After yesterdays post about Yeva, people asked me about my family. How is Noemi related to me? What about Márk or bibi Naděžda? What about other relatives?

So, here is a post aiming at some kind of explanation.

My family, as with all Roma families live as an extended family, though the ways of living as that family can be in a myriad of ways, just as there are many different Roma. Many people don’t understand that geopolitical boundaries (of EU countries for example) mean very little to us Roma and one family can live spread out in many countries and still be considered close.

My own family lives mainly in Slovakia, Latvia, Poland, France, the US, and the UK. Some members adopted surnames common to those countries (for example, before we came to the UK we were Zavačko, in the UK we are Cooper, but in France we are Tonnellier). We weren’t really “Coopers” anymore by the time we got to England though. Mostly we did what people needed and what brought in money. My grandfathers were both classed as “general labourers” and one grandmother mended fishing tackle for the fleets nearby, while another scrubbed floors for an upper class family. However, these surnames were not our ‘real’ names and only related to our profession and served to make us more ‘Westernised”. Our actual names belong to us and are generally not shared, unless for purposes of clarification.

But, wherever we are settled, we take care of each other. Generally, there’s one person always looking out for all the members of the family. We always ask “how are you?” “Why are you looking so anxious today?” We share everything – if someone is having trouble we help without asking. Whether it’s food, money, whatever. Our houses and food always have to be clean. My grandmothers would clean the floor several times a day (vacuuming, sweeping, brushing) and during cooking a we have to cover our hair. The meal should also be prepared only if you are in a good mood, and never from nažužo (‘unclean’) animals. If others are unable to cook or clean, we do it for them.

It seems that a lot of people are really confused about family structure. It is no different than any other family – grandparents, mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. Our two families were always close – preferring to arrange marriages through kerel čeranki (exchange sons-in-law/daughters-in-law – basically to marry off siblings of one family with another). That does not mean (as some would say) that we are ‘inbred’. Our family ties were close, with one or two families, and we married with certain members of those families.

Really our families are just like yours, the only difference is we tend not to make divisions so… complicated.

For example, while I had specific names for my own grandparents (Maami, Paapo, Nanna, etc), every woman and man their age in my family was also called grandmother or grandfather (Baba, Phuro). In the same way, everyone who was the same age as our parents were aunts (bibi) and uncles (kako). Younger members of the family were either phen or phral (sister or brother), regardless of how well we knew them or whether they were first or second (or sometimes even more distant) cousins.

So, Yeva was my phen regardless of our actual Westernised relationship.

Cooper camp in the New Forest 1930s~