It’s not unusual to find yourself telling people close to you how difficult life can be. So difficult that you haven’t been able to buy a new car. So difficult that you haven’t been able to take a foreign holiday this year. So difficult that you haven’t been able to afford to replace your old fridge or cooker or washing machine. And especially how difficult it was when you had to go into hospital for a while….
It’s true, life can be difficult. But has it ever occurred to you that there might be someone living near you for whom life is even more difficult? Someone for whom your particular set of difficulties might represent undreamed-of luxury?
Romania has many such people struggling to survive in seriously difficult circumstances. Let’s meet the Gal family of Beius. Ghita Gal, the father of the family, is a motor mechanic who’s never been able to afford a car of his own. He and his family have never even dreamed of going away on holiday. In fact for much of the time family illnesses have meant Ghita’s had to shuttle between home and hospital to visit his sick son, Teodor Daniel, or his wife Mariana, as she underwent a series of complex and expensive operations for cancer. And then, at the age of just 35, Ghita himself suffered a stroke and remained paralysed for 3 months.
Even today the family continue to suffer from the ill-effects of living in an old, damp, draughty home. Their house consists of a hallway and just one room. This one room has to serve as bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom. It has flimsy walls made of mud brick and an earthen floor. In winter the wood burning stove struggles to warm the room above the outdoor temperature of -20C. Ghita’s pension is not sufficient to buy wood for the stove, so he does odd jobs for people in order to cover this essential expense. Mariana’s job barely pays for the food the family needs. And winter and summer alike, Mariana has to wash their clothes outside at the water pump, which even today is not connected to the sewer.
‘I’m surprised at how they have survived,’ says a neighbour who sometimes visits them, bringing food and clothing for the children.
At the moment, Luminita Gal, Ghita’s daughter, is still living at home with her baby son. Her husband, Florin, comes from an even poorer family than the Gals. Initially he moved in with Luminita but when their son was born the house became impossibly overcrowded so Florin is once more living with his parents. Florin and Luminita long for a simple, decent home of their own where they can bring their son Gabi up together. Meanwhile Florin calls in to see his wife and son as often as he can …