there was styling people’s hair. She would search the web and learn from tutorials. She’s studying at the  same high-school I’m going, but back then she wasn’t there yet and she was experimenting on us. She would braid hair beautifully.” And so Elena started to fall in love with styling. In the meantime, the roles have changed: “Now I do that girl’s hair. I’m not better than her, but she tells me how to do two French braids at a time.”

At one point, a girl who was supposed to attend a baptism asked her to do her hair. “I made something more sophisticated. I followed a tutorial,” and she starts waving her hands by my head, in order to better explain: part of the hair was drawn on top of her head and waves were coming out, like this on a side and to the front I made some nice braids. Whenever she talks about hair styling, Elena has that same look, bright eyes and rascal smile. ”I follow in my dad’s footsteps, he’s also a hairdresser. He didn’t use to be one, but now he has all the tools of a barber shop,” she says and her laugh is like a volcano, coming from such a small, thin girl. She’s also got another passion that consumes her time: football. A few years ago she started spending her afternoons at Policy Center for Roma and Minorities, ”an alternative foundation that helps us. We go there after school and practice basketball, dance, theater, anything you can think of.” It was there that she discovered she likes football a loooot.

She was on tour around the other high school stadiums in Bucharest as the team goal getter. “I used to score most goals, but I quit going some time ago.” She’d rather go to the Foundation’s Club to play football than stay home, where she would get as bored as in school. When you ask her about her favorite subject, Elena talks on about the Club, where Mrs. Jia, educational assistant,
made her love Romanian. It’s not that she likes reading, but she thinks literary criticism is interesting. She got to Pietrișu after Dana, another educational assistant of the foundation, called her to participate in a camp in the mountains. She didn’t know what it was about, but she still wanted to come.

Once in camp, Elena says she got a bit scared. Not because there was no mountain in the nearby, but because the village seemed like too busy of a place compared to the neighborhood she had left behind that she is used to. Also because children would come to their tents and scream. But they all sat down at the table, talked, put some music on and calmed down. Even so, Elena says the village needs help. “Back where I live there’s people with problems, but not like it is here. I haven’t …God. Haven’t seen such difficult problems anywhere else.” She thinks good family upbringing can’t be replaced by anything and that people need education. “Had there been a school in the village, it would be different.” For children in Pietrișu, school is a bus ride away and, if they run a minute late and miss it, they lose a day of school. There are also parents who consider the ride extra trouble and prefer to keep their children home. For Elena, coming here meant her first chance to get involved and change something. And she reaaaly likes it. “I’ve been to a camp before, at the mountains, but we didn’t get to do anything we did here. It was all fun and games.” But here, at Pietrișu, Elena divided her time between playing football and interviews with locals to find out the community’s problems. “We had both work and fun here,” she says.

A few days ago, Elena was on the bus on her way here, together with the other participants, part of whomshe had known for a few years from school or the Club. She told them she wouldn’t be able to make friends there: “I was like: I don’t think I could ever get along with them,” especially when she saw Axl, with wild red hair resting on trimmed black hair, with chains around his neck and a beard. She thought to herself: “He’s really different from us.” But the camp brought them together. They got to know each other and Elena came to see him as calm and friendly. “I thought he was a head banger, a rocker. He is, sort of, but I also like some of the music he likes.” Right now, nobody’s banging their head. Axl is quietly sitting at the table, under the nut tree in the courtyard playing with a hair brush. Elena is standing next to him, carefully finishing a fifth braid of Axl’s red hair.

“There, in Bucharest, it’s very different. Here people don’t have what they need. It’s also hard in Ferentari, but not like this.”

Story written by Oana Barbonie, seen by her and Tiberiu Mihail-Cimpoeru in the summer of 2017.

Check the  from camp last year:

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