I’ve been here for three full days now and after talking to a variety of people, I am farther from making a decision on how to proceed than ever. I came here with the plan to buy a house. Period. The prices have gone up and frankly are outrageous (for the value). I am looking in Sector 5, the Roma/gypsy sector that has the well-know Ferentare–know for gypsies, drugs, prostitution, and gangs–where the family currently lives. Houses, a stretch by US terms, are going for around 100,000 euros ($130k) and usually have land area of about 1,200-16oo sq feet, with houses ranging from 800-1,200 sq feet. The houses are poorly constructed of masonry (brick or concrete blocks), have 1-2 bedrooms that are quite small, a tiny kitchen with no counters, stove, or appliances (usually just a small sink), a bathroom with shower, and a small concrete patio out front. The outside is usually protected by a corrugated metal fence.
So what’s the problem? There are two deep issues that I cannot seem to resolve:
1) it’s unclear what they want: no matter how much we talk about the issues, we seem to get nowhere: where to move to?, what kind of house?, should we fix the current house instead?, in the city or outside?, who will live there?, who currently lives at the house?, what school will the kids go to? does the specific school matter? do the women work? where does everyone sleep? who really lives in the house? The answers to these questions are slippery and ephemeral, and this seems normal to everyone except me; it’s as if logic and reason are just silly, idealistic Western theories. I’m frankly not prepared for this type of elusive reality. Note: I have been pleasantly surprised by the grace and humility which Gina has shown me on every occasion with regards to our financial support. She has never asked or hinted for money or help. Never. They have had hard times recently and needed money, but still never asked for it. This shows great personal character imo (and makes it clear that the burden is on us to keep an eye out for them).
2) it’s unclear what they need: the more people that I talk with (e.g. social workers, locals), the less confident I am that buying them a house will make a profound difference in their lives since the family does not appear to be improving (health, jobs, school, motivation, organization) and possibly they are becoming less self-reliant due to my assistance (which frankly has been quite modest), i.e the classic welfare paradox. Some have counseled me to “go slower” and give them goals to achieve before increasing the help. But, I cannot get over the poor health and living conditions of their home and feel that we need to fix that, at the very least. Some believe that I should save money and buy a home outside of Bucharest. But, of course, I cannot assess the impact of this large a social and physical change on the family. They are a very close, tight-knit, extended Roma family and my instincts tell me that large-scale change is risky on many levels. Some have suggested that moving them out of Ferentari , to say nearby Rahova, is the key (Rahova is the “nice” neighborhood in Sector 5). Some have suggested that I should repair the current house first, install plumbing, and see if they respond. Of course, this opens up a zillion problems since they don’t have papers for the house, contractors in Romania cannot be trusted and most of them “will not work in a gypsy neighborhood”, the lot is absurdly tiny ( maybe 600 sq ft).
I plan to work hard today and tomorrow to try to lock on to a plan. I think that I will need to come back again soon.