- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

BRATEIU, Romania — For centuries, the Gypsies of Transylvania have crisscrossed the mountains and plains of that region in their horse-drawn carriages, selling what they could make or trade: pans handmade from tin, delicately woven wicker baskets, carpets and clothes bartered from around the Balkans.

By night, they would relax from a hard day on the road by singing and dancing around the campfire.

But such scenes have almost disappeared.

Romania’s communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was one of a long line who tried to engineer the Gypsies out of existence by making them settle down and work in heavy industry to make Romania powerful.

After his fall, the factories closed, and poverty and discontent mingled to make the Gypsies — as always — the scapegoats for the country’s woes.

Several were killed, houses were torched, and dozens of families driven out.

Now, only a handful of families mount their wagons at the approach of spring to head for fresh fields hundreds of miles away.

Gheorghe Adir, 33, leads his band of 13 Gypsies — or Roma, as some prefer to be called — around Transylvania, selling plastic buckets, wash tubs and cheap socks made in China.

Some of the old traditions survive and all the group speak the Gypsy language, Romani.

The women wear traditional head scarves, and some of the men have long, carefully groomed beards, but wide skirts and embroidered waistcoats have given way to jogging suits and print skirts.

They sleep in the open under the same plastic sheeting that covers the back of their wagons — but they sleep only lightly, in case horse thieves are lurking.

They cook on the campfire, making thick stews from the cheapest cuts of meat simmered for hours in deep, black cauldrons.

Although not all the members of a given group are interrelated, they share what they have. The women share the care of the children, breast-feeding others as well as their own.

Often, they have to move at a minute’s notice, chased by an angry landowner.

But for Mr. Adir and his band, a life on the road will always beat living on welfare in a shabby apartment block.

“At least on the road, we are free,” he said.

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