- Elisabeta, welcome back!! I walked up to her and spread my arms.
- Maria Maria, madame! And she stood up and an we hugged and took each other's hands and I touched her face and we smiled and laughed, and she asked me: bra? Bra? Which means good. Good madame?
Elisabeta is the Rumanian Romani woman who earns her living outside my grocery store. I first met her about a year ago, bent on her knees on a purple inflatable cushion with her paper cup in front of her. In a little while we knew each other’s names.
I am doing my grocery shopping Monday and Thursday so we get to see each other twice a week. I always buy her some food. Most often a chicken, but sometimes she needs fruit more, or potatoes and some olive oil. For some reason I feel better buying her food then giving money, so that’s been my choice. After many months I realized I’d never asked for her preferences so I did, but it turned out she actually preferred food so we were both happy.
Elisabeta only knows a few words of English and Swedish, and of course I don’t know any Rumanian. Some of the Romanies here know Italian but she doesn’t, so it is hard for us to communicate about more than chicken and fruit. So although we’ve met twice a week for almost a year I don’t know much about her except the obvious. She is here bent on her knees begging for people’s mercy during the cold and dark Umeå winter because that’s her best choice. I know though that she has three children and lives in a trailer while in Umeå. And I’ve met her youngest, an adorable little 3-year old girl.
It’s hard to guess Elisabeta’s age. From the looks I would think we are the same age. Which we can’t be as her children are young. Goran, who works for my home care company and often picks up the groceries with me, is guessing 33. Goran is a Kurdish man from Iraq who has been living in many countries on his way to the final destination Sweden. As he is multiple lingual he was also the one figuring out Elisabetas message back in May when she wanted to tell me something besides chicken and fruit.
I could tell from her eagerness it was something important. Yes, she was heading back to Rumania. And could I spare some money for clothes and food for her children for the trip? Of course I could. She had never asked me for anything before and now she was heading home. I didn’t get to say goodbye though, next time she was gone and I didn’t see her again.
During the summer there have been other Romanies outside my store. But not any regulars. And it was interesting, because I realized I wasn’t ready to connect to anyone new. It was like I needed the breathing space. Which is ridiculous. I needed breathing space?! I feel ashamed. I felt ashamed and I feel ashamed admitting it. But the thing is, connecting and doing the little you can do twice a week is a little bit like an adoption. You commit to someone. There have been Romanies before Elisabeta in my life, and the connection-separation I am experiencing is a process needing it’s time.
But this Monday Elisabeta was back! I didn’t know if I would ever get to see her again, but there she was on her purple cushion! And we were both so happy to meet again. I asked her what I could get for her and her respons was chicken. We smiled. Chicken of course. And it always feels good handing over the warm food in her cold hands.
What I really wanted to ask her though was how she was. How she had been. How was Rumania? What was it like being back home? And how does she feel about returning to the cold and dark Umeå. Oh how I would love to have a real conversation with this woman, always smiling on her cushion how ever bad the winter is.
On Thursday she talked about the trailer. Cold. Gas. Babies. Gas? Money? She needed money for heating the trailer. Of course I wanted to help her out.