If I asked her, Maami Babka was only Romani (or accordingly, Gypsy). If pushed she refused to identify herself, saying nothing but, “sam Roma, som Romnji!” I used to get angry with her, sometimes, as she seemed to deliberately evade or misunderstand my questions. In my grandparents eyes, we were not immigrants, we were refugees. Still running from a war-ravaged Europe full of Nazis and hungry smoke. They saw no changes and no reason to change in the world. They didn’t live anywhere. They waited. They waited to be evicted; to be told to move; to be chased by demons of the past.
But, the stories they told belied this fear and continued flight.read more
My cousin Penhelli was always outspoken, loud, brash, tough. She’d punch a gadžo boy in the face soon as look at him. I was never that strong.
A little over ten days ago someone hacked my blog and my personal computer. I immediately wanted to curl up and give up; tired of fighting the incessant hatred, I let the tears slowly trickle down my face, carrying all my hope and heart with them. I thought about Peni, then. How she’d have just started shouting at the computer, bashing it uselessly with her hands, spitting on it.read more
I sometimes wish I couldn’t read. I wish all these foreign letters and words didn’t make sense to me and that I could spit them back out, undigested. I wish, like my grandmother, I could cast aside the gadžikanji čhib and wade unknowing through the world around me. I wish, like Papu, I could spend afternoons sitting on the back step, puffing clouds of smoke into the pale blue sky, words like my breath, quiet and unhurried.read more
There were no dates that we remembered our dead, at least not those who faded away, smothered by the hungry smoke, devoured by the Holocaust. Not even my grandmother’s lost children who lived such short and hungry lives, their names whispered in nightmares and memories too sharp to hold. The heat of summer, of August, brought fruit and vegetable picking, visits to long-distant relatives throughout Europe for weddings and last-goodbyes – France, Germany, Poland, Slovakia. I had no idea of the atrocities committed at Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Lety, Dachau, and hundreds of other Concentration Camps. I had no idea of the mass-murder of thousands of Romani on August 2 in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.read more
I was raised to code switch admirably, to play the part, to step out of one world and into the next seamlessly. It wasn’t a conscious decision on the part of my parents – it wasn’t even their decision at all. Baba Edita prided herself on her good English and her ability to pass. She knew all the ladies on her morning walk into town and would ask after Mrs. Robinson’s children, or Mrs. Williams’ husband. There were lots of other, similarly passing Romani on her walk too – the Bucklands, Fowlers, and the Coopers down on Hope House Lane – and they would stop and chat about the weather or hundreds of other beautifully British banalities.read more
My grandmother’s poetry lay in the rhythm of her breathing and the time-worn ridges of her knuckles and cheekbones. Her meter and verse stretched broad across her forehead and pooled in the crooked corners of her eyes. She drew heavy circles in the air as she walked, skirts swaying, heart beating. Elegies etched themselves over and again as she puckered and puffed on her well-worn cigarette.read more