Saturday, July 11, 2009

Random thought #3: Roma

I made the mistake of forgetting for a too-long moment about the Roma.

I had been thinking that Belgrade is remarkably level. Not topographically: like SF, it is built on 7 hills. But the years of wheelbarrows of paper money to buy bread are long gone. The chasm between poor and middle class is bridgeable. In general, Serbs run the gamut from antique white to beige to tan. Most are Orthodox, with some Muslims and Jews thrown in. People are well-fed, but few are fat. Houses are similar in kind and value (say what you will about Communism). Food is cheap; imported clothing expensive. I had been thinking that the standard of living varies, but if there are truly rich here, they/we have the decency not to stand out.

But I had forgotten about the Roma, until a little boy stood eye level urging me to buy candy. I was on the bus, taking a seat after standing with a heavy bag for a while. Other seats had opened, but I was too slow and too laden to reach them in time. Tired, and a little cranky, I quickly took the seat vacated by a 20-year-old on her way to the fair. When I looked up, a little boy was looking me in the face and offering me "candy". He wasn't offering whatever the Serbian word for candy is, but "candy". He was brown skinned, like well-steeped tea, and small. He might have been 4, or 8. I knew before looking that he was unaccompanied. He offered me candy, spoke a few words, and waited. His cutoff sweatshirt was filthy, his face stained with sugar and dirt. And my money was all buried at the bottom of my backpack, and safely in an account somewhere. When I responded with grimaces and "um-hmm"s, he got off at the next stop, squeezing through the legs of the beige adults around him.

A stop later there were two children crossing the street, the elder carrying the younger. "Elder" here being relative: maybe 7 years old. The younger? Perhaps my daughter's age: 18 months. No adults. Dirty. Determined.

Just an hour or two before I had been asking a OB nurse what happened to unwanted children here. If given up at the hospital they go to orphanages, where they will, with God's help, be placed with family members. If not they stay in orphanages until, well, until something else happens.

Of course, the Roma children are not unwanted. Though the Roma (the ones we tend to call Gypsies) are desperately poor, they love their children too. And their children are often the only ones who can bring in any money. Brown-skinned teens lane-split on foot, asking to wash car windows. Little ones wander the streets selling candy or asking for money. Elders sit by the churchyard gates or near the ATMs, pleading, their bowls and boxes empty.

My wonderful husband and I have been talking about adopting another child. But the difficulty of it -- the cumbersome process -- stops us. Then this one looks me square in the face, and though I want to pick him up and carry him home, I have nothing to give him. Nothing of use, anyway.

Serbs don't cry on the bus, but you know how Americans are.

Never forget about the Romas, or the others, wherever you are.

During the Reaganite cold war, Sting sang:

"There is no monopoly in common sense/ On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology/ Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too"

I hope we love the Roma children too. And the Black foster kids. And the Mexican kids. And our own kids.

"Suffer the little children to come to me." Says our wise and sometimes too-distant Savior.

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