Friday, June 20, 2008

Afara?

Our neighbors at the drop-in center are a family of Roma...actually, it's several families. Roma (I think I'm spelling that correctly) are gypsies. A couple of the kids in those families come to the drop-in center, so we're well acquinted with them. As I was walking into the center on Wednesday I saw that these families and all their belongings were on the sidewalk. Not knowing what was going on I suddenly had this horrible feeling in my gut. I went into the center and tried asking the cooks, in my broken Romanian, what was going on, but I didn't understand their response. When I was able to find someone who could tell me I realized I knew this much to be true: these families were now living on the street.
I guess this family had lived on the property in make-shift housing since communist times. The government back then had placed most of the poor in the section of town where we have the drop- in center, the valley, and these families were included in that move. So, they lived on government owned land until it was privatized and purchased. Most housing was owned by the government in communist times and this housing mostly consisted of these giant apartment buildings called blocs. When the governemnt changed the families who were living in these apartments were given their apartment. But, this was not so for the Roma. They were not given their housing and so the land was sold.
This new owner gave them a couple years to find something different. And they didn't. Which means that now they're on the street waiting for something else, waiting for the government to put them somewhere else. More than anything I hurt for these kids. The first night they were on the street there was a horrible thunder and ligthening storm with lots of rain...something that doesn't usually happen in Galati.
I've had a variety of emotions about this whole thing. I don't understand how people couldn't be working in order to save and provide for their families. I ache for these kids...
And, I have no idea what it's like to live under hundreds of years of oppression. I don't know what it's like to walk down the street and be held in disdain because of the color of my skin, to be treated poorly when I do get work because I'm different from everyone else. I don't know what it's like to want to drink away my earnings because all I really know is despair.
It is easy for me to think of ways to be a good white Christian in America, to save money, to work hard. It's easy for me to pass judgement on my neighbors. "I wish we'd all been ready..." comes to mind as I shake my head thinking that they had plenty of opportunities to make better choices but refused. And the truth is, they did have lots of time and they weren't ready.

The same morning that these families were first on the street our children came to the center ready for the program to begin. They streamed in and past the Roma with all their belongings. One little guy, who've I mentioned before, with the thick glasses and who is so tiny, came inside to shower. He got together the things he would need and went into the shower, but came back out to get his soap. I was in the hall, opening lockers, when he came to me and in a soft, concerned voice said:
"April, afara?"
Afara means outside, and so I said, "Tu?" asking him if he wanted to go outside.
He shook his head no and said, "Ana..."
Ana is one of the girls who live next door and is now living on the street.
My heart fell to the ground and in my own soft voice I said, "Da." Yes.
We stood silent for a second. I knew he was trying to put together why they were outside with all their things. I was trying not to cry for the compassion I'd heard in his voice, a kind concern for his friends who no longer had a home. Realizing that this little one who showed such concern also had so of his own at home and is regularly met with violence by his parents.

I'm not excusing irresponsibility or saying that we should not be careful or plan for tomorrow. I'm asking God for such compassion as this little guy had, for a heart that sees a friend on the street and could care less whether they were prepared to move or not, who doesn't shake my head at "those gypsies." I'm asking for a tender heart first. I'm asking for a kindness that sees only the fact that my friend is now sleeping on the street. I'm asking to remember Him who didn't have a place to lay His head at night and laid down His life with such kindness, such compassion, such love. Who became human, truly the greatest degradation for God to become, the essence of poverty being humanity. And yet He, who in that extreme poverty, gave so generously.
As I write it is raining again.

6 comments:

JamieB said...

wow april, that is so powerful and so true... i am thankful everyday for the blessings we have and know that i am also one of the privileged, but only by god's divine hand. and not because of anything i have done. i will pray for compassion, for the children of this family, and a shelter.

Dad (aka Mel) said...

oh april honey girl, you brought tears to my eyes and an ache as well in my heart. I am thankful for you and your heart.

JEM said...

Praying for your sweet friends... How difficult to hold this in your heart. With love... jm

Kathryn said...

april - God uses you to change my heart. a couple weeks ago a friend of ours at the end of our block was evicted and all his things were on the corner, and so many of the same questions ran through me. thanks for blogging; i wish i could know your sweet little friend.

Dad (aka Mel) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dad (aka Mel) said...

That previous was Mom under my post heading. Guess you figured that out.

What struck me was how the government didn't recognize the gypsy the same as any other citizen, and denied them property during the give-away. How unjust but common in the world. There is very little reason for them to be productive under a government that is biased against a class of people to hold them down. If they do get ahead unjust authorities or the mafia will take it away.

I was reminded of Jesus, who saw multitudes and had compassion on them. He didn't divide inheritances. He saw hurting people and his compassion led him to feed or heal. There were those who came for the loaves and fishes, but the miracles ultimately endorsed the teaching which sought to treat the disease, not the symptoms. Isn't it amazing how the trickle down of Christianity is enough individual changes of heart ushers in social reform over time.

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