gypsies, roma, kosovo

The Cradle and the Sea

Hatmon, Hisen and their oldest child, Kenan

At the outskirts of Florence, the streets knot together in a complicated fashion, and a stream of asphalt goes down to Il Poderaccio. This is a camp, under gigantic pylons, a jumble of campers, plywood and sheet metal. A very sad dog lies in the pools of water. Hisen and Hatmon are out, we are told that they have gone to the Masini camp. Three hundred metres away on foot, yet another pylon and at its feet,mud, campers without wheels or windows, and yet more sheet metal and plywood.  

Hatmon recognizes and comes towards us. She is tall and pretty, and a new life is very clearly in her belly. With her long skirt, embarrassed and frightened, she begs for alms at a traffic light in Florence, looked down upon both by the good Italians and by the other "Gypsies" who have been begging all their lives - she had never done anything like this before, and had no idea how to go about it. It was here that she met Lisa.  

Hatmon has three children already, but she does not take them begging. She has no intention of taking advantage of her children, and she has even managed to send them to school.  

Hatmon was born in Kosovo. She is a Gurbetija, a branch of the Roma that some claim stems directly from an Indian caste. She is married to Hisen, a Rom from a Kosovo family, who however used to live in  Sarajevo, where they had a stall in the market for selling clothes and a little house. Hisen has a strong, handsome face, he could look like an Italian were it not for that special touch of sadness which marks those who have lived too long in a camp.   

The war came: they used to eat bread and at times grass, and once a day they managed to get a glass of milk. A bomb fell, killing Hisen's father, and Hatmon lost a child in her womb from the shock. Hisen was wounded and sent to Italy to be cured. While he was away, his brother, a street sweeper, gathered corpses in the streets of Sarajevo and Hatmon's mother-in-law started to beat her, forcing to flee to Kosovo. 

Hatmon shows us a picture of a child. It is her younger brother. Where is he? In Belgrade. And why? A comando of Albanians had attacked a train in Kosovo with hand grenades. One of the passengers on the train was Hatmon's brother. He was on his way to school, and lost his leg. Today, he is in an institution for war victims in Belgrade.  

Slowly and patiently, a black vulture always flies over the Roma. The vulture found her in Prishtina. From the sky, Clinton's bombs, from the earth, the KLA. Hisen went to pick up his wife in Kosovo, with two years of money gathered begging. Just before they left, she became pregnant again. On the boat, they took a Kosovar cradle for their child. Now, Hatmon is going to give birth to her fourth child. Who came to Italy hidden in the deepest part of his mother's body, where not even the Montenegro criminals could make him pay his passage. Senad grew inside his mother as she stood begging in winter.  

Hisen and Hatmon went to the Bosnian consulate to renew their passports. Now they have to pay over 350 dollars for them, just as Hatmon is about to have a child.  

Now Senad has come into the world. Lisa is his godmother.  

Lisa and her godchild, Senad

Hisen has been relatively lucky. Out of so many people in the camp, he has found a job as bricklayer, and he does have papers. His children are healthy, and for four months his wife - while she gives milk to Senad - cannot be driven out of her home. Only the future will tell... 


Hatmon, Senad in the cradle, and Lisa

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