Two summers ago at the age of 20, I had never been on an airplane. From there, I flew four flights to get to Thessaloniki, Greece, and after a few days there, I went to Macedonia where I went to the pre-school my church supports that teaches Gypsy children. So I know exactly how Margaret Ôsmet was entranced by the girl she passes her along the walking trail.
Even on college campus, when I pass people I’m all too engaging, even if it is just eye contact. I’m curious, so I turn a mere passing by into a feeling of people’s presence as they walk by. It’s terribly exhausting to even have a mentality of letting my spirit feel people as they pass, so some days I force myself not to.
However, a story happens in that one glance. A story passes from one eye to the next in the moment it takes to turn away to look from their face to the ground. Ôzmet recounts this same type of story when passing a Turkish gypsy along a path:
“The edges of her long skirt were ragged—it was most likely her only skirt, a cast-off from her too-young mother.”
There is something entrancing about gypsy’s from my own experience. Possibly it is my empathy hyperextending and reaching towards them: the people who Ôzmet describes as “swarms of dirty-faced children in plastic sandals enjoying childhood, seemingly oblivious to their poverty.” Despite the conditions of poverty that seem to deny gypsies of their humanity,looking into their eyes speaks otherwise.
Having a Turkish husband, Margaret Ôzmet hears the voice of reason in her head that attempts to silence her compassion. Because she is a middle school teacher, she sees the green-eyed gypsy as if she were a student in one of her classes, yet even as she passes her she sees the girl has stolen water from her treatment plant. So, the girl who has to “steal to survive” becomes not a girl, but a part of the Cingenes (Gypsies) who cause Ôzmet to ultimately “double-lock [her] doors”, and along with the author the reader questions which is deserved: compassion or judgement.
I am so reading this essay! There’s a new memoir out about a guy who lives with the Romany gypsies for a year. It sounds great!
I definitely need to read that memoir. It sounds badass.