Dakero Djives

Mother’s Day was never a day for us, at least not at first. We didn’t celebrate – my father didn’t write cards from his children as babies; we didn’t scamper up to the bed on Sunday morning, bruised and bent flower heads clasped in our sweaty little hands. It was just another day, like any other day. So many days were like that – Valentines Day, Halloween, Father’s Day, even birthdays. We did celebrate the coming of May (though not Ederlezi as some of our Balkan Romani friends did) and the coming of the Autumn, when we settled in for the winter, as well as Christmas and New Year (and a smattering of Saint’s Days, Name Days, and other holidays). My bari familija, and possibly many others, in many ways celebrated mothers every day. It seems counter-intuitive that such a patriarchal culture would be so invested in its women. My grandmother, Baba Edita told me that outsiders thought that Romani women were oppressed by our men; forced into marriages and motherhood without so much as a “may I?”… My family were somewhat traditional. My grandparents and parents had arranged marriages; they upheld clothing rules (women especially – no short sleeves, long skirts, under skirts, headscarf when in the presence of men, cooking, or when among non-Romani. At age eleven girls and boys became separated, undertaking the work they’d come to do as adults – for girls, that meant cooking, cleaning, looking after younger family members and the elders, running errands (collecting wood, bottles to return for cash, buying or picking food), and doing washing. At age twelve, many were ‘betrothed’ or... read more

Bodies of Resistance

“this game seems to be a curse, and I’m always the princess, and each day a poor woman, somebody is playing with me and this game is no longer a game … somebody is playing with me and day after day is throwing me down into the lions pit” – Luminița Mihai Cioabă “Talking isn’t doing,” Maami said to me as we sat outside in the sun topping and tailing beans. A group of old men sat across the way, muttering together, heads bowed. “They’s always talking,” she nodded as if I knew exactly what she meant, “and talking doesn’t get you anything.” In my childhood, women didn’t have voices, not the same as men did. We told stories in the late afternoon sun or over steaming pots in the kitchen. We sang or spoke in mixed company only when expressly asked to do so. Or at least, that’s how it was supposed to be. Maami Babka was never very good at holding her tongue, though. I think, maybe, that’s where I learned this from. I remember her trying to explain the word “ratinel”  –  to resist – and her journey from the ‘hungry smoke’. My grandmother committed small acts of resistance every day. It took me years to realize it, but when I finally did, it was so liberating. Maami never followed the rules – she never asked, “may I speak now?” and she never was silent on issues she felt mattered in our families and community. She was a matriarch – and a vocal one. Some of her ability came from being one of a handful of... read more

Rain

Yesterday, it poured with rain. My heart was heavy and it was a fitting sound. As a child, my grandmother told me that the rain was cleansing and washed all the dirt out of our lives; yesterday I hoped that was true. There were many things Maami didn’t tell me though – like how susceptible Romani women are to miscarriage and how I would come to experience it in my life. According to a 2007 study in the UK, “significantly more Gypsies and Travellers experienced one or more miscarriages: 43 (29%) Gypsy and Traveller women compared with 18 (16%) of the comparison group” [Health Status of Gypsies and Travellers in England – Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 2007 Mar; 61(3): 198–204]. Two days after I found out I was pregnant, I dreamed I miscarried. Six weeks later I bled for the first time. I knew at that moment what had happened, but held out hope for the next six as the doctors tried to help me. But, they couldn’t. In Romani families, women don’t talk about these things. Menstruation, uterine bleeding, miscarriage, and still birth are all seen as unclean, polluting, negative issues. Even the process of giving birth to a healthy, happy baby is considered dirty. I found out by accident that Maami had four miscarriages and lost 5 of her 8 children (including my father’s twin brother) in infancy. My mother, aunt, Baba, and other female relatives all suffered multiple miscarriages, still births, and lost children. Not all of this is due to our history and experience of cultural trauma, alcoholism, and abject poverty. According to a 2011 Guardian article, “Romani... read more

Bodies of Knowledge

Since I posted “Political Bodies” there has been a lively debate over my viewpoint and the viewpoint of other Romani. As I mentioned, I am not a well-known activist or academic with a proven track record of anything. I’m just a little Romani woman who has struggled hard to be in this place of knowledge and learning. My grandmother always told me that women’s voices are like the rain – most people try to hide from them, even though they are necessary to our survival. I firmly believe, in the case of the ERI, Romani women’s voices are extremely important. Much of the argument against the ERI that I have encountered seems to be that it wants to ‘aggressively’ challenge current, established practices within academia – specifically within the area of “Romani Studies”. The counter to this is an argument that academia is not a patriarchal, colonial, exclusive space, but that it embraces Romani with open arms and we should work within the current framework instead of demanding change. However, in my (limited) experience, academia NEEDS to be aggressively challenged, especially in regards to the discipline and inclusion of Romani Studies curricula. My own area, Romani Literature, is sadly neglected, to the point that there is no scholarship or representation of Romani literature as a viable, interesting, and worthwhile area of study. Our great authors, many of them women, are left in the dark corners of academia under piles of ‘established’ literary canons and empty cultural studies. It seems people are so busy studying us as an object (our living situations, our languages, our social organization), they treat us more like interesting... read more

Political Bodies

I’m not a well-known Romani figure and I’m not particularly well-educated, but with news this month of a new Romani initiative – the European Roma Institute – I’ve come to understand something: I am not just Romani (Roma, Roma Gypsy, Gypsy); I am an embodiment of all that needs fixed within Europe; I am a political statement. It has also become clear, from the commentary surrounding this news, that I – as a self-identified Romani – have no right to any say at all and certainly no ability to have any input in what needs done to fix my situation. Only when Romani step into the political spotlight do non-Romani swarm forward to protect their own interests – i.e: the intertwined domains of education and politics. In fact, the most vocal opposition I’ve read thus far has come on one hand from academia and on the other from ex-European Parliamentary members. If I am educated, vocal, and visible, I am a self-identified Romani, as though my ethnicity is suddenly some kind of choice. (However, if I am poor, uneducated, and living in a ghetto my ethnicity is not questioned. It is handed to me, in words not of my choosing). My grandmother was a Gypsy all her life. She was a stereotype – poor and illiterate. She was handed her ethnicity as she ran for her life from the S.S. Einsatzgruppen, it was not a choice she made. She told me once that non-Roma kept us from education and jobs because they were scared that they had misjudged us and that they would have to admit we weren’t like rats, but instead... read more

Trauma and Telling / povreda the vakeriben

Maami Babka never spoke about the traumas that haunted her dreams, except in abstracts and fairy tales about the hungry smoke, the time of the dogs, the ashes in the wind. Words like “Holocaust” and “genocide” were not present in her lexicon – whether by choice or by omission in our family’s cultural narrative. Bibi Lemija, too, referred to things in the abstract – never addressing her pain head on. Her husband’s death was only ever mentioned in a few words as “the day he went lonely down the road.” She never spoke about the War, her experiences in death camps, or her escape and subsequent survival. She only ever said, “it was a long way to walk.” Academics have long argued that cultural trauma “must be classified by the collective as a master narrative, one which constructs the core of its collective identity.” Not only that, but “for an event to be considered a cultural trauma, the memory of the event must be culturally and publicly represented as obliterating, damaging, and as a threat, both to the existence of the culture with which the individual identifies and to one’s own identity and self.” [Lazar & Litvak-Hirsch, 2009] For Romani, the trauma of the Holocaust has long been denied. Our perceived silence does not mean that it is not at the core of our identity, it simply means that in the perspective of colonialist academic studies, Romani orality has been dismissed as inconsequential. For my family, our trauma was unspeakable; our trauma was so complete and unending that we had no words adequate to its magnitude. When surviving members of my family... read more

O Lajošis baro partizanos / Lajos, the Big Partisan

O Lajošis sas ciknoro. Sas baro mariben u phenďa kija peste: „Džava kijo partizana, chudava puška, murdarava paru Ňemcen u avava pale khere.“ Ke amende sas bare veša, odoj pes ľikerenas o partizana. Ta oda Lajošis gejľa ke lende. Avľa odoj paš o partizana u phenen le Lajošiske: „E puška bareder sar tu. Džanes so, pašineha le trine gurumňen.“ Ta jekh kurko pašinlas le gurumňen. Jekhvareste leske sas phares pal e Marča u iľa pes te džal khere. Avľa kija Ondava, chudňa te chudel mačhen, bo sas bares bokhalo u mucinďa o paňi andre Onadava. Akurat khatar e odi Ondava džanas o Ňemci le grajenca, kamle grajen te pijel paňi, no našťi, bo paňi sas mutno u o graja kamen žužo paňi. O Ňemci gejle le grajenca avreder, odoj len dochudne o Rusi le partizanenca, zaile le Ňemcen. Ačhiľa agor le baro maribnaske. Le Lajošis dine medajla the irinde leske paperis, hoj sas partizanos. Sar pes ašarelas le Romenge, ta o Roma lestar asanas. O Podža sas slugadžis paše le Slobodaskeri armáda, ta leske phenelas: „Dža, garuv pes andro kher, bo e puška sas bareder sar tu.“ O Lajošis lestar daralas. Jekhvar les kamľa the te čhivel andre chaňig, sar pes ašarelas, hoj sas baro partizanos.... read more