Where to start… There’s been a lot of debate in Romania and outside of the country about the Gypsies (which in Romania they call themselves the Roma, though they are not Roman or Romanian by origin). That being said, I don’t want to write about the ones that beg, steal, or have cursed me out after giving them money, this post is about the hardworking, hustling, working gypsy.
So to begin with, I was in the house working on signing some documents, and my grandma had the front gate locked… And someone started banging pretty loudly on the gate. After 20 seconds or so, I finally went to unlock the front gate and two people I didn’t know where outside looking for my grandma, because they had some stuff to sell her. That stuff ended up being wild strawberries.
This gypsy woman and her daughter were going door to door in my grandparents’ village to sell their product. I don’t even know how old the kid was, maybe 6-8 years old? This was at 4pm on a Wednesday, which makes me wonder if the girl even went to school that day. It seems a lot of gypsy kids are not sent to school and start helping their parents out at an early age, in spite of the fact by law they’re supposed to go to school until high school. I wonder what can be done about that, since some help/aid would probably go a long way to help the next generation.
If you’ve never seen or picked any wild strawberries, well, they are impossibly small (about the size of your pinky nail) and a lot of work to pick. Just to get a better idea, here are some wild strawberries in the wild, which in this case was Daffodil Forest (Poiana Narciselor).
Back to the story.. They wanted 25 lei/kilogram, which is about $6.25 for 2.2 lbs, for hand-picked, organic, delivered to your door wild strawberries. Since they are also used to bartering and bargaining, my grandma gave them some clothes, some other food and goodies, and they dropped the price to $5 for 2.2 lbs. Yes, my grandma is a softie, since the extra stuff they gave them was worth more than the price reduction she got. The little girl also asked if we had anything good to eat, so we also gave her a few pieces of cake, which she seemed to be very happy about.
They didn’t have a scale, but luckily my grandma had one. In the end, we ended up buying 4.4 lbs of wild strawberries, to help lighten their load. I’m sure it’s a tough job, because they not only have to pick the strawberries, but they have to go door to door and find people that are willing to buy them, otherwise they go bad pretty fast.
Having peddled pretty much 1/2 their merchandise at one house, they are ready to hit up the next unsuspecting customer.
Because we bought so many of them and they go bad pretty fast, I ended up having them for lunch and dinner, with a side of actual strawberries. You can bet that these were definitely organic.
In the summer, people seem to come and try to sell stuff a few times a week. So, the next time I ran into some gypsy selling produce, they were a bit more advanced from an entrepreneurial perspective, and still the same front-door service.
These gypsies were driving around with a truck filled with different kinds of produce, such as bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, and cherries.
We ended up buying 6.6 lbs (3 kilograms) of cherries, 6.6 lbs of tomatoes, and 6.6 lbs of potatoes for less than $8.
Of course, since they had a car, they also had their own scale to weigh the products. They’re not quite at the point where they’ll use Square to sell their product, but they’re getting close.
A few hours later, after having lunch, someone else stopped by to sell blueberries this time. They all seem to know my grandma is a softie and will buy what they’re selling. :)
This time too, they went to weigh the hand-picked blueberries and negotiated on the price. The blueberries were a bit more expensive, at $12.50 for 4.4 lbs (2kg).
After we bought 2 kilograms of blueberries, I talked for a bit with Mariana, since that’s her name. She said it took 4 people the whole morning to pick all the blueberries, the ones in her bucket too, not just the ones we bought. They go almost every morning out picking when there are berries to pick, starting 7:30am. It was almost 4pm when she stopped by, so more than 8 hours a day. They got to Vad (the village where my grandparents live) on a horse-drawn carriage from Sercaita, which is two villages over.
I asked her about her life in general, since I wanted to learn more. She got married at 14, is now 27, and has 4 children. From our conversation, it seems that pretty much all the kids need to get an 8th grade education, but that’s it. She thinks her kids will finish 8th grade, but that’s it. Although school is free, commuting to and from school is expensive, and she said they cannot pick favorites of who will go to high school and who won’t, so none of them will. After having a light snack that my grandma provided and resting for a bit while we talked, she went on her way.
It’s great to be able to buy the berries and help make a difference, and I’m now stuck eating blueberries for breakfast lunch and dinner for several meals to follow….
After buying way more than my fair share of blueberries, and less than an hour later, another set of blueberry pickers came, peddling their delicious yet redundant product. This time it was three girls. They came in the yard as well and would not leave until I bought some from them too. Posing for the camera was part of the price negotiations. What’s another 1-2 kilograms (2.2-4.4 lbs) of blueberries at this point? At this rate my diet will consist of only blueberries for weeks!
The girls were between 14-17, all dropped out of school after 8th grade and were married. Like I mentioned, since their village has only grades 1-8, it seems like almost none of them end up going to high school, and college is definitely not an option (although public universities are free in Romania).
After waking up early to get to picking, they had one of their husbands take them with the horse and buggy where my grandparents live, so they can go door to door and try to sell their day’s work.
Seems that at my grandparents house, the store comes to you more often then you might go to the store.
All that being said, it’s worth taking a minute to reconsider our standard on what it really means to be poor, what is means to be a gypsy, a peddler, or a hustler. The woman with the girl selling wild strawberries, probably had both of them spending all morning gathering the wild strawberries, and all afternoon trying to sell them for $2o, if she was able to sell the rest of the product. And it’s not like she can find those to sell every day. Depending on the season, they go and try to pick blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, mushrooms, etc.
Yes, some gypsies beg and/or steal, but some are hard-working hustlers that are trying to get by and make an honest living. Rather than accusing those who like to live outside the law, we should help those who are trying their best to get by and help them have a chance at a better live with more opportunities.
In regards to poverty, what does it mean to be poor? In the US our standards and expectations are so out of touch with other people’s reality. We’ve definitely been spoiled by progress and all too often we are so caught up in our world, that we don’t realize how good we have it and how much as a planet we still need to develop.