by Christian Paris (Belgium)
(Nevi Yag Magazine, 2018 Article translated from French)
Apalina is a district of the city of Reghin which is located about 2 km from the city centre. It consists of almost 90% of Roma non Vlax, about 3,000. They are sometimes called "Hungrike Roma" (Hungarian Rom). This community consists of two very distinct groups that have little, or no contacts between them. The first group was established very a long time ago in the neighbourhood. The other group settled down, following serious flooding of the Mures River in 1978. Their homes had been destroyed and the city relocated them to Apalina. All speak Romani, Hungarian and, of course, Romanian.
Social and economic situation
As everywhere, clichés abound and are stubborn. "Lazy, thieves, drunkards, brawlers, without culture and of lower intellectual level than Romanians" (sic). Even if sometimes there is a certain empathy, one always remains on the defensive ... In such a context, integration, "living together", is more than difficult, often times impossible.
Construction, paving and road work are the traditional occupations of these Rom. A significant part of this work is done in the black and without social security cover or pension rights. In recent years, many Roma have gone abroad to work, especially in Germany, for quite long periods. This has consequences, as we will see later, on family situations. They are also very present in unskilled work such as garbage collection, cleaning of streets, the maintenance of green spaces, the collection of medicinal plants for pharmaceutical companies, etc. We count also men and women among them, as seasonal workers for picking strawberries, harvesting asparagus (in Germany), slicing in slaughterhouses. Finally, main concern first of these Roma is to find a job whatever it is. Their few qualifications keep them in a situation that is often more precarious and the obliges them to accept the most painful and least paid work.
The situation is close to squaring the circle. Initially, there is already a handicap at the level of Romanian language proficiency: at home, we speak Romani and Hungarian.
Second difficulty: in mixed classes (Rom-Gadje), the teacher, often unconsciously, favours little Romanians because of prejudices.
Third difficulty: precariousness. The child may miss school because he has nothing to eat in the morning, because the clothes washed the day before are not yet dry, because the only pair of shoes gave up, because the child did not could not do his homework, electricity was cut off ... Some Roma prefer send their children to a school in the city and not to that of Apalina, populated almost exclusively by small Roma.
One last point: many children have the ability to continue studies but they cannot, either because they have to work for improve the family situation, either because the family is not able to cope with school fees, either because they are pressured to gain their independence...
There is great instability of couples due in part to young age - from 14 or 15 years of couples are made and unmade - and also the absence of the spouse due to work. For example, my godchild found work in Germany for 3 months, so he will remain away from home all this time. Contrary to what we usually see, the arrival of children does not always seem to reinforce the couple's relationship. Quite often, when couples with children burst, it is the grandparents who take back the children. But there are still some stable and harmonious unions!
In such a context, children often have a great deal of freedom with its advantages, but also the disadvantages. Very early, they are able to stand alone, make decisions, take charge of their lives. But, without parents' control, young people are exposed to bad habits.
Drugs have appeared and are starting to create a new and real problem in which parents are completely overwhelmed.
Older people stay in the family and are always respected but this also seems to change little by little.
Not being a doctor, I can only give impressions that are not very optimistic. Heart problems, diabetes, hypertension and some cases of tuberculosis are to report. These diseases seem to me to be related to life and precariousness. Of course, smoking is there for some to choose. Moreover, the mode of feeding also leaves much desire. We eat when we are hungry or when the food is ready, and that is every hour of the day and even sometimes late at night. The consumption of sugary drinks has also exploded. About meat, not necessarily every day, you only eat pork and poultry. In general we eat very fast and large quantities at a time, men first, then women. We are therefore surprised reciprocally: the Roma, surprised that I eat so little and so slowly, and I am always amazed that they can eat so much and so quickly. Many people, young and younger, also suffer from dental problems. It is not unusual to see twenty-year-olds no longer having complete set of teeth.
Another big problem is self-medication. It is well known that "which make me well cannot harm you!" And television gives cover to this as more than half of the commercials are devoted to the virtues of drugs of any kind. How to resist? Despite all this, this young population is full of life and above all joy of life despite the conditions of existence being often very difficult.
Urban situation and habitat
All the houses, most often on one level, are built on a street front and perpendicular to it. Apart from the main street, paved for 3 or 4 years, all streets and alleys are in earth. Living rooms are usually small (4m x 4) and most often in number 2 or 3. There is no bedroom, the beds are made and undone every day. There are still some adobe houses.
It is at the level of the dwellings that the change is the most flagrant. Thanks to money earned abroad, important work is being done: insulation of walls, double-glazed windows, new roofs ... More and more houses have a bathroom and an indoor toilet. But it is far from being the case for everyone! As all street front lots are built and often is there is still land at the back of these houses available, that's the only news houses being built according to the expansion of families. To my knowledge, these "wild" constructions, these transformations are built without any authorization or urban control. Little by little, the house becomes for some a way to express their success and affirm their social rank, but we are far, very far from the much-maligned "castles" by some Roma.
The Roma are, in their own way, profoundly religious. In this the churches are not deceived! To my knowledge, 9 Churches share this flock! The traditional churches in order of importance: Greek Catholic, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Reformed. Note that the Roma of Apalina were, there are a little over thirty, all Roman Catholics. Then come the new Churches: Adventist, Free Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, Jehovah Witnesses...
More than half of Roma officially declare themselves Greek Catholic, but the religious practice among the latter is limited to major holidays - Christmas, Easter, New Year and baptisms, marriages and funerals. In the "new churches", the practice seems more important. So the Pentecostals meet on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and we certainly cannot say that the pastors preach in the desert, so much the assembly is important and gathered. This situation is a source of tension among Roma because of the proselytism of the "new churches". My friend Nanos is a Pentecostal. He has to call his father, who remains Greek Catholic, "my brother in Jesus Christ "what annoys him to the extreme:" I am not his brother, I am his father!"
It must be recognized that these "new churches" are much closer the sensibilities of the Roma and that, unfortunately, the traditional churches have not known how to adapt to these exuberant and disturbing believers
In view of this rather negative "x-ray", one might think that the future of this community is very bleek. It's not counting on the extraordinary capacity Roma to live and survive in more than difficult conditions. The sense of celebration, the mutual help and the social cohesion with the problems remain very strong and it's better this way!