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Roma gypsies

posted by Cliff Kuang   May 29, 2008

Some portraits of gypsies/Roma in Lithuania.

Related: A book review in the New Yorker, from a while ago, about a book penned by a woman who lived with Roma for a time. The bare threads of Roma society are disturbing:

Evidently it’s a miserable life, for the shiftless, jobless, largely illiterate men, and twice as bad for the homebound women, generally married in their teens to other teens, who will bully, betray, tyrannize, and most likely beat them. As for their children, they stay up so late watching television and hanging out on the street that they are usually too sleepy to go to school; Gypsies must be the only significant ethnic group in France that actively discourages literacy and encourages truancy. Compared with them, the embattled immigrants from the Muslim world are models of aspiration to bourgeois order and enlightenment. One of Eberstadt’s more hallucinante chapters describes a conference on education held at College Jean Moulin, a junior high school for preponderantly Gypsy students. “The occasion is pretty merry,” she writes. “People who work with Gypsies tend to laugh a lot. It’s a laughter of hysterical exasperation, because if you didn’t laugh, you’d hang yourself or quit.” The school’s principal, a “barrel-chested, crewcutted Catalan” named Paul Landric, is quoted:

“If an Arab kid cuts school, he stays in the street so his parents don’t find out. If a Gypsy plays hookey, it’s in order to stay home. Here, it’s the parents who are the disruptive influence, mothers who want to coddle their sons, fathers who don’t want their daughters to be seen hanging with boys at school. The girl is a commodity, and they don’t want her to lose her market value.”

Her value, as a virgin, is ascertained not by the young groom on the wedding night but, according to archaic folk custom, by the probing finger of a tribal crone: Eberstadt’s partially renegade Gypsy friend Linda explains, “For Gypsies, it’s a nasty old woman who is paid to penetrate the girl, like a gynecologist but with dirty hands, in front of all the husband’s family. It’s terrifying, it’s inhuman.” Landric sums up: “People talk about preserving Gypsy culture. But what am I as an educator supposed to do when the comportment of my students is frankly pathological?”

Buy the book here.