Monday, July 28, 2008


Dearworthiest Godfriends,
Wednesday I flew to Bucharest, Karen Graffeo, my American photographer friend, meeting me at the airport. Bucharest is most beautiful with Roma florists everywhere.
Thursday we went together to Buzau meeting her friend Stefan who is Romanian and who came with us to visit our two Roma families, Hedera's and Vandana's. Hedera with our help has become a rich gypsy. But it was lovely seeing Leonardo and Robert. I had baptised eight-day old Leonardo because it was the only way his mother could shelter her baby with us in a cemetery in the midst of a tremendous storm, when the police had thrown them out of an abandoned warehouse. The women in her family are so beautiful, colourful pleated skirts, gay scarves, long black braids.
Then Vandana's family all living together in one small room, many children, many grown-ups, the horse stall next door with a fine white horse, their cooking potatoes in a pot on the ground over a wood fire, Maria's baby, like Vandana's Gabriela, born prematurely, both of them from their mothers being menaced by the police in Florence, Maria being forced to return to Buzau, a bus journey of two days, and her oldest child in hospital in Bucharest, her mother just out of hospital in Buzau.
Friday morning we saw Gruia Bumbu, President of the National Agency for Roma in the Romanian government, and his two assistants, all of them Roma. They loved the book Vandana and Daniel had created, which you can find when my website is on-line again at and would like them to create another on hygiene and medical care, a vocabulary with drawings for these needed terms and concepts in Romany and Romanian. And they have invited Karen to exhibit her photographs of the Roma with theirs in Bucharest 2 August.
Friday afternoon we visited Romanian Stefan's family and saw the houses he was building for them. He would like to work with our Roma families as he is a builder and has the right documents that could make this possible. He, too, came from great poverty. Everywhere we went were long carts heaped with hay, farmers sitting or lying on top, drawn by beautiful horses, great scythes and rakes made by the Roma. Then Stefan took us to the village in a valley of nine churches and many houses where a married Orthodox priest has brought together children, who were to have been aborted, who were abandoned on the streets of Bucharest, who live in houses with the villagers. The church was beautiful. Father Nicolae Tanase had built it at night, paying the fine each day, as building a church was not allowed under the Communists, the children painting fine frescoes of saints and prophets on all its walls. We struggled to get back to Bucharest in time before the Metro closed down. But Father insisted we stay to dinner - in silence - delicious - with his children. On the train, as it was too late for the Metro, a young couple offered us a ride to where we were staying.
The next morning was by train to Rimnicu Sarat to see Costanza's family and their house with leaking roofs, her four baby grandchildren and her adopted son Cristi, whose schooling we had paid for for getting his diploma. Cristi had only one year in school and had to leave because of their poverty but had been head of his class and won a prize. Now he is so happy to be studying. They had started rebuilding the roof with the money we gave them but ran out of materials, so instead Costanza had painted its walls the most joyous colours.
From the train so much beauty, great fields with many strips of crops using no fertilizer because the soil is so rich, nor pesticides because they were not uni-cropping, but instead multi-cropping, all fringed by mountains. It was like Italy in the sixties, simplicity and beauty all together.
Then on to Buzau again to spend more time with Vandana's family, Karen taking photographs of everything everywhere, especially all the children and adults in that one small dark room. We went to see Maria's newborn baby in its incubator in the hospital - and we couldn't get in until we had paid to enter the hospital! Poor Romanians have to keep paying for everything. Then we went to see Vandana's land. Which is beautiful, wild flowers growing everywhere, and a horse in the field. Daniel's plan for it will surround it with fruit trees.
Everywhere I examined roofs and roofing material, in Father's village, in Bucharest, from the trains. And saw that the best were all made with sheets of shining long-lasting zinc brought from Sweden. We dreamed of our families forming a building association and having Rotary, for instance, buy a container of zinc roofing so its price would remain stable while the economy changed and using this in their Roma projects with Romanian Stefan to rebuild leaking roofs.
And now I have come home to little Gabriela sleeping in the cradle we have made, Vandana caring for her and Daniel finishing the work of restoring the cast and wrought iron in the Cemetery. With the money they earn they shall build their house, bringing all three of their children under its roof. They are just 23 years old. Cristi being 18. None of this would have been possible without Assunta's caring, her victories over Italian bureaucracy, her generosity. And to top it all off Guthrun Asmundsdottir arrived with a generous sum given by the Sisters of Mother Teresa in Iceland for this family. Guthrun is the actress who had come to the lecture I gave on Dante in the year 2000 on Iceland, and a most faithful Godfriend ever since. And she came with her family. So now we plot how to acquire enough powdered milk for premature babies and a system for the boiling of water for these two little ones, also cloth diapers.
The choices these families face is whether to eat or to roof their houses against leaks or to send their children to school or pay for life-saving surgery or medical care. So we are together writing the proposal to the European Union for a project called 'From Graves to Cradles', where these families seasonally come here and restore the 'English' Cemetery and form there a building association for repairing roofs and home-schooling their children and legally entering the Romanian labour market as well as the Italian one through having the required address and decent housing. Vandana in her long and full and graceful skirt and her long black braids has just now taken her little Gabriela out into the Cemetery to watch Daniel at work. Thus we build Paradise.
A thousand blessings,