Our Heaven & Hell: Garbage-Dump

Place: Bianca's home on a garbage dump.
The walls are painted in lively colors, yellow and turquoise. Bianca, early 30s, a garbage scavenger, and her husband Iluţ Bărbosul/The Bearded, same, sits in an armchair.

Ana: This text came about as a result of a field trip I took to Transylvania, Romania in November 2008.
In Pata-R
tului, a village in the suburbs of a university town, Cluj, there is a shanty town by a garbage dump I’ve heard about several times. There live Gypsy people who for decades picked in the garbage for a living. They call their village Dallas, like the TV show. Though they live in shacks in terrible conditions most of the homes have satellite dishes. They don’t like to say they live in a garbage dump so they call the garbage dump Rampa. Probably because there is an incline where the garbage trucks come to transfer the garbage that is called technically the Ramp.
The problem is that since Romania stepped into the European Union the garbage dump is not up to their ecological standards, so it will be shut down, thus the villagers will lose their livelihood and homes in half a year.
Then you’ll hear the word Rom, which is the politically correct appellative for Gypsy.
And one other small matter: the old Romanian currency is Lei and since it is inflation, people talk in millions. For example, a loaf of bread is about 100,000 lei. They also trade in Euros, but the conversion is mind-boggling.
Presently we are in Bianca’s home, where as you can see the walls are painted in lively colors, yellow and turquoise:
[Ana holds the digital recorder towards Bianca as she stands, imploringly gesticulating while being interviewed.]
Ana: If they close the garbage dump...
Bianca: We don't have anywhere to go. Back home we had a…
Ana: Especially since you’ve built here without any documents…
Bianca: I put more than a hundred million into these two rooms, just imagine that. Back at home, in the country, at Morun, where we lived before, we had a house. It belonged to my grandparents, to my mother's parents, where I grew up. My grandparents had four children who sold the house was and divided the money. So obviously, if the Ramp shuts down, we don't have anywhere to go. We came here after the house was sold, otherwise we wouldn't have ended up here, in this dump. Most people here, well, I don't even know if out of the thousand Rroma here, or five hundred Rroma, or however many they are since I haven't counted them exactly to be sure how many they are… but I doubt that more than a quarter of them have IDs or if more than 15 or 20 of them have a place to go. The rest of them have nowhere to go; where is there to go? Where? Where should we go, where? Here, for better or worse we find scrap iron, clothing, goods, you borrow from one another, you could make 2 or 3 million a week, or a month… you have something to live on! But if you leave from here, how? what would you live on? On the kids’ state welfare? With 5 or 6 children what can you live on in the countryside? You don't have enough! You don't! Listen to me! Believe me! It is veeeeeery hard! If we leave here, we don't have anywhere to go. Like that reporter said we should go back where we came from. But we don't have anywhere to go. We’ve been here for 8, 9 years, even 10 years. There are some who, well… we have been here for 8 years, but there are those who were born here, who got married here, who gave birth to their children… Where should they go, My Dear Lady?!
Ana: Call me Ana, please. And didn't you think about doing something to obtain official documents for the house?
Bianca: But who would write them for us, Ana, who? Only the Municipality, only those who know where to knock on doors, not us! Where should we go? I mean, I’m not talking about myself, at least, dear me, for better or worse, I know how to write, I know everything. But there are people who don’t know their own names with their ID in their hand, who don't know how old they are… Where should they knock on doors? Where should they go? Because there’s nowhere to go, believe me, there is nowhere to go. I’m even talking about myself, not just other people, where should I go if things go wrong here? It could happen at any moment. Even if they have houses or huts here, they’ve put a lot of money into the houses… I can say I put 50, 60 million into this house or 10 million, that’s what I’ve spent, right? Because it shows that I spent money, that I fixed it up. All the Gypsies have said that this Dallas should change, that everybody should do something to show the Municipality, or anyone who comes to us, to welcome him gladly in our home, because if it all falls apart, who will give us our money back? And where to go, is the problem! Where to go?
Ana: So what would be the solution?
Bianca: We'd like them to give us this land, so we know it's ours. We wouldn't ask for anything else.
Ana: Didn't you think of organizing a protest?
Bianca: Who with? Here with our nine leaders…
Ana: To get out in the streets, everybody here in Dallas.
Bianca: There are nine leaders here who try to get things done. The owners of this land were found, but they asked for several thousands of Euros. Where would we get that?! We are dying of hunger, we are starving souls, we eat from here, we make our living from here, we dress from here, everything is from here, from where else, Ana? From what else can we make a living? How can we fix this?
Ana: And if the garbage dump is shut down what then?
Bianca: If the garbage dump, the Ramp, is shut down, then we stay here, we could go into the city to work, because if we are settled here where else should we go? Who do you expect to welcome us to stay with them after 8, 9 years of days have gone by? Who'd welcome us? So many people! Where can we go? They should give us, Dear Mayor Sir, work to clean the staircases, the apartment blocks anywhere, so we too have a salary of 4, 5 million. Look, my man, my husband, my children are grown. The smallest daughter is five years old. That’s why a salary of 4, 5 million would add up immediately to 9, 10. We'd have a better life! But like this, what can we do?
Here is where we've been for so many years of days, here is where we worked. The Municipality knows we agree to go away if they give us somewhere else where we can live. Say another Ramp. Where should we go if we are from here, from Cluj County, we have Cluj IDs? The majority are from Cluj! Where should we go? Should we go to Timişoara or to Bucharest or somewhere else? We don't have anywhere else to go! Only here!
We would ask first of all to get this plot of land in our own name! This land, nothing else. Because for a living, we'd manage to live from day to day as much as we can, but let this land be ours, so we know it’s ours! So we don’t have to live in fear, that, Oh dear, look it happens to us like how it happened in Bucharest and in Timişoara. Now! They clawed with the bulldozers the people’s houses and flattened their barracks! When it gets like that, what will we do then? Will we go out on the road with all our belongings and go to the Town Hall to Emil Boc, or whoever's the mayor?! We don't even know, so he should give us a place to stay. There are thousands of people here, hundreds of us, look such a large bunch of kids, a gaggle of kids. Where can we send the kids to school, what can we send the kids with, Ana? When it comes to election time or stuff like that, then yes, everybody shows up, Let's help! Let's do something! but now… How can we send the kids to school? We eat from here, we dress from here, we have everything from here, everything, everything that we need, we maintain from here, from the garbage dump. And look, we are glad, we find a piece of clothing, a penny, a scrap of iron, a scrap of paper, a bottle, we gather absolutely everything and we live our lives, we and the children, from day to day, so we don't starve. Where else can we go? We don't have anywhere else to go! It’s veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery hard! Most importantly the land should be bought, for the rest we'll manage somehow. Because if the dump is closing we'll have to go to work, and I'd rather work, Ana, in the city, so I can live in cleanliness, clean, fresh, not dirty, not to go clean in the morning and come back dirty like at the Ramp. I'd love not to go to the garbage dump but to work somewhere in the city, doesn’t matter who for.
Ana: Have you tried to get a job in the city?
Bianca: Well, I didn't go. The Ramp is still working, but if the Ramp is closing and we're settled here, we will go, Ana, to the city and work, both me and my husband. We are still young people, we can hustle, we can work to raise our kids. Five kids and the two of us, that’s seven people. My oldest daughter is raising the little ones. If the oldest daughter went to school, what would I do, put the rest of them in foster care school for orphans? Or would just one person work to keep six people? We can't do something like that! It is not possible to do that! It would be better to go into the city, clean, freshly dressed, proud, but if we don't have anywhere to go, Ana! It’s veeeeery hard, you should know! It’s veeeeeeery haaard! Nobody helps you out! When it comes to election, everybody, "You should do this! You should do that!", "We will give you sugar! We will give you this and that! We will help you with all we can!" but nobody, nothing. Just words, but deeds, nobody’s done a thing since I've been here, and I’ve had enough time, in 8 years of days since I’ve got here, to get to know all of them. They all just take care of their own interests. There are some bosses here who bought houses on the backs of the people! It's useless to tell stories about it. We would be content if they could let us stay here, since we don't have anywhere else to go! We don't have anywhere else to go! This is all I had to say. What else can I say? I don't have anything else.
Ana: Since when has this Dallas been here?
Bianca: Oh, My Dear Lady, there are people here who are 50, 60 years old, there are people who are old old old, who grew old here, if you can imagine. There are women here like me who have children, grandchildren who grew up here. I've been here for 8 years, but there are people who've been here 50, 60 years! Who have grownup children, married, who are grandparents!
Ana: When did they start saying they'd shut down the Ramp?
Bianca: Well now since I've seen it on television... for about 4, 5 years they’ve kept on telling us they'll get us out, get us out, get us out… but they never said when… But now they showed on television, on that show "Romania, I Love You," they said that by December 2009 the dump has to be covered with earth, to be ecological! Can you imagine that?! Then we won't be able to get in! So what we will do then?! Alright, I can go and work, maybe 10 other people, but the rest of them what do they do? What will we all do? Can you imagine if the Ramp closes suddenly, there is nothing one can do! Should one go and steal? And if the dump closes, Ana, it's very hard. Because there are a thousand people. Where can everybody find work?
Ana: But inside your house is very beautiful. Do you have running water, or how do you manage?
Bianca: There is water here. Now we just fixed this house, about a month ago, and you can imagine we spent a lot, only I know how we starved and got in deep debt. Even now I have 12 million in debt. I tried to make it look nice, so we have everything we need, so we don't keep on living around huts with walls made of plastic garbage bags sheets, and our kids get bitten by rats. So when a reporter shows up or someone from the Municipality or I don't know who else, they shouldn’t laugh at you! "Oh, I can't set foot inside your house!" No!!! People must come gladly, we must change, so we show the world we are like everyone else! We are Rroma but we too have a soul in us! Do you understand? But what will we do if the Ramp shuts down? Where will we go?
This is the question!
Believe us, we can't even sleep at night, do you see? We can't sleep even at night, Ana, from this great fear, that one day we'll be hearing, "Bulldozer them off!" That tomorrow or in a week… and where, what will we do? We are ready to… sleep, to die together with our children... and yet… what to do? Where to go? There is nowhere for us to go, believe me! Me, personally, I say... you can ask this entire Gypsy ‘hood if any of them could say, "I have a home, I have somewhere to go!" No one! There aren't ten people in this whole crowd who could say, "Well, I don't trouble myself about the Ramp coming to an end, because I have somewhere to go!" They don't have anywhere to go, know that! They don't have anywhere to go! It’s veeeeeeery hard! Here it was… alright. You went, you did dirty work for a hundred, for two, for as much as you could, but the truth is it was good!
Ana: And how do you go about it at the garbage dump?
Bianca: We go, pick up iron, brass, whatever we find, a bit of copper, a bit of aluminum, we make 200 thousand, 300 thousand, 150 thousand a day. We make whatever we can. We buy a loaf of bread, two kilos of potatoes, cigarettes if you smoke. If we make 200 thousand, my man and I don’t necessarily get something to smoke, just because we made 200 thousand today, “Oh, I have to buy me cigarettes!” No! I first buy food for the kids and after that, if there is enough money left to buy coffee and cigarettes, I buy them, do you understand? That’s the problem. But if we go away from here?! There is nothing waiting for us! So the problem is that we don't have anywhere to go, this is the big problem.
Ana: So there have been reporters here, they wrote articles and yet nothing was done about it?
Bianca: I don't know how they came around, because they just showed up suddenly here! We were even afraid to talk. We were even afraid to watch them filming when we heard what they said! They filmed my neighbors with their little girl. Yes. Say something too, Ilut, do we have somewhere to go from here if the Ramp shuts down?
Iluţ: Question maaark!
Bianca: There you go! So, we don't have anywhere. It’s veeeeery haaard!
Ana: What do you think could be done about this?
Bianca: Well, the land should be ours!!!...
Iluţ: They should hire our people, so they can go to work, because every man wants to be hired officially, since they all work anyway in this misery at their wits’ end, they should be hired, so that people can calm down, be reassured and it should be their original land, that is their private property, so the people can work in peace, they would not have a bone to pick with anyone. You’ve seen on Saturday at the party, there was no scandal or…
Ana: [To the Audience.] Every Saturday there is a party with live Gypsy music played by the artists in Dallas at the local restaurant.
Iluţ: that people can be at peace, with their salaries...
Ana: What will you do if the dump shuts down?
Iluţ: If the dump shuts down I'll go where I was before.
Bianca: There are some who can go where they were before, but others don't have anywhere. So, don't just talk like we have a place to go. I could go too…
Iluţ: To hoe hoeing and and weed whacking and scythe mowing!!
Bianca: But you don't have a home, do you have a home to go to?!
Iluţ: I'll live in a forest, where else I can live...
Bianca: But you don't have a home, this is the problem! This is what these people want to hear!
Iluţ: I'll go and build myself a tree house...
Bianca: But you don't have a home, do you have a home to go to?! Stop clowning around!
Iluţ: Okay, okay. The problem is: I’ve done 12 years of school, I can go and work and live wherever I want. Buuut I'm thinking about my kids. Where can I go? On my own I can go; but with my kids, where can I go? At least here I have a roof over my head. I can go and work for someone and pay rent, for myself, buuut if I take my three kids and my wife, where can I go to work? It’s hard. In the West I’d make 3, 4 hundred thousand of Euros, 5, 6 million lei.
Ana: Who owns this land?
Iluţ: No one knows whose land is it.
Ana: I understood it belongs to the Municipality…
Iluţ: It’s not owned by the Municipality, but we don’t know who the proprietors are, either. The matters are very tangled up. Can you imagine, from the '70s until now, since this Ramp has been, can you imagine, that the man who owned the land back in '44 or '34 left the country or died, then after the '89 revolution someone else came to claim it with tricks and bribes and favors, and he got it, then he gave it to another man, and it got tangled up even more, like a rope that you throw in the water and gets tangled in the weeds, and when you pull, it tangles up even more in hundreds of thousands of weeds and you don't know anymore, you don't know which is which, that's exactly how it is with this land, which plot belonged to who. You don't know anymore. Anyone can come along and say: I'm the owner!
But if he doesn't show you in black ink on white paper…
Ana: Why don't you go out on the streets to protest?
Iluţ: Protest out on the streets?! What protest on the streets?! Hear me out, if I want to go and have a meeting, a strike in the streets, to go shout that I don't have my own land, shout that the Cluj Municipality doesn't give me my land, if I’m coming from someplace else, do you know what they say? Go back where you came from, let that mayor give you land there? What else will he say? Go back up your mother's cunt, ’cause that’s where you came from!
Bianca: I'm from Calarasi. So what does he say? Go to Calarasi, let that mayor there give you land!
Ana: Well, wouldn’t it have been better if the Municipality had told you from the start not to build your houses here...
Iluţ: Ah, let me tell you. Many of our people went about to find the owner, and the people who were the great-grandchildren, maybe the last great-grandchild of the man who owned the land, said that only if and when he comes to kick us out of here, should we start clamoring. Until he comes, we should just stay here quietly.
This Saturday, on that show "Romania, I Love You" on Pro TV they said that we make 20 million a month. By my word! From where do we earn that?! Or that the Ramp director, Veres, promised us work. Wouldn’t I like to work for him?! To get hired?! Me, with 12 grades, finished, passed my examination, got my certificate, wouldn’t I like to get hired? Seven million a month plus food vouchers?!
Ana: In the end, what did you agree upon with Veres?
Iluţ: Whatever it was, it just died. Like I’d say to you, "Make sure to meet me in the market place!" but we just never happen to meet. That’s exactly how it is with the Ramp director, right? You just come to me and I'll hire you. Let's say you show up with a TV crew and ask the Ramp director, "Mr. Veres, how do you help the Dallas community?" "I'd like to help them get hired!" Alright. So it goes on television that “I want to hire them,” but when you go away from here with your television crew and I stay behind, after a month, I go to him, "Mr. Veres, you promised on television that you will hire me!" "Listen, here, my man, do you have some finances? Show me about 300 Euros, I’ll hire you, no problem!" Give him 300 or 400 Euros to get hired?! Me?! After I went to school, 12 long years of days of it, and my tinker certificate, after I stayed day and night with my head buried in books, I should give him 300 Euros for what?! I should keep it from my own children's mouth?! No, it is not possible! It’s hard to make 300, 400 Euros, but maybe I make it in a year, maybe I deprive my kids, maybe two of them die, and I'm left only with one, and maybe I make it and I give him 400 Euros and get hired, but for what? Is it worth it? It’s not worth it.
This is the truth. There is nothing to hide.
Bianca: She’s taping you, you can't hide it anyway.
Iluţ: To hide myself from Veres?! They called us drug addicts on television. With what are we getting drugged, with what?! What are we hiding from the police? Did I hit anybody in the head? If you want to know, my family, Micu, we were the first ones here. We’ve been here since Ceausescu and Elena ruled. And they came and took my parents, they picked them up and gave them 3, 6 months in jail, and we were raised here on the garbage dump. Well, I haven't been raised right here, I went to school, first to Gherla, then to Gilău, and I was forced to go to school on and on, for such a long bitter time, till I was 14, 15 years old, and they threw my parents either in jail or here on the Ramp, again and again. The police would come at night, pluck you out of your bed, “3 months!” “6 months!” in jail. The children stayed behind, then they picked up the kids too, took them to the foster care institution. That’s how it was. And by the time the parents got out of jail, the children were at the special needs school, at the institution, that was the whole problem, that's how the law was. That’s how it was with us. And now they come and say, "Why didn't you get hired?" And they call us druggies! With what have we drugged ourselves?! College students take drugs, not us poor who work for honest pay. Why should we do that? Spend 12, 15 million on a joint? To ruin our health? Well, we ruin our health right here, in this misery and poverty…
Bianca: A worse evil than this stench doesn't exist!
Iluţ: When I heard they call us druggies… Do you know what I said that evening when I heard that he calls us druggies? “Were I to have the power to get on their TV and call them druggies!” But not us! We go and recycle their garbage; from the entire Cluj County we recycle more than 60% of their garbage! Plastic bottles, plastic bags, iron, metals, cans, juice, coca cola, glass bottles whatever they throw out, we recycle it!
Ana: And what do you do with them afterwards?
Iluţ: We sell them. There are collection centers that gather them. But where should we go from here? Everywhere they call us names. We are druggies!
Ana: Where was this?
Iluţ: On that show "Romania, I Love You!" I don't know if there is anyone left here who loves Romania. Even me, I was born here and I still live here, but I don't know if I love her.
Ana: But they were talking about you?
Iluţ: Yep. Exactly about us. They showed us day and night working, how we loaded and unloaded.
Ana: You have rights…
Iluţ: What rights? We have no rights. They say Romania is a democracy. In what way is she a democracy? Here it’s nothing like in America, where everybody does what they want and if someone steps on his rights, one goes and sues him, no matter who he is, police, whatever. Here, if the police come and give you a slap, I can't go and sue the police, because it's not my right. Here in this democracy of Romania if I go complain, even if just to soothe my soul, “Look, that policeman hit me for no reason!” they laugh me out of the courthouse. Look, I wanted one morning to go to the Ramp to earn something for my kids, and the police came, pulled me out of my cart and took me to the precinct. What was the reason? If I didn't set out to steal, if I don't have any criminal record, why did he pick me up? On what grounds? "Well, we want to take your fingerprints!" “Well, why do you want to take my fingerprints?! If I didn't steal, why are you taking my fingerprints?” I should have taken them to court! Why did they prevent me from going to work? They should show me an arrest warrant, or a search warrant, "Here Sir, it is in your name. I have to take you away." But there’s no way they should pull me from my cart, in the morning at 7:30, “Get off!”
Like a thief!

New York,
 July 13, 2013


 Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being one of them, I’d be grateful.

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