This will be a little different post, I suppose. I’ve noticed myself reacting more to discourse including Romani stereotypes. In part, I know it’s to do with the fact that I feel as though I’ve fallen into a crevasse between traditional and non-traditional, between stereotypes, between Romani and non-Romani. I find it extremely hurtful when people reduce me to a trope. Yes, my grandmother sometimes told fortunes (because non-Romani begged her to do so). But, for my family she was a drabarnji .. a healer, a fortuneteller, a wise woman. She used playing cards, tea leaves, or palms. She was good at it, but only because she could read people like birds can read the stars.
When I was small, I often begged her to read my cards. Please, Maami, just one time. She always refused, telling me it was mostly nonsense… until I was twelve years old.
Then she sat me down, adjusted her dikhlo, and cleared her throat. She told me she’d done my reading time and again and the same card always came up…
The nine of spades.
She told me it was considered a bibaxtalo card, a kalo card and the worst card of all. It represented illness, misery, and lack of success. She said that I was a crow’s daughter and I’d never rest. She often called me želeni (spades) after that. I didn’t understand what she meant. I still don’t, even though I lost my entire family and suffer from a painful chronic illness that has shackled me far short of where I’d hoped to go…
Maami Babka also created herbal tinctures for us. She’d tell us what to get – dock, sorrel, nettles, rose hips, elderberries, birch sap, ash ‘wings’, primrose, burdock, or ramson … and she’d make us up a batch of cure-all – whether for colds, burns, bruises, heartache, depression… whatever the case may be. Everyone in our extended family came to her. We never went to a non-Romani doctor unless absolutely necessary.
When I read articles about fraudulent “Gypsy” fortunetellers, I always think about my grandmother. The services she performed for non-Romani are usually reduced to nothing more than “fraud”. No, she didn’t steal thousands – but the basic principles apply. I guess she was lucky – she always provided the information, the answers, they were looking for, so no one called her out as a fake. We were dirty, thieving, whores until someone wanted a magical answer to a problem they had created all on their own.
I don’t know. Was she a fake? When I was a child I believed in the power of Romani women. I believed that my mother knew what I was thinking; I believed she could tell if I strayed from romanija. I believed that my grandmother could literally see into my soul and foretell things that would happen to me. I believed my aunt saw mule and kept us all safe from the dujevodjengere and planjipen. I believed them all…
But, now I’m a woman and I have no special powers. Maybe I did lose more than I thought when I walked away from my family – or maybe those things just never existed at all.
one for sorrow
two for joy…
there are certain things that bother me when people talk about stereotypes and Romani. One of them is the assertion that stereotypes exist for a reason. Perhaps this is true, but it reduces my grandmother to nothing more than proof; a person who is not a person in her own right, but who embodies nothing but an outsider’s image of who she should be. I usually insist that my family were the very opposite of stereotypical, that no one ever performed any kind of soothsaying. But they did. Usually for money.
My father too – he drank too much, was violent, smoked, played the guitar and sang. He was a walking Rom stereotype, but he was also many other things. My family was poor. Illiterate. Dysfunctional by non-Romani standards. But, they were also storytellers, artists, musicians. Even if none of them ever became anything in the non-Romani world.
In our world, they were everything.
I’m clumsy, inarticulate, subdued. Yet, I’ve had people tell me that, just like a good Gypsy, I’m passionate, fiery, mysterious. Whether or not I inherited the lole jaga in my blood, I do have strong feelings about a great many things. I am not suave and sophisticated like the many educated Romani women and men I know. I am not intelligent and witty like the many Romani authors I know. I am not articulate and well-read like the many Romani women and men activists I know.
I am just a Gypsy.
Just a … what? What does that even mean?
I miss my fajta. I miss my familija. I miss the feeling that those strong, crazy women knew every beat of my heart. I miss their anger, their happiness. I miss foraging and singing. I miss my existence as a stereotype.
I think I understand completely what my Maami meant when she said I’m the daughter of a crow…
čhajora goreder ani čavka – daughters are no better than crows.