Posts Tagged London

The year of the Water Snake, Romanians and the floods

On the last day of the Chinese year recently ended, I woke up with such a good vibe. I could almost feel it flow in my veins and everything ran smoothly that day. Then, sometimes during the first day of this Chinese year, which was 1st of February, I realised it. Please let me share with you this revelation extracted from the ancient Far East pot of wisdom.
From 10th of February 2013 to the 31st of January the Water Snake dominated the year Chinese astrology. And I don’t know of you realise this, BUT… apparently, according to information from the news (heard it on the radio), it has been the wettest year in records at least for Hampshire and Dorset. Also, don’t you see how popular the word “flood” has become during this year? Mainly associated with Romanians and Bulgarians, but doesn’t this make us think what if astrology actually works? It’s almost as if the crappy side of the British media and politics, as well as many people buying into it, were hypnotised by the power of the snake and their minds have been beamed with a flow of cosmic energy making them obsessed with “floods, floods, floods, floods”.
Sorry, I’m not trying to hypnotise you myself.

Now, ancient cosmic theories aside, should I feel like a drop in an ocean of Romanians flooding Britain to the brim? I highly doubt it. And I find it quite unlikely that many of the people back in my home country would “invade” the shores of the UK from now on, as there is actually not much reason for them to do so.

(Photo: In London for the first time, March 2011)

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  For starters, I would refer to myself and my family. Apart from my two cousins who live in         Germany since 1991, as their mother was a German ethnic and as such granted the   right to        move there even when Romanians still needed a visa to cross the borders into Western Europe, I am the only one who decided to go abroad. As much as I fought the idea of one day settling in another country, it has finally happened. And to think years ago, when I was studying on a scholarship in Denmark (2000) or when an Au Pair in the US (2003-2004), it never even crossed my mind to stay there. On the contrary, I completely rejected the idea.

It’s not that my brother and sister-in-law wouldn’t even consider moving abroad. It’s just that they really have what they need back in Romania. Ok, we’re not talking of a bright financial situation, jobs paid at a Western European rate, or anything like this. But they do have jobs, they have a family, they have friends and maybe even prospects of working on a small private business. They’ve got debts as well, but manageable.
 I can’t see my brother deciding to go and live thousands of kilometres away from our parents, from the place we grew up in. Not to say that he also stays with our grandmother, helping her at the same time (she’s over 80 now), and helping my parents renovate the house for when they’ll move in when my dad becomes a pensioner, in couple of years from now.

That is one particular case, of course, of me and my family back in Romania. But from my own experience I can say that it’s unlikely that much more Romanians would come to work in the UK. The evidence I have about this might be anecdotal, but it makes sense as well, it’s much more logical than the obsessive political speech of UKIP leaders “they will flood, they will scrounge, they will plunder and pillage” (yes, apparently some people’s speeches haven’t evolved much since the Middle Ages).
First, the British public is mostly uninformed. I guess it wasn’t serving the political agenda to give the whole information and not mislead them. On my surfing through comments over articles I have seen numerous time people who had no idea on the reality of Romanians rights to settle and work in the UK since 2007. When saying I myself am a Romanian working and living here, I was asked how do I do this if it was illegal for me until 2014. People clearly didn’t know and some of them still don’t. Only yesterday I’ve read the same commentator on Huffington Post stating twice that Romanians needed visas in the 2007-2014 period of time.

The reality is that Romanians who wanted to come and work in the UK had a lot more opportunities to do so than the public knows. First, they could be self-employed, and this was not so difficult to do in industries like construction. Yes, it was recommended that they came with some money upon them to buy tools and a van, but sometimes all it took was another fellow countryman who would have these available and would offer somebody else the opportunity to come and work with them. When I first came to the UK, I was hosted by some friends of my partner’s, whom he used to work with in construction back in Bucharest for years.
Then people could come here through different job agencies based in Romania. Many of the ones enrolled at the same college as me for a qualification in Health and Social Care did just that. Paying such an agency was a bit of a rip off, and sometimes they wouldn’t really do much for you. This path implied people having money to pay the agency (around £600), pay for an overpriced plane ticket offered by the same agency (around £200 one way at least), pay to enrol college (£500), have between £600-£1000 to deposit in the bank needed in order to apply for a work permit and then have money on them so they could rent a room while studying and waiting to be able to get a job. That’s quite an investment, isn’t it? I just skipped the agency part, fortunately, going straight to college, and being helped by friends to start with.

So there was also the path I took. Get the information, go join college, study every day for a month, then qualify through a work placement. It was quite easy for somebody who had the guts, had some support and was ready to go and work even in other parts of the country, other than London. Work placement was also essential for studying, that is why when joining college all of us applied for a Yellow Card, which was giving us the right to work as students, full time in the industry as an essential part of the vocational training. And in Health and Social Care it is, one needs work related experience to get the qualification.
When I finished the daily training in London, ready for distance studying now, I went to the students’ welfare person at the college and asked him to help me with work placement. My English was really good, I was a driver, I had a good CV, so I got a job in less than a month and moved to the South, where I still live today. After one year of legally working and paying taxes, I could apply for a Blue Card, which was the proof I was by law entitled to work without restrictions in the UK. I am pretty sure most of the British public don’t have a clue about these laws, as most of the employers didn’t either, unless they sometimes worked with such colleges when in desperate need to fill in some job vacancies nobody seemed keen on.

Now when I got my job here and I moved in the area I was greeted by a Romanian co-worker. He came to the UK with his then girlfriend, now wife, the same way as I did. We all support people with learning disabilities either in a residential setting, or supported living, as employees of a big company working nationally, with a few homes locally open in New Forest. The Romanian who has worked for the longest in these homes has been around for about 5 years. Then there came the couple, then another Romanian lady and me. The last of our nationals came here through an agency and only for temporary work, as he needs to save money to buy a family home back in the country.
The people who have been the longest with the company are all British English. This is for me a good barometer for the fact that they don’t prefer foreign workers over local ones. Also, during the three years I’ve been here there have been more than six British locals employed, more than us, the Romanians who came here over a time span of 7 years.

Knowing all these, it’s so difficult for me to buy into the whole “foreigners steal jobs of British people” thing. The same happens with the other arguments given, that we work for illegal low payment and we live in crammed shared houses. The only ones here (out of the mentioned people) who have quite a bunch of house mates of many different nationalities are me and my partner, and we only do this as we’ve saved for studying further and starting a small business and, after all, we don’t have a family yet.
Also, us the Romanians working for the company have the same hourly payment as all the young British people who were recently hired.

I must say that, not even one year in the field, one of my colleagues went on a maternity leave and at that time, February 2012, it was a nightmare getting somebody else for a job. The manager had to struggle to find somebody, a young local, in the end. For couple of months I’ve done loads of overtime to help cover, but the money came handy as well. Ever since, it has been easier to find locals for the jobs. Only at the end of last year there were many applications for another job vacancy recently open.

The information I have from UKBA, where I had to apply for my work permits, which now are no longer required, and my own experience tell me that indeed there must have been some kind of a cosmic snake playing with people’s minds into making them believe they would be drowned in vast numbers of Romanians.
As I said before on other blogs and discussion boards, a very high percentage of people who wanted to find work in another country already did so. Many of them have moved back to Romania now from Spain and Italy, having saved enough money to buy a house, to start a business, or even live off bank interests on their deposits. Even the ones who never really imagined to do this and used to think of themselves changing our home country (like I did) have ended up in the UK and elsewhere. The ones who stayed either have a situation, family, friends that they don’t want to leave, or don’t have means to do the big leap and get better jobs in Western country.
It’s really difficult to imagine Romanians from deprived regions somehow getting the money to buy plane tickets and live in London or another British city/town until they find a job.  The most poverty stricken of them (I came to hate the phrase because of over-usage in political propaganda) live in the countryside. Still, in their humble homes and worn out clothing, they have a vegetable garden which helps feed themselves and their families, chicken in the yard, a cow in a barn. They have neighbours they can always go over for a shot of rachie or tuica, the national plum brandy, to curse the Romanian government and discuss the hottest topics in the news and in low-quality tv shows. Even the safety of your own poverty in the village you grew up in is better than going to another country where you would be seen as a filthy beggar, thief or benefit scrounger. And with no clear prospects to get a job, who’d want to burrow couple of hundred quid just to fly and risk living on the streets of London, such a big city, where nobody could understand them, nobody would give a rotten penny on them and, on the contrary, they might become subjects to crime and violence?

Now let’s hope that the Water Snake gone, so will the floods. Maybe this Chinese year of the Wooden Horse will bring more action, energy and pro-activeness, that if we believe in cosmic forces beamed over our heads. Astrology or no astrology, it all depends on us, in the end. I am this incurable believer in the capacity humanity has to evolve and control its own destiny in the end.
Wait… wooden horse… are those hordes of foreigners now preparing to take over Britain by ancient means of trickery? Might be, as we’re already here. No need for paranoia though, most of us (over 99%, according to figures offered by the Romanian Ambassador, whom I found to be the most reliable source over 2013) work, pay taxes, contribute, are in the prime of our lives, fit and healthy, skilled and ready to work. Everything which was invested in us back home through education and FREE medical care (I was save numerous times by Romanian doctors, no payment involved, from death by asthma attack or pneumonia or complication due to bronchitis, but since here never once had the flu even) now pays off in British taxes. If anybody is ready to take off their dark glasses of fear they might discover some great people to have a pint with at the local pub or to share some baking, travelling or motoring tips with. 

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Lost in London

An old man, Vasile Belea, got lost on London tube while visiting his son. The poor man had been drifting God knows how and where before he had been found and reunited with his family. You can read all about the news here.
This is one of those stories which, when you read them, make you laugh and feel sorry at the same time. Well, if you’re British or any other nationality, the funny detail would most probably escape you. But for Romanians, the poor old man’s name is the reason. In Romanian, if you emphasize on the first syllable of Belea, it’s a family name, well known one. But if you place the accent on the second syllable, it becomes a completely different word, meaning trouble in a somewhat funny way, the kind of innocent trouble people sometimes get into. I can only but imagine people back in this man’s village or small town talking, when he goes back, a celebrity by now: “Old uncle Belea got himself into belea while in London”. And this sounds really funny.

 

On the other hand though I can’t help but think of how terrified he must have been. Apparently people have been nice to him, but still. By looking at him and the way he is dressed I can tell that he seems to be a countryside man, who maybe lived and worked his whole life as a farmer, tending to the vegetable garden, the poultry and probably a pig in his own backyard. He wears a typical lamb fleece hat and a typical vest called cojoc, which you wouldn’t really see elderly in the city to wear, unless they are just retired there with their family, after a lifelong spent in a village.
Then I wonder how he lived for three days while he was lost and completely cut out from his family. Did he sleep in a park? Did anybody feel sorry for him and gave him some food? How did he feel being lost in such a crazy busy city like London?

 

What worries me is that he tried to approach police and that was unsuccessful. Chatting to one of my house mates last night, he said something like “people don’t care” and reminded me of the movie “The Terminal” saying a true story about a man who lived for about 5 years in an airport, they all knew he was there and nobody really cared, until they’ve decided to grant him political asylum. While it can be understandable that people would think a grown man, fit and healthy, could take care of himself one way or another, I find it concerning that police would just ignore an old person trying to approach them.
Of course we can’t tell how it happened. But think about it: in the end, Vasile Belea took a newspaper with his photo in it and went to show it to the police. This underlines couple of things: the old countryside man from Romania found a way to help himself, in a world completely different from the one he’d known so far. And also, he wasn’t afraid of police and he knew that they would be the ones to finally help him. So I doubt it that the first two times he tried to get their attention he’d been too bashful or hesitating.
When police ignore or fail to help an elderly person, who clearly doesn’t look like a London regular, just because he doesn’t speak the language, I find it concerning. This man could’ve been from any country in the world, doesn’t matter. They couldn’t understand him? Keep him around, get somebody to take him to the police station, show him a map of the country, then Europe/the world and he could’ve said or indicated to Romania. Get him to the Embassy and problem solved. No need for the vulnerable elderly to spend three days and nights on the streets of London, all alone and miserable.

 

Compared to the police failure to help him, some people’s comments on the discussion board of Huffington Post seem mere frivolities. But they aren’t. When frustration has grown to such a level to which they mock a vulnerable person’s traumatizing experience just for being Romanian, it means it’s the same old story of a still immature society. Society as a group still functions for some to take advantage and for others to take their frustrations over others.

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Me happy, dad tired, after six hours of strolling through London

This might be quite a strong statement, but it literally made me sick to read comments like “so when is he going back then?”. Yes, I find these comments oozing with racism. I mentioned it, and I got in reply the very intelligent and refined answer “stupid woman”. Right.
My father visited me here in October. It was his first time in the UK, but he had previously travelled to Austria and the neighbouring countries, former Yugoslavia and Hungary. Although he’s been brought up in a countryside household and he keeps a vegetable garden, poultry and all the rest, he is a priest, with four years of University studies. He’s a big fan of British documentaries on history, he watches old movies (without subtiles) on TCM and he’s a person with a certain degree of cultural information. He can speak basic English, although he is quite bashful when it comes to this. But he could manage if he’d get lost.

 

When he was here, for two weeks I took him all around the area. We’ve visited Hurst Castle, which was lots of fun for both of us, of course as a big history lover he thoroughly enjoyed it. We even faced the very strong winds on the spit with smiles on our faces. We went to Southampton and he could admire the old fortifications there. In Bournemouth we took a stroll on the beach, we’ve visited the old priory church in Christchurch. And we went to Beaulieu National Motor Museum for one day. Then, before him flying back home, I dragged him all around Central London, to all the important landmarks.
During those two weeks, none of the people who served us Chinese, Mexican or pub style food (The Harvester), who sold us tickets or were just around us in any of those place asked us “so, when is he going back?”. It would’ve been quite stupid, really. My father was here so I could spend my money showing him around, so why would they?

 

I want to conclude this article by saying the following: people who can make such comments to such a story show not only a big load of frustration, but also being insensitive and lacking in that human trait that makes us more than animals – empathy. They have probably never thought what if it was their father, lost in a city like Bucharest, all foreign and crazy for them. But I realise it would be difficult to find a place which could put their fathers in the same kind of situation. Fortunately, if an English elderly person would get lost in Bucharest, almost everybody could understand them saying that they are lost and need help and could offer them help. Lucky that English is spoken by so many people in today’s world that people from English speaking countries don’t even need to bother learning any other language.
Well, for an old countryside man from Romania being unable to speak English meant three days on the streets. I bet he never imagined he would get in such a situation. Him being safe and back with his family can even make us smile when reading about his story.  

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