He noticed a hand-carved violin on the kitchen table

Eva Ridajová Nové StrasecíAugust 2000
This is the fourth year of my distance studies at the Secondary Social and Legal School in Prague. In the third year I met a Romany assistant – whose name I will keep to myself.
We met in the university residence hall where we stay every three weeks. He was there with some friends; they had some kind of training session.
One day we were sitting in the kitchen, telling stories. I will tell you the most interesting one, and I will call the Romany assistant Mr. David. He is one of the cosmopolitan Roma. They also have their own laws and traditions, which they have preserved so far.
Mr. David lived his own life in his city. He worked as a crane operator in a surface pit. His family had never had any serious problems with their community. One day he received an invitation to a basic course for teaching assistants. He did’t know who had registered him: he hadn’t himself. But he was curious, so he accepted the invitation – and completed the course with honors.
So he had to become an intern in the district office. He was assigned to be a consultant working as a youth social worker.
One day he had to visit a Romany family. It was nine in the morning when he knocked on their door.
Nobody answered.
He kept knocking and ringing the bell.
Finally a four-year-old girl came to the door.
"Are your mom and dad at home?” he asked.
“Yeah,” the girl answered, and let him in.
He entered the flat and found that it was in complete disorder. The child’s hair was not combed, and she was almost naked. The parents were still in the bedroom, sleeping.
He knocked on the bedroom door.
A young man came out. “What are you doing in here?” he started yelling.
“Come on, simmer down. I’m from the soc-office, and I’m here for a visit,” answered the intern.
Then he started speaking in Romany, and the guy did calm down.
Mr. David asked him what his job was.
“I’m on the dole. I’d like to work, but who’d give a job to a black these days?”
As they were talking, Mr. David noticed a hand-carved violin on the kitchen table. “Who made it?” he asked. “I did. I don’t have anything else to do, so I’m making a fiddle,” answered the young man. Mr. David had met such skilful people several times before on his visits to Romany homes.
Once it was a man who made beautiful baskets and other wicker things.
Another time it was a Romany woman crocheting lace curtains and lace covers.
Still another Romany man carved excellent wooden statuettes.
Another painted wonderful pictures.
So Mr. David had an idea.
He drafted a proposal for a Romany center.
Besides activities for children, the center hosts an exhibition of Romany handiwork; people can buy the exhibits. Mr. David told me: “Believe me, or not, the center has been open for a year and some skillful people have found a reason for their existence. And they’ve found a way to earn their living.
The things they make are later sold. The Roma have awakened an interest in traditional Romany handicrafts: they are much sought after now in our region, especially by foreigners; they know to value handiwork.
The Roma who used to have their feet up now go in for hobbies, and they feel good that their work is appreciated. Their self-confidence has been buoyed up. I’m so happy. And very grateful to the person who registered me for the course. I still don’t know who it was. But this was probably my fate.
There was time when I didn’t know much about the Roma. I lived in my own way. But today I’m glad that I can work as an assistant. I can gain insight into other Romany souls.
Take my word for it: I enjoy my work!”

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