Ok, so it wasn’t exactly an encounter, more of a witnessed interaction between typical citizens and a group of Roma men…
Yesterday, my room-mate (or should I say flat-mate, in proper European vernacular?) and I were off on a trek to the outskirts of the City to where a very large Vietnamese market was located. I had hoped to track down a pair of cheap sunglasses, eat some good food, and explore the vast bustling market stalls ensconsed in non-descript warehouses. It was quite the experience, and well worth the annoying travel time.
We had to hop the tram just outside our apartment and ride it to the Metro station. From the Red-Line we rode South, out of the city, and into a more rural location. As we climbed the vertigo enducing elevator to the surface, I was struck by the feeling of what I had always thought of as “Communist Eastern-Europe”; tall grass behind barb-wire fences, slightly battered concrete infrastructure and a very strange statue in the middle of a fountain.
The statue was of an egg divided in two, with water gently spouting from the center. The structure must have been solid white at one time but now took on a moldy green tint, inducing the imagery of a rotten yolk. I was about to take a picture when my roomate yelled to me and I had to sprint to catch the bus to our desired location.
After a nice, and fairly exhausting, afternoon we were back on the bus headed for the Metro station near the end of the Red-Line. I was unpacking my camera as we stepped off the bus about to snap a few quick shots of the fountain, when I heard my flat-mate’s voice and looked up at her.
“You said you wanted to see Roma in society, well…” she said tilting her head toward the fountain.
I looked over and saw a group of 8 men sitting on the edge of the fountain. They wore old, but certainly not tattered, modern clothes and other than their darker complection I would not have been able to decipher them from the average Czech citizen.
I was about to question my roomate’s assessment of the men as Roma (despite her year and a half of living in and around Prague) when I began observing passerby reactions to the group of men.
The expressions on the faces of the people whisking in and out of the Metro suddenly explained the entire story of Roma suppression.
Some people stared, eyes narrow like flint expressing their disgust for the men, others averted their gaze shuffling quickly past to avoid any form of interaction. The men simply didn’t notice or at least paid the people no mind, continuing on with their conversation.
I was still holding my camera about to snap a photo of the group of men and the fountain when I thought of what I was doing. What would that make me? An American visitor on some sort of “Gypsy Safari”? I put away my camera, gave the group a final glance and disappeared below ground into the metro station.
The entire, minor occurence had affected me more than I thought it would. Something about the separation of groups of people in such a public setting still does not sit right with me. But there is more to that feeling which has etched the image of the men and the fountain in my memory. It is the fact that the Roma men were so used to receiving such judgement and scorn that they have become numb to it. This part of the cycle of discrimination was something that I had simply not considered until that encounter.
Posted By Colby Pacheco
Posted Jul 7th, 2008