I’ve talked about this before, on a different blog, but I have been thinking a great deal about this over the past few days:
Where am I going?
The answer as it stands is, I don’t know.
As a child, I was not a good student. My father’s parents (and all relatives of that age in his family) were illiterate – they never even set foot in a school. My grandmother had 8 children, only 3 of whom survived. My father left school at age 11 or 12, after only attending very irregularly. My mother’s parents were able to read and write somewhat basic information, but my mother and aunts also left school at about age 14 or 15, again after very limited attendance.
My parents were not education focused – especially so because I was a girl. They wanted marriage and children for me, for me to be a good Romni. Although they kept me in school, there was no help with any of it. The only books we had in our house were a cookbook someone gave my mother but she never used and a set of encyclopedia that none of my family could read. I failed almost every subject throughout primary and middle school. I was considered a walking stereotype: unkempt, unruly, unable to be educated. Teachers dismissed me because of my heritage. In middle school I was placed in the class with most of the other Romani/Romanichal/Pavee children. We were kept away from the non-Roma kids because we were considered disruptive and, I suppose, dangerous.
At age 10 I was transferred to an all-girls school. It was the time I was supposed to hit puberty and my parents talked about pulling me out altogether, but my Maami (father’s mother) said I needed to stay. She knew the nuns at the Catholic school (she had a Sara e Kali statue in her house and told anyone who’d listen stories about her. To Maami, Saint Sara was better than any of the Mary’s, even the Virgin Mary), and so I was shipped off there to learn how to stand with feet in different worlds.
I don’t think it really worked.
I learned to stop speaking Romanes. I learned that most Catholics don’t know about, or believe in Saint Sara. I learned that I wasn’t stupid, I just didn’t care. I learned to lie, really well, about who I was.
I learned to starve in order to look like the primped, perfect little rich girls, which I clearly was not.
But, my hair wouldn’t stay in place, my hips were never “slender”, and my mouth would never stay shut.
It was in this school though, that I suddenly discovered girls could be doctors and lawyers and engineers and chemists, in fact, pretty much whatever they wanted, even mothers if they chose. Some wanted both – to be doctors and mothers and wives and teachers. I was 14 and lost and suddenly I discovered that I could… if I wasn’t Romani… make a choice.
I remember the day though, the day I actually got it. We had a new English Literature teacher and on the first day she swept into the classroom and slammed down several thick books on the desk. After we all rose and chorused our good morning, she waved us absentmindedly to sit down. She flipped through one of the thick, leather-bound books and began speaking. Her voice, a husky Scottish brogue flowed over and around the words as they tumbled into the classroom and I listened, amazed, as this poem, this page came to life. She read it like my Maami told fairy-tales. She read it like she was Baba Yaga one minute and a helpless princess the next. She read it like she understood it from her very heart…
and suddenly, I understood it too.
I think it was then I began to believe in the power of written words. I began to understand the importance of being able to read and comprehend such words. I began to devour knowledge. I read. I read the dictionary (I really did), I thumbed through encyclopedia, I read the complete works of Shakespeare, I read and read and read and read and read… books by Sylvia Plath, Ursula le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Jostein Gaarder, Sartre, Foucault. I still wasn’t all that good in school – eventually leaving with 9 rather rough GCSEs (one A, two Bs, four Cs, and two Ds). Still, not bad for a girl who got straight Fs until age 14. Two years later, still shocked over those results, I moved on to A-levels. Perhaps not such a good choice, but I was firmly set on a path, one that I didn’t know would change everything.
I don’t think I knew what I was fighting for when I pleaded to be able to “just go to college for a bit”; or when I sheepishly came home from that same college less than a year later and begged to be allowed to “just take some more classes”. It took a while (I failed out or was asked to leave university four times before graduating with my BA in International Studies in 2011). It took moving continents; $300 and two suitcases later and now here I am, in a Masters program (with straight As) … wondering what the hell I think I’m doing.
I’m just a stupid Romani girl. A stupid Romani woman. A woman who made choices that have distanced her from her familija and her heritage.
I’d like to think I could do something worthwhile, but every time I look at my future all I see is a vast gaping abyss of uncertainty, an abyss that is framed by the faces of all those who just wanted me to be a Gypsy girl. I’d like to think banishing myself in favour of education was a worthwhile choice – but, why did I even have to make that choice? Many traditional Romani families don’t support education, especially for their daughters. I wish that could change, even if it’s too late for me.
For a brief moment I even thought of applying to PhD programs. But, is there really a place for this Romani there?
I just don’t know anymore. I don’t think I can do it. Do anything.
Education isn’t for people like me. I’ve struggled through and faked it this long…
but, I feel like a pig in a herd of deer. Someone’s going to find me out sooner or later…