It took three months to Maria to send her child to the kindergarten. We are in quarantine! – the teacher kept leaving the issue over. “It happens when people think you are a trash! Well, if they do not want to accept him, I will not kneel at their feet. I will buy a thin notebook and teach him at least to write, read and count to 10. If they think my boy is the most miserable in the village…”.
A skinny freckle-faced woman, with a scar in the corner of the eye, sits on her haunches in front of the house. She digs a small hole in the ground with a branch. She is angry. She has been to the kindergarten again to ask when to bring Grigoras. All in vain. The same answer – We are in quarantine! She looks at her boy and thinks rubbing her lips:
– A friend told me that yesterday, when she took her daughter to the kindergarten, the director had already accepted someone else. So, they are not in quarantine when it comes to another child.. What the hell?! They probably fear I will not pay them as much as necessary… Or… may be because I am poor?! I see how they look at me.
She wears a pair of pants worn out between the thighs and a black pullover with worn out elbows. She breaks the little nut branch into two pieces and starts cleaning underneath her fingernails. Her name is Maria and she is 26. She lives in a village in Hancesti district, together with her grandmother and her son.
While the confused mother is thinking, Grigoras, also called by his family members as Gosa, is chasing his cat through the courtyard. This is his favourite and basic activity. He catches the cat feeling happy, takes it by the fur with his both hands and lifts it up. Desperate, the cat is trying to fight its way free from its little torturer. It curls up and manages to scratch the boy’s face with its claws. Scars appear on his face with tiny spots of bleeding. The child puts the cat down and turning to Maria, starts roaring. The woman watches the scene somehow indifferently. Yet, she cannot keep from swearing at him with love:
– Come to you mom, my dear! Let me kiss you! Why don’t you leave the cat alone? How long will you torture it like Christ was?
She hugs her little love, while slapping him. Then she picks him up in her arms. Gosa has black eyes and dimples in his cheeks, which he got from his mother. He wears clean clothes that are faded and patched in several places. He doesn’t speak too much, because he has nobody to talk to.
– Mother, I want some water!
– Go and take it, you can get it by yourself – his mother advises him.
– Give me one too, – the great grandmother interferes.
On his way to the bucket of water, the child sees the tabby cat and stops. He would like to take it by the fur again, but Maria’s voice spoils his despotic plans:
– I already gave you the rod yesterday. Want one more? He is naughty. He is just like his dad”, – the woman explains.
Maria’s problems with the kindergarten started this spring. She thought about that even earlier, because this was a chance for her to find a job, but since she was too shy, she waited for Gosa to reach the age of three.
– I asked them if I could take my boy to the kindergarten. I told them he was already three years old and he was eating by himself. The answer was the same – we are in quarantine! Two weeks later, I went again. They were still in quarantine. The same story repeated many times. Those from the social care service wanted to help, but I told them I can handle it by myself. At the kindergarten, he could eat, play with the children, but in this situation, I keep him in the courtyard all day long or take him with me in the field. Sometimes, he stays home with our great granny or I leave him with a neighbor, who wants me to pay her for that…
A BELLY FULL OF WATER
It’s the end of March. One morning, Maria was gone to a neighbour for half-day work. Inside the house, Gosa lies in bed hugging his cat. His great grandmother is lying on the heated clay bed by the stove staring at the gippy ceiling and mumbling a prayer.
– Where is mom? –whines the little boy.
– She will come soon Gosa, – screams great grandma from behind the clay stove.
– Mother left. She doesn’t want to be here anymore. Last night, she got angry with me and did not let me take the cat in bed, – complains the child.
He brushes the khaki stripes of the cat’s fur. Then he throws it away from bed. The cat lands in the middle of the room, whirls and runs out the door. Gosa calmly removes the mucus from the nose with his fingers and wipes his hands on the pajama. Then he gets up and starts searching for his clothes. He puts his tights on his pants, gets into a short sleeve pullover, puts the cap on the top of his head and goes to the bucket of water on the table.
– Give me one too.
He gives one cup to the old woman. He drinks a big cup of water too. Because of too much water, his belly makes its way out of his pants hanging like a ball of dough that wants to run away from the bowl. Feeling „full”, he goes out into the yard. Since he has learned to walk, he only went to the center of the village, to accompany his mother to the shop to buy some bread. In other cases, he would just stroll a thousand times through the courtyard, where he would play all day long with his two faithful friends: the 90-year-old great grandma Olea and the abused cat, who are both just a bag of bones. This is how Gosa’s kindergarten from his own courtyard looks like.
There are neither teachers in his kindergarten, nor toys, nor books, nor notebooks. Watercolours? – Nothing of the kind! The curriculum here is totally different from the one village children have. He looks bored around while scratching his neck. He makes a decision: he hangs with his hands from the rusted bent wheel of a bicycle, chained up with a thin cord hanging from the apricot tree in the middle of the courtyard.
Gosa’s kindergarten is large and many toys have room in it, but he can afford only two toys or so, which look like after war: cars without wheels, dolls without legs, strapless backpacks, books without pages, a see-saw having no chair.
He plays at seesaw and, looking for something else to do, starts going around the house. His great grandmother shows up at the door. She is wearing patched wool socks and has two scarves on her head: one is green and the other one is red. She put on a red cardigan with oil stains on it over a flowered dressing gown. She sits under the apricot tree, hugging her knees, and looks at the road. She is waiting for lunch time.
Gosa notices her and approaches. Nobody eats anything till noon. They can seldom have something to eat for breakfast – only in case there are some food remains left from last dinner. Hunger is playing drums in their bellies. Gosa goes to the small piece of land in front of the house, where onions are planted. He pulls out a bunch of green onions and stuffs his mouth with it.
– Give me two or so too! – the old woman screams.
Two joyful gurks with onion flavour are heard in the courtyard. The old woman wipes her shriveled mouth and starts recollecting youth memories:
– Gosh, I used to be beautiful. Now you can pinch a loaf on me. I had a tall son with cloudy eyes, but he died. I would buy some domestic birds to have in the courtyard, but my retirement payment can hardly cover food and medicine expenses.
Suddenly she jumps from her memories to prayers.
– Cross in house, cross on table, cross in four corners of the house, cross in sky, cross on earth, cross on the bed I am sleeping in.
The clatter of a cart interrupts her mumble. A horse snuffles from behind the gate. In the courtyard appears a tiny woman from a charity organization that is providing warm meals to poor elderly. She greets the old woman coming straight into her hovel. The tiny woman finds a plate, fills it with potato soup and leaves two slices of bread. Meanwhile, Maria is back from the village.
The great granny and her nephew run into the house like two grasshoppers. The old woman grabs the spoon taking it in her mouth several times, while the little boy is watching. Suddenly she stops and gives the tool to the little. Without much ado, Gosa makes a few movements taking the spoon from the plate to the mouth and back and that’s it. The soup is gone. Maria is watching him happily.
The young woman’s life is full of poverty, humiliation and hard work. She moved to her grandmother’s hovel when Gosa was one year old. Before that, she lived either in a mother-care centre, or at a friend’s house, or at an uncle’s house. Then, when her mother died after having been beaten by a leman whom the woman didn’t share the alcoholic drinks with, she moved to her grandmother.
– I was working in the field when some villagers called and told me my mom was dead. She died at the age of 57. I am sorry for her, because she was my mother, but she didn’t really take care of us. She used to drink a lot. I would work from place to place to buy food. I had to feed my brother too.
Maria studied only two years at school, because of her mother, who would take her to all her partners. When the young woman is asked if she can read, she blushes and smiles feeling nostalgic, as if hiding an important secret.
– How can I not? I remember the letters. I have a notebook where I am writing phone numbers and names. When I was a child, I enjoyed sewing. I should have studied and become a tailor, but I do not have a ninth grade diploma. I didn’t even have an ID until Gosa was born.
She is thin and tall. Her hair is like wires and she wears it in a ponytail. A few scars can be noticed among the freckles on her face. Her dark blue sky eyes are hidden under the brushy lashes and the thread thin eyebrows. She wears a necklace made of blue plastic beads.
Gosa’s father was from the neighbouring village. She met him at a friend’s house and her heart melted.
– He had a car. He got his head out through the vehicle window looking at me. I liked him from the very beginning. We dated eight months and then I got pregnant. When he came back from Moscow, I was six month pregnant. He told me if the child does not appear in February, then it is not his child. On February 7, Gosa was born. Anyway, he said the baby was not his. His mother visited me in the hospital. I didn’t need her to come, I did not have a baby with her.
Since he moved to her grandmother, Maria is single. She has only two girlfriends – one in the village and the other one in town. As for the rest, she has nobody to talk to and complain.
– I feel people are avoiding me and think I am light-minded, because Gosa’s father doesn’t live with us. However, when they need me to work, they loosen their tongue. I am not mad at them.
As soon as Gosa and great granny Olea finish their high feeding, Maria starts washing the dishes. The old woman is searching for work around the house while Gosa is looking through the laths – it’s the time when children are back from school. Because of the devilment, sparrows on the fence fly away. A few white ribbons and Spiderman backpacks pass by. They look at each other curiously. The boy keeps looking at them until their figures disappear at the end of the road. These are the fewest moments when Gosa contacts with the children from the village. His face rumpled because of the fence, the boy turns and starts sniveling:
– Mooooommmm, I want to go to the kindergarten!
– I know you want it, sweetie, but what can I do?! You see they do not want to accept us, because we are wretches. Frigging quarantine!
Maria says that sometimes she does some lessons with him. She teaches him poetry, “but nothing gets into his noodle”.
– Gosa, recite a poem!– she solemnly orders.
The child understands what his mother asks him to do. His hands behind his back, he blushes. He starts drawing a semicircle with his tiptoes on the dust in the courtyard. He keeps silent. Maria picks him up in her arms. Gosa takes her head in his hands and kisses her nose bedewed with sweat. It’s already afternoon and Maria hasn’t eaten anything yet.
In their family, the only stable income is granny’s pension. This money is spent for light, bread and hygienic products. The other expenses are covered by Maria who’s working in the villager’s houses or fields. For instance, these days, she helped a villager to train the vine. In exchange, he gave me a jar of stewed fruit and one of jam.
– What can I say? I accept as much as they pay me, I don’t like arguing with them. I am afraid to ask them for money. What if next time they will not call me anymore?! Good or bad, it is still a job… Others are even better: they give me grease, canned tomatoes, bread, whatever they have. I don’t live like in paradise, but I hate begging. I used to work from the place to place since I was a child, so I am used to doing hard work. I slept many times outside. So many times did I run away from mother’s lovers, who were beating me. So many times did I protect my mom from their punches… I used to chase them away with a pickax.
She fetches a long sigh, then looks stupefied at the wooden gate resting on one side. She must take of everyone herself: the child, the grandmother, and her brother arriving in two weeks together with his wife and his two daughters, whom she will have to share the hovel with in summer. She is not very enthusiastic about the fact she will have to take care of four more people.
– My brother lives in his wife’s house, in Chisinau. In winter, they stay at some of their friends’ house, because here it is impossible. Then, in summer they move. I don’t really like this thing, because when he drinks alcohol, he raises the roof and makes a mess and it’s me who must clean it. I have no idea what to do. I am sick and tired of all this craziness…
She wants to find a job, get “at least the lowest salary” and have some money to buy everything Gosa needs. These days, she asked the woman from the social care to add her to the financial aid checklist, but to do so, Maria needs to “crawl to town, to get to the employment office”.
– I didn’t have money for a ride. I spent all of it for medicines when the boy caught a cold. I can wait for a while, there might be someone to offer me a job. I would accept to work as a housecleaner in the district, but whom I would leave him (Gosa) with? Even if he is at the kindergarten, I will not be able to take him home evenings. Five p.m. is too early. Someone proposed me to go to Moscow, but what if they force me to stay in the street and…, I mean what if they sell me. Noooo, I don’t want that, I told them.
Gosa is already behind the house. He teases his great granny with questions. The old woman, hidden in a plant field, doesn’t even show her face. Her small tired aging eyes can hardly be noticed from under the eyebrows stuck to the face skin with yellow eye discharge. She pulls out with her knobbly hands the strong bell flowers that have grown in crowds around the house.
– Great granny, what’s this? – Gosa starts teasing her.
– No idea, dear.. – the old woman answers without looking at him.
– Granny, and what’s this? – the child insists.
– What’s..? – the old woman also asks.
– So, what’s this, granny? –Gosa doesn’t give up.
– Go away, you rascal, don’t drive me crazy, – the woman explodes at last.
The child screams a few times and runs to the courtyard. But he cannot forget his great grandmother’s actions, which he always revenges on – he takes his granny’s walking sticks, beats the ragged carpets on the line, scratches the cat’s back, then throws them away.
Evenings, there are more passers-by on Maria’s alley. Happy to see more people on the road, Gosa takes his toys and sits on the small hill of sand near the gate until the moon gives a wink to him. Maria also comes to cut the couch grass from under the fence.
As soon as the night comes to everyone’s door, Gosa’s kindergarten is closing too. Maria starts splitting the woods to put them on fire and cook something to eat. The boy whimpers around her. Then he remembers that his great granny is still in the garden. In a compact dark place, the old woman says one more pray. The child takes her by the hand and gallantly invites her in the house.
Having an entrance recently made of white ashlar limestone, the old house where the three humans live spreads poverty and despair. As you enter through the door, you must bow your head if you do not want to get a bump on your forehead. The hall is also a kitchen, the granny’s bedroom, the living room and the boiler room. The window next to the heated clay bed has only one row of glass being covered with a few old rugs – this is how the old woman tried to stop the cold come into the house in winter which has almost retreated.
A threshold separates Maria’s and Gosa’s 2/2 square metres (21/21 square foot) room from the granny’s room. When she needs privacy, she hangs in the middle a ragged blanket. Maria and the boy are sleeping on the bed to the right. Her brother and his two children will sleep on the bed at their foot that is placed across. If we calculate, then six people will live in six square metres (almost 65 square feet) space.
The woman keeps their clothes in boxes. She has no wardrobes. Cosmetics and hygienic staff are place on the two windows. The box from an old voluminous TV set is the only technical object in the house. In the misty cloudy mirror on the wall from the woman’s room you can notice the silver frame with a few photos of the child’s father, resting on the TV set box.
The crackling fire wolves down the wood Maria has just thrown through the greasy and smoky stove. Then the woman throws quickly a few potatoes into a bowl and puts it on the stove. The only bulb hanging above the stove hardly lights the two rooms only evenings, when the food is cooked. However, the neighbours who allowed her to connect the house to electricity ask her to pay them 200 MDL per month. The silence is broken by her child’s prayers.
– Mom, I want water! – Gosa starts.
– We have no water in the house, Gosa. I poured all of it on the potatoes. I will bring some from the well, – Maria answers.
– Mom, I want water! – the little insists.
– Wait a second! – his mother bites his nose off.
After searching the house, Gosa finds a bottle of holy water and shows it to Maria. The woman tells him not to drink it, but all in vain. The boy’s tears bathed in the warmth of the crackling fire melts her heart. Gosa puts the bottle in his mouth.
Meanwhile, the old woman also asks for water to wash her hands green because of grass. Maria doesn’t think too much, sinks a metal cup in the bowl with water on the stove, cools the hot water and asks the old woman to stretch her hands. After a few second, the old woman roars of pain.
– Hey, Maria, hey. It’s hot, hey, you crazy woman.
– Granny, how do you want it to be, if your skin is thick. Anyway, you cannot feel anything, because you are already old. I will add some cold water in it too.
Maria screams with laughter in front of the old woman, who has a deep and gallant look. After bringing quickly some water from the well and made the water temperature suitable for granny, she pours again. Huge steams come out of the great grandmother’s hands, who is all nerves.
After finishing washing the granny’s hands, Maria puts Gosa in a basin and scrub the dirt off the child’s skin. In his turn, the child washes the forceless cat’s legs with a clothes brush.
– The cat is fed up to the teeth. You are always pulling the cat’s tail, my dear!
It’s almost past ten p.m. Maria finishes peeling the boiled potatoes, mashes them quickly and makes a salad. Enthroned on the chair by the table, Gosa doesn’t expect his mom to serve the food. He inserts his hands in the bowl. On the heated clay bed the granny doesn’t even raise her eyes from the plate which she keeps in her lap. Maria eats hungrily on foot resting on the table because the only chair in the house is occupied by Gosa. Nothing can be heard in the room but deep bites, hard chaws and swallows.
Now everyone is satisfied. Gosa’s belly takes the shape of a ball of dough running out of the pajama. He doesn’t get to thank for the meal. He sits on the clay bed to recollect and falls into a deep sleep, his head on the old woman. The others also go to sleep.
In the middle of the night, the old woman wants to go to the WC. She stops at the door and starts looking for something in darkness. She cannot find what she wants and explodes:
– EEEE, you mother f….ing child! You hid my walking sticks. What should I do now? Pee on myself!?
2015 statistics data show that every fourth village child aged 3 to 6 years old does not attend kindergarten. Unofficial data show that their number exceeds 20,000, a figure which is by about 3,000 more than the population of Hancesti district.
The Cod of Education states that mandatory education starts with pre-school group. Maria Vranceanu, advisor, Pre-University Education Directorate of the Ministry of Education, says that the local authorities are in charge of observing this sector.
„LPA (Local Public Authorities), which are the founders of pre-school institutions, are obliged to establish educational services for children, [and] parents are obliged to take their child to kindergarten or prepare him/her for school at home. […] . Government covers expenses for pre-school and child-care educational services (art.25, Code of Education), as many seats are available”, Vranceanu explains in an official answer.
On the other hand, Liliana Rotaru, director of Child Community Family Moldova (CCF Moldova), an organization defending children’s rights, says that local authorities do not help very much in this situation. Thus, they should revise their approach to solving the problem.
„The Local Council should think of a new format of kindergartens: collective, nurseries, semi-private. They could exempt them [some parents] of the kindergarten fee. Most of us think that 100 MDL is a symbolic payment, but for those families who live a hand-to-mouth existence this is a challenge. […] At the kindergarten, children not only eat. They also communicate, develop, have access to toys which they cannot afford at home”, Rotaru explains.
Children not attending the kindergarten are negatively affected by that, especially when they get to go to school, states Natalia Sarbu-Rotaru, psychologist at CCF Moldova. “Experience shows that children who haven’t attended kindergarten usually have not even the minimum skills: writing, knowing letters, analysis, synthesis, which are very important things when going in the first form. Unfortunately, the big number of children in a group, high requirements for primary school, lack of knowledge and acquired skills, like keeping a pen in their hand, sit on a chair for 45 minutes, all these gaps make the child feel worse than his colleagues, be reticent in the process of their development. These things will also hurt the child’s self-image”, the psychologist thinks.
It’s the end of May. Maria announces happily that Gosa was accepted to the kindergarten. She met the teacher in the street. The woman told her to bring her child, because the quarantine is over lately.
„We had chickenpox. Quarantine was declared at the kindergarten. Those attending the kindergarten can come, while the new ones – cannot. There is no child in the village not to attend kindergarten. Our village is small and we know everyone here. We have checklists with the new-born children, we keep the records”, the director explains the reason why Gosa could not be accepted at the kindergarten so long time.
But Maria Gheorghies from the Health Care Centre of Hancesti district assures us that there hasn’t been recorded any case of quarantine in Gosa’s village. „In 2016, there was no quarantine declared in village [X] and the kindergarten was not closed. The kindergarten can be closed only if more than 60% of children have the disease, in other cases – it cannot. I don’t need to lie. And the quarantine doesn’t last three months. It lasts 21 days. The kindergarten administration lies. They might have had some critical situation, but did not tell anyone. In this case, they hid the facts. We haven’t had such cases so far. I’ve been working in this area for 30 years. Even if they have a ill child, they must announce us about that, no matter what. They give us the information every day”, Gheorghies assures us.
 Translation from the spoken Romanian „nicuri”
 Translation from the Russian word “levai”
 From the Russian word „лежанка”
 From Romanian slang „Carantina mamei lor”
 From the Russian word „compot”
 Borrowed from Russian (спорить) and adapted to spoken Romanian (sporesc)
 Borrowed from Russian (друг) and adapted to spoken Romanian (drugi)
 Borrowed from Russian (биржа) and adapted to spoken Romanian (birja)
 Borrowed from Russian (уборщица) used in spoken Romanian (uborsita)
 Romanian swear-word „rasule”
 Idem 3
 From the spoken Russian (заибал) and adapted to spoken Romanian (zaibit)
 Idem 3
 Romanian swear word phrase