A son’s story

Lina Vdovîi

“We were so poor that sometimes, when it rained, my mother would cover my torn, old sneakers in plastic bags to make sure the water didn’t reach my feet on the way to school,” Iulian, a 28-year-old man, tells me while looking away, at anyone except me.

He’s quite cheerful, with short moments of sarcasm. A strong, assertive young man. We are sitting at a café table in the heart of Bucharest, where Iulian arrived about 10 years ago to study.

“Or, instead of lunch for school, she would give me sunflower seeds and I would eat them in the break,” he adds with a short snigger.

Iulian’s mother left for Spain 12 years ago, when he was 16. They’re from Caracal, a town in the south of Romania and he remembers the poverty they endured with a mix of irony and bitterness. Back in 2002, times were particularly sad and troubled. People were leaving every day to find jobs abroad. Children and spouses stayed behind, trying to learn to live by themselves. Iulian remembers the old, dilapidated bus his mother got on “to reach the great civilisation”.

In the last couple of months, I have met more than 30 young people like Iulian, members of the early generations of “abandoned children”, as they were christened by the Romanian media. Their voices all tremble as they remember eating daily from a can and recall the emptiness of small, matchbox-like apartments.  Students, young professionals, even high-school pupils – they have mixed feelings about their parents’ decision to leave. But when I ask if it had any advantages, they say it was important in helping them mature. Also, it meant money.

“When I went for the first time to the local market by myself, it was like a miracle,” Iulian recalls. A young boy, 16 years old, buying milk, tomatoes, cheese and other groceries -- by himself, for himself, for the first time. All grown up.

Iulian’s father left the family when he was little, so when his mother went away, he was all on his own. The first three years in an empty apartment were tricky. “I was very happy at the beginning, as I thought we’d have a lot of money. A lot. Back then, she used to call me once a month on a landline phone and send me 400 Euros. Crazy!”.

Iulian had to learn to make a budget and pay bills. It didn’t come easily. He was always broke in the last two weeks of the month.

He remembers perfectly the first time his mother came home, after nearly three years away. Their apartment was on the 4th floor, so he went onto the balcony and stayed there all day, waiting for the same old, rusty bus to bring her back. He was 18 years old then, but longing does not age. He is 28 now and a pause followed by tears bursting onto his face tell me more then any words. I am sitting across from him, we have ordered some pizza with prosciutto and rocket, and this man is crying. You would think even a boy wouldn’t be affected so much by missing his mum. “I’m cocky most of the time, but there are a few moments that bring the baby out in me,” Iulian tells me after a couple of minutes.

After graduating from high school in Caracal, Iulian studied world and comparative literature in Bucharest. He now holds has a master’s degree in literary theory and works as a book editor for one of the biggest publishing houses in Romania. His mother has moved from Spain to Italy. But she still sends him money.

Lina Vdovîi is a reporter for the Romanian Center for Investigative Journalism. Her fellowship project focuses on the so-called “abandoned children” of Romania and Moldova who grew up with one or both parents working abroad.

Fellow Bio

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Lina Vdovîi

Lina Vdovii is a member of the Casa Jurnalistului collective of independent journalists in Bucharest who also worked as a contributing editor to Romanian national television’s website.

Topic

Topic 2014: Generations

This year’s annual topic is Generations. Think of a powerful story that you have always wanted to report, and link it to this theme while crafting your proposal. Remember, it is better to have a strong central idea that is loosely linked to the annual theme than to have a weak idea that is strongly linked to the theme.