Tera Fabiánová was born in 1930 and grew up in a Romani village in Southern Slovakia, one of ten brothers and sisters, in a house made of unbaked bricks that their father had built with his own hands. She went to school for just three years.

Photo C.E. Wyatt http://www.romarising.com/

Photo: Chad Evans Wyatt

“No-one in my family could read and write. I would go and work as a little girl for the Gadjo for a piece of bread and lard. One day they came to tell us to go to school. ‘One from each family must go to school or you’ll be locked up.’ My mother said, ‘You’ll go ‘cos you’re naughty.’ I climbed trees and was a real tomboy. My mum washed my head and feet and I went off to school.

“I sat in the first row, because I wanted to be clever, and near the teacher. I didn’t have a pencil or paper or anything. I sat and waited for the teacher. She came and said, ‘Hey, you, Gypsy kid. Your place is at the back.’ There were three benches where the Romani and poorest children sat. I wasn’t allowed to sit at the front. But I wanted to be clever, wanted to learn.”

Tera later immortalized her memories from school in her autobiographical story “Sar me phiravas andre škola – How I Went to School”.

“The teacher made me suffer. When my little sister Helena was born I was at the birth. I saw the miracle of someone being brought into the world. The midwife told me to bring water and cloths. It was cold and I helped to bring Helena into the world. We didn’t have running water, I had to go to the well, I had to cut wood for the midwife.

The next day I went to school. We had Catechism – I sat down. Because I hadn’t slept all night, I fell asleep. The priest said – hey, you bighead – because I had lots of hair – tell me how Jesus was born. And I said – Father, you’ve never seen it, but I was there when our Helenka was born. He gave me ten slaps with the cane on my bottom and on my hand. And he sent me off to the church to pray”

After the Second World War, which had brought immense hardship to Slovak Roma, the family went to work in what is now the Czech Republic, and Tera met and married her husband Vojta. They were to have four children. Their eldest son, also Vojta, has inherited his mother’s musical talent and is a well-known musician singing both in Czech and Romanes. The family never had it easy. Tera worked with her hands all her life, starting from the age of five, when she would chase crows from the fields. Although she won numerous literary awards, she would laugh when someone described her as a writer.

She published many poems and anthologies and before her death won the distinguished European Roma Literary Award.