Ferentari: Bits And Pieces

Photos by Dana Nicoleta Blyth
After a while, the lions at the zoo start hunting flies, and the dolphins start jumping high even in the smallest swimming pool. No matter how fast he may live his life, sometimes man ends up being happy with less. Unless you have mean inclinations, a single visit to the bedroom suburb Ferentari in the fifth district is enough. This is where drug addicts come to fill themselves up just like in a gas station: only reckless taxi drivers, special intervention squads and men wearing hoods dare to set foot on Zăbrăuţi, Tunsu Petre or Vadu Nou streets. Criminality and the wilderness born out of unemployment made the neighborhood notorious as a ghetto. The low rents for narrow apartments, sometimes without running water or electricity, bring whole families together in the same room. The blocks on any given street, such as Radu Constantin, make up poems without end all by themselves. They look like real fortresses with four floors, whose inhabitants, despite all poverty, buy themselves iron doors. By some sort of miracle, they also manage to find the money for satellite dishes, internet connections and phones. Piles of garbage rustle ceaselessly between the buildings. And yet, in Ferentari, just like anywhere else in the world, children never seem to get tired of playing. They run and laugh and enjoy every day among the juicy leftovers thrown all over the place. They survive the germs that could bring down a herd of horses. On Sundays, people have barbecues, listen to “manele” songs and strike deals, just as “small” and insignificant as the place itself.  “To the Z buildings, please”The taxi driver will take a long look at you and guess immediately who he’s dealing with. On the way, he’ll give you all sorts of indications and advice, like someone who’s been through the mill. With the help of a friend, I managed to get a Sunday “audience” with a family living in Ferentari: normal people who get up in the morning, go to work or to school, and come back home in the evening, in this huge bedroom-neighborhood which they try to keep at bay with a key. Valentina, a dispatcher at a security company, is 41 years old, and her son, Andrei, has just turned 17 and goes to Technical Energy High. After living here for five years, the rule of the house is: don’t talk too much with the neighbors. Other than that, life follows its natural course. The mother works and the boy studies as much as he can, in a high school where the games we used to know have changed. “When I was young, being beautiful was the most important thing. Now all that matters is to be well-dressed,” says Valentina, who thinks that her child “has a good heart,” but that he also needs a bit of luck. Andrei seems to be a normal teenager. He listens to La Familia and all the trendy DJs, wears a “bling-bling” earring and dreams about visiting Paris. Valentina would be very happy if he went to his father in Spain and found something to do there. She says that money is important: when you don’t have it, making ends meet until the next day seems like a contest. Evening falls and Andrei accompanies me to the tram stop. He counts the subway stations up to Heroes of the Revolution and disappears, his hands in his pockets. “So, where would you like to go to college?” suddenly seems like an inappropriate question. Thanks to a particular circumstance, by no means secret, I’ve recently had the chance to walk around for hours on end with a small fortune in my pocket: large banknotes, carefully ordered and counted, which would have been enough for me to survive for a whole summer without doing anything. And yet, unhappiness circled me like a hungry fox. When you happen to feel like a loser, maybe it doesn’t even have anything to do with money. For me, the people living in Ferentari are nothing but survivors, every single one of them. Gullible bits and pieces of the great feasts to which they claim to have once taken part. Dilema veche, June 5-11, 2008 Translated by Daniela Oancea

by Dana Bălan