CNN Plight of the Roma

In the summer of 2010, CNN interviewed me about being a Romani Fulbright student who had received a good education and who was striving to belong to society. Being part of their program, “Plight of the Roma,” and visiting isolated communities with Roma people who lacked education and decent living conditions was an eye-opening experience for me. CNN filmed in various areas of Romania, including my grandparents’ village. My mother and grandmother are also in the video. It was an amazing experience to have the CNN crew come to where I had spent my summers as a child. It made me appreciate my family history even more and the opportunity I had been given to develop within mainstream society.










FAMILY I am a relative of one of the richest men in the world!

In the summer of 2010, I wrote for the first time about my family. The education I received at Vanderbilt University made me view my origins differently. Without being blinded by the stigmatized “Gypsy identity,” I could finally see how rich my roots were! The study trip to Guatemala also made me realize that I have so many reasons to value my family.  I started writing this article in the United States, continued it on the airplane, and finished it when I arrived in Romania for my summer holiday.  Before I had a chance to recover from jet lag, the article was shared by a few more websites and I received many encouraging comments.  It is perhaps the most personal piece I have ever written.

I could not believe what I was hearing; I did not know how to react. I had always lived with the feeling that I came from a modest family, but suddenly, I discovered that I was a relative of one of the richest men in the world and that my roots are among the finest. The earth has spinned off its axis.  Who would have thought? But let me calm down and take it from the beginning….

I remember my grandfather, who could forge metal. When I was a kid, he let me work the bellows, blowing air into the fire until it became hot and the metal glowed, ready to model.  I wondered at how a piece of iron could take the form of a horseshoe, as the hard material began to flow and turn. He had his own blacksmith’s ’shop’ where he worked some days from morning till night. People were always calling to him from the gate, trying to get an appointment to have their horses shod. He kept an agenda to plan his meetings, often weeks in advance. Due to the professionalism of his work, he gained the respect of the locals. Through his craft, he made his fortune, bought land and built homes and gave his children weddings. Thrifty by nature, when he was not working in his trade, he was tending the garden or dealing with the animals; he loved to manage resources (money, grain, etc.). He often told me how lucky we were and how protected we were against the many evils that happen in the world, and he did not forget to remind me how lucky we were that we were so close to the train station, just a fling from the heartbeat of the city. When he was in a good mood and had more time (especially in winter) he would tell me stories (his favorites were Youth without Old Age and Life without Death); he spoke about Michael the Brave and Stephen the Great, reciting poems to me. People knew him as Manica The Gypsy, the smith from the edge of the village. Continue reading

GUATEMALA In the Country of Quetzal

In the spring of 2010, I went to Guatemala, in a study trip organized by Vanderbilt. I discovered a verybeautiful country, I worked with an amazing team, and I learned so much in those 10 days spent there. The determination to write a journal comes from my belief that after an enriching experience, you have to give yourself time to reflect, put together the main learnings and share it with others who might find it useful for their work, or enjoy it for leisure. The journal was initially published in Romanian, by Enjoy traveling together to Guatemala, the country of quetzal! 

On my way to Guatemala: It is only nine when we land in Miami. Bienvenido a Miami – palm trees, ocean, people who speak Spanish are good preparation for Guatemala. I have breakfast with Eliza, who I met in theairplane from Nashville. The server addresses us as ‘preciosa’ and ‘bonita’. The omelet is excellent. Eliza tells me about Guatemala. She likes to talk about her country but enjoys living in the US. She has three children, and she and her American husband run their own business in Nashville. I listen as she talks on the phone, half in English and half in Spanish (the language known as ‘Spanglish’). She tells her family about me, correcting herself for calling me Cristiana not Cristina, and then she continues her conversation. Eliza makes sure that I have contact numbers for many people, including her niece in Guatemala, in case I need anything. She invites me to visit her when I return to Nashville. She smiles widely before we part, an ‘American’ smile, expressing the success story of a woman who has a better life in the US than she could have had in Guatemala.[…]

Airplane friends: I usually meet all kinds of interesting people when traveling by plane. But this time, I enjoy
having the seat beside me vacant so that I can relax, look out the window and read. But who can resist a snack on a flight where no food is served? Wendy, my neighbor across the vacant seat offers to share her snack, and we begin to talk. Wendy is a dance teacher in the US who went to Guatemala last year to build houses for ‘Habitat for Humanity’. I tell her that I am going to Guatemala for a similar purpose. Telling me about her experiences from last year, she gets teary with emotion as she recalls the family for who she worked and how happy the children were to have a permanent roof over their heads. I am surprised to discover that Habitat for Humanity volunteers not only cover all their costs, but also pay a fee to join the program. Though Wendy is close to retirement, she is determined to work for several more years to afford helping families in Guatemala.

Love at First Sight: A few hours later I land in Guatemala and the first thing I do is change dollars into quetzales. The spring jacket and boots become unbearably hot and heavy. The air is hot and smells different. Outside of the airport, I meet up with some of my colleagues. Getting on a minibus, we all start to wonder – “look at these flowers,” “look at these trees!” The van is full and noisy. Seeing the crazy driving of the people, I remember scenes from Indian movies – with busy streets, children sitting on cars, fruit, colors, drivers who in the absence of traffic signs use gestures while yelling with their heads out the windows. It becomes clear that we are far from the United States and I am starting to fall in love with Guatemala. Read more: Guatemala_Spring2010_CristianaGrigore