“When I go away now, I won’t come back any time so...

“When I go away now, I won’t come back any time soon.”

In Pietrișu it’s now unbearably hot. The ground is burning and you can’t go barefoot. People are gathered under the shade of the wax cherry trees standing by their gates. The dogs are in hiding, too, can’t hear them bark. Under the nut tree, the youngsters gathered in the camp debate which manele singer is cooler, Florin Salam or Dani Mocanu.

Among them is Iuliana, who would choose Salam (a Romanian singer) over anyone. Actually, she would choose music over anything. It’s her passion “I listen to everything,” she says. She draws the corners of her mouth into a smile and starts naming what she likes: rock, pop, Randi, Smiley, Connect-R and Christian music and “because mom and dad are church goers and I also like that one…I also sing.” Yet her story doesn’t follow up on that. Two years ago she signed up for guitar and voice lessons but, around that time, she moved with her parents back to Spain, where they were working in agriculture and constructions. She couldn’t go on with her classes. Later this year, she’s leaving again, but not to take care of her younger sister, like she has before, but to work in agriculture. There’s no time for music.

Iuliana is 15 years old and was born in Pietrișu and she has just graduated from the 8th grade at the school in Găujani, Giurgiu County. She has long, thin hair that she holds in a ponytail, round thin eyebrows and two beauty marks under her right eye. Around her neck she has a long thin chain, with a necklace that shows two hearts. She hung her brown sunglasses by the chain. She’s wearing a pale pink T-shirt that says TRUE LOVE and every time she laughs and her lips become narrower, the gap between her front teeth is showing. A few days ago, before coming to the camp, she was hiding from the sun at home, after a full day of work on a farm in a neighboring village, where she would pick peaches, plums and about any other fruit there was. Up until two months ago she had never worked in her life but, as the 8th grade ended, things happened so as for her to want to be independent. “I begged my mom to let me go, but she wouldn’t. She said I’ll work plenty when I get married, but I said no, I’m sick of asking you for money. I want to have my own money.”

Still, Iuliana says money are not an issue in her case, unlike that of many children in the village who drop out of school after graduating from 8 classes. The nearest high-schools are in Giurgiu, and bus passes there are too expensive for a Roma community half searching for a better destiny abroad, half left behind. “Not all my colleagues go on to high-school. Some go to work abroad; others don’t have money for transportation. Plus lunch money and clothes. Giurgiu isn’t far away, only 20 minutes, but bus fares are high. Two million and a half per month, that they only partially reimburse three times a year.” Just like them, Iuliana dropped out of school, even if she thinks it’s important and would have liked to go. She could have even moved in with her grandma, who lives in the city. She would have found a way: “I wanted to keep going, but dad wouldn’t let me. He said there are many bad influences in high-school, in Giurgiu. That’s his opinion, that there are many risks and they would affect me.” At home and with no activity, Iuliana realized she wanted to get away from life in the village, because nothing interesting ever happens here. And in the city she can’t get a job because she doesn’t have a high-school degree. “How could one find work without education?” she says to herself.

She loved life in Spain. She was there for the first time with her parents when she was five and, since then, she went back one more time. “I was in kindergarten when I left. I went to first grade there and then to second grade back here. Until I was in sixth grade I stayed here. Afterwards, we went to Spain. When I came back, I had to make up for the time I studied there. I’ve been here since winter.” She couldn’t go to school in Spain so she had to make up for the grades she lost. Somebody had to take care of her younger sister who just turned two this year. “The schedule was awful,” she says. She had to wake up at 6 am when her parents left for work, cook, clean. She would only go out in the evening when her parents came back from work. She managed to make many friends in the Romanian community there and together they made plans to see each other again. She can hardly wait for the next party together, just like she waits for the pools, the carnival, the parades, the dance hall, football, things that Iuliana doesn’t have here in the village. “It’s something else” is the expression she uses whenever she thinks of life in Spain or even in the UK, where her father is now working in constructions. She also wants to move there to learn English. The activism camp in Pietrișu is also “something else:” “It’s good to have activities here because there’s nothing going on, usually. You wake up, work, come evening, you put on something nice and go out for an hour or two and then back home. The following day, you do it again.” She likes the other participants most, because they don’t offend and are really friendly, something she can’t say about the other children in the village: “I like them; they’re understanding and nice people. They’re not full of themselves, like the ones we have  here.”

From between the leaves of the nut tree, crumbs of light fall chaotically on Iuliana’s arms. She sits on a chair, legs crossed, and around her, a few youngsters from the camp gather up questionnaires with information received from locals. They count them and debate how many other families might have children or grand-children and might want to answer a few questions about their education. “You can count my family in.” Behind them, protected by trees, houses, hearts and other drawings scribbled on its walls by kids lies the kindergarten building, like a small fortress of artists and future activists. Iuliana’s here with the others, for now.

“I’m not going to high-school anymore. When I go away now, I won’t come back any time soon. I want to work there, get my driver’s license. High-school is important and I really wanted to go, but if it’s not an option? Not only does it help with getting a job, but had I been allowed, I would have attended. But now I want to work. You know, that’s what I want, to be independent.”

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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