print logo

Poverty round-trip

 Hus Forbi (Denmark) 27 September 2019

For six years Catalin Tudorache and Puiu Toader have travelled back and forward between Romania and Denmark. They are Roma and live three-four months at a time in Copenhagen, where they sleep at friends’ or in a park and they do what they can to scrape enough money together for the families in their home country. (1540 Words) - By Simon Ankjaergaard

They are both Roma and come from the same poor village in Romania. Now they are in Copenhagen playing the harmonica to passers-by. Catalin Tudorache is in the viaduct at Noerrebro Station. Puiu Toader is in front of the supermarket at Broenshoej Torv.

As with many other Roma, Catalin and Puiu acknowledge that it is impossible to provide for the family with the pay they can earn in Romania. As a Roma, you are automatically lowest in the social hierarchy, so the choice between an unstable job as a labourer of 30-35 kroner (£3-4) or the lowest social benefit of just under 15 kroner (£1.70) a day, is far from enough to cover expenses of food, clothes, gas and electricity. It is not enough to pay for education, which is crucial, if you as a Roma child need to break the negative social heritage and end up something other than a labourer or a benefit recipient.

Six years ago, Catalin and Puiu decided to leave the neglected houses in the village of Mârgineanu 50 kilometres north-east of Bucharest to try their luck outside Romania. With their last bit of money, they bought a ticket on a bus with destination Copenhagen. Since then, they have travelled back and forwards between Copenhagen and Bucharest. Three-four months in Denmark. One month in Romania. And they are not the only ones. The bus is filled with poor Roma people. Some have scraped enough money together for the ticket. Others have put themselves in debt to local loan sharks with orders to not show up in Romania again until they have earned enough money to clear their debt.

Illegal work pays

For six years, we have lived this way, but it hasn't become any easier. Every day is still a struggle, says 30-year-old Catalin, who has left a wife and a three-year-old son behind in Romania.

He has placed his harmonica on his lap and lit a cigarette. In the dim lights underneath Noerrebro Station, people pass him by in an even stream. He blows out the smoke and smiles to as many as he can. Customer service. Maybe they will drop a coin or two in the unfolded jacket on the ground next time they walk past. Today, he has earned 55 kroner (£6.20). Further out Frederikssundvej, where 43-year-old Puiu lets the tunes of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" meet the supermarket's customers, the income of the day is 30 kroner (£3.40).

It comes down to both the weather and the season, says Puiu. When it rains, we earn next to nothing. Then people are busy trying to escape the rain. Playing the harmonica is the two friends' main occupation, but happiness is when a trade boss offer them work.

They pay us illegally, so I can't say, who they are. That means I won't get a job with them again, says Puiu, who needs to scrape money together for his wife and three sons. Sometimes it is other Romanians, who recommend us. Other times, the trade bosses meet us in the street and ask us, if we would like to help them. It may be either Danish or foreigners.

All of a sudden, he pauses in his story and waves enthusiastically to a man in jogging clothes on the other side of the street. That's the Arab, he says with a big smile.

He is my friend. He has hired both Catalin and me several times. We have among other things built a wall for him. Sometimes he pays us a lot, because he knows our money goes to our family. It was him, who gave me this. For free. Puiu pads the harmonica. The Arab zig-zags across the street and shakes his hand heartily. Puiu wants to know about the work prospects. The Arab gazes thoughtfully and looks like one, who cannot promise too much. In the end, he shrugs his shoulders.

Maybe, he says. I've got your mobile number, Puiu. I'll call. He is my friend, Puiu repeats and follows him with eyes as the Arab jogs back over the heavily trafficked Frederikssundsvej. He is one of the reasons, we get the bus to Copenhagen.

Apart from working as bricklayers, Catalin and Puiu have also put up plaster ceilings and cleaned. The pay is always in cash. The two Roma do not have bank accounts and the trade bosses are not willing to inform the tax authorities. The pay varies from a few hundred kroner to a few thousands depending on the amount of work. They know perfectly well that they only get picked, because they are cheap labour, but even an amount far below the Danish minimum wage can work wonders for the families in Mârgineanu.

Puiu packs down the harmonica, lights a cigarette and swallows a pill for stomach ulcers. He rattles with the small dirty pill can. It costs me 500 kroner (£56.20) a month. And I must take six pills a day. The ulcer is worse than my kidney stones, he says and starts walking towards the place, where Catalin is. It is a distance of two and a half kilometres, which he covers walking. A bus ticket is too expensive.

No money for his wife

Catalin welcomes Puiu with a knowing smile. He knows the routine. It takes time to find out where they are going to sleep. Last night, they slept at a Romanian friend's, but he has not got any space tonight. In total, there are 50 men from the village back home staying in Copenhagen, so they begin phoning. Often the answer is negative - as today. Others have got in before the two friends.

Puiu and Catalin stick together - and they tend to stay for themselves as much as they can. They do not want to go to the big groups of Roma people accommodating themselves in camps or in empty factories. They fear to end up in a mass arrest like the one in July, when the police cleared a camp and a factory. 23 Roma people ended up being deported.

Instead they travel towards Amager - on the subway, but without a ticket. They ascend from the subway depths and walk into a small park. This is where they sleep, when there is no luck to find accommodation with the country men. They have chosen a small shrubbery, which is hidden away from the graffiti painted park benches and the pot holed paths. With the heads resting on their small black sports bags, they speak quietly with each other until the vibration of Catalin's phone interrupts. It is his wife on the phone. She needs money now. Catalin lets her down. He has only got 400 kroner (£45), so it will take a long time before he can return home. If possible, Puiu has an even longer way to go before returning home. He pulls out 80 kroner (£9) from his pocket. That is all, he has got.

We can't dare to go home, until we've got a minimum of 2000 kroner (£225) in cash for the family, Catalin says with a sigh. During a good month, we can earn up to 2500 kroner (£280), but of those we need 1000 kroner (£110) for food and cigarettes. And we need to take into consideration that the ticket for the bus back costs 1000 kroner.

Therefore it often takes three or four months until they have got enough to return home to their families. Following that, it takes a month to earn money for a new bus trip to Copenhagen. First, they try to get work as labourers, but often the jobs have been taken by cheap labour from countries even further east.

The final solution is the loan sharks. And with them, the debt spiral starts. I have several times had to loan money for the bus ticket. That debt must be paid and that it why I must earn even more money when I am in Denmark. And then it takes even longer before I can see my son and wife again, Catalin says.

He feels, he is neglecting his family with all the absence, but Puiu disagrees. It may be that the heart belongs in Mârgineanu, but it is reason, which has brought them to Denmark. What else should we do? We can't earn enough in Romania to provide for our families and pay our children's education. That is not neglect. That is a necessity.

He smacks his right hand's index finger into his left palm to emphasize the argument. Even if he alone could choose, he would without any doubt stay in Romania, but that is impossibility as long as the poverty is as massive as it is. As long as it doesn't get any better, we will travel to richer countries to make money. Simple as that.


Originally published by Hus Forbis, Denmark. ©


SNS logo
  • Website Design