Sunday, December 20, 2009

Roma/Gypsies in Literature

I have known Gypsies, as they were then called, since my early childhood
- the ones who, like us, were hiding in the forests trying to survive
the genocidal Nazi War. Moments with Gypsies, Roma is their rightful
name, followed me along the circuitous course of my life. I never
recognized these people in the writings of non-Gypsies. The Roma, so
different from each other across the world, yet similar at the core,
mostly appear as strange distortions of the ones I have known, in
fiction as well as in most sociological studies.

Roma culture for hundreds of years was an oral culture, leaving no
trace behind. The Roma expressed their feelings in crafts, in music and
in poetry. These poems were written for special occasions, left buried
along with their dead, or tucked away with memories of more joyful
occasions. I am sure, like their music, these poems were expressions of
sadness and beauty. When Papusha, a poet from a Polish tribe, broke that
tradition and published her poetry, she became famous and – ostracized
by her tribe. Mateo Maximoff, a Russian Roma who lived in France,
thankfully self-published a slew of novels and non-fiction depicting the
true spirit of these ancient people

When I humbly approached the difficult task of trying to describe their
culture, seen through Roma eyes, I actually prayed to God to give me the
power of the word. I hope "Dosha", coming out in June, will allow you
to step into the culture and spirit of these ancient people, for whose
fundamental human rights within the new European Union many Roma and
non-Roma are now uniting to fight.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A New Kind of European Freedom Fighter

December 10 of this year was the 61st anniversary of the adoption of the
adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.
Yet Europe's discrimination against Roma has grown if anything worse.
And those who do the persecuting are more than matched in numbers by
those who stand by with indifference and watch, at times applaud, this
visible abuse and neglect of their fellow Europeans, the Roma.

There is however a change, a small change, hopefully one that will take
over and turn the tide. Groups of idealists and activists: there is the
Everyone Group in Italy, Rencontres Tsiganes in France, I have read that
Romani Women have gathered in Committees and even staged open marches of
protest. These are just a few that I have followed from across the
ocean. These groups not only fight for equal rights, but for the right
to be different. The Romani culture is one of beauty and love of peace.
It is part of Europe's history, and should be honored and preserved. We
over here, living in safety in the United States, should support these
groups; join this fight for justice and equality that nobody can morally
afford to lose.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Ancient Art of Romani Healing

After years spent among partisans and other people on the run during
World War II, my mother collapsed, mentally and physically. She could no
longer manage daily life. As soon as some kind of order was
re-established in post-war Germany, doctors and hospital started to
experiment with various injections and drugs to get my mother back on
her feet. After the first injection of something I believe was called
Strophantin, my mother turned blind for several days. She regained her
eyesight, but slowly the other attempts at conventional healing made her
drug dependent. Desperate, I was a girl of nine, my mother lay dying, I
threw all of her drugs into the toilet, flushed and, alone with her, I
witnessed the horrible effects of drug withdrawal. That's when I ran for
my godmother, who knew a lot about herbs. She in turn sought the help of
a Gypsy herbalist healer, a partragria.

Never leaving my mother's side, my aunt started brewing the herbal teas
of the Gypsy woman. My emaciated mother not only survived the withdrawal
symptoms, but within a matter of a few weeks started to rejuvenate. Her
emotional trauma from the war would never heal completely, but her
physical being returned to normal, and she was able to live, reasonably
happily, to the age of eighty-six.

That experience is now over sixty years ago. It was brought back home to
me when, very recently, I watched a close friends suffer non-stop pain
with Shingles. Traditional medicine gave very little improvement. Again
I sought the advice of a Roma herbalist healer. When I told her the
story of my mother, she told me "a real Rromani healer would never just
cut out pharmaceutical medication. Today's partragria would first work
with teas compatible with traditional medication, and then slowly wean
her off, before starting the actual healing." I reminded her that in
fact, I had thrown out the medication, before seeking the help of an
herbal healer.

Herbal medicine is an ancient art among Gypsy/Roma and other people of
ancient cultures. When Roma were still purely nomadic, they enjoyed
great health and longevity. The art of herbal healing in many tribes has
been handed down through the generations to those with talent. In a
world where many suffer from the side effects of powerful synthetic
drugs, this ancient art, practiced within many other ancient cultures
should be brought to the attention of and made more readily available to
those whom 'traditional' medicine failed.