The Traveling People of my Childhood

When I was a child growing up in France les gens du voyage or traveling people, les gitans or gypsies, les manouches, les tziganes or les romanichelles were part of the French hospitality tradition. We never called them the Roms.
They arrived once a year in their caravans that they parked on a dirt lot left open for their use.
I don’t remember the men but I do remember the women and children very vividly. Sometimes a child or two would even attend school with us for a few days. More than often they would not.
The moms visited the village, little children in tow. Often bare foot, the women wore long skirts and dangling earrings. Their eyes and hair were dark as the night and evocated very ancient far away lands. My sister and I imitated their jewelry using lids and tape to make similar earrings. We somehow envied the kids who didn’t have to go to school.
My mother kept a box of used clothes for their visit. They never missed to stop by to collect them. We had a big garden and my father would dig carrots, potatoes and salads for them.
In return the women would offer free palm reading. My mother always refused with a polite smile but firm “non.” She believes in God and these things as she called them were similar to witchcraft.
The women insisted but in the end left, cradling their little boys and girls in their arms. The oldest ones carried the vegetables and clothes we gave them.
Although they brought a flavor of adventure, exotism, and freedom, my parents warned my sister and me. These people stole and were dirty. We shouldn’t under any circumstances go to their campsite or even talk to them if we were alone. We should avoid them when they were staying in our village and go straight home after school.
Obviously so many warnings could only intrigued me and my sister. We would walk up the small street leading to the camp and would glance from far. Dogs and kids run around the caravans. It smelled of food cooked above an open fire. For us these people were living a permanent vacation.
Now the traveling people or Roms are expulsed from France. This summer, the French government has ordered their eviction from their camps around Paris and major French cities and wants to send them back where they are from.
But where are they from? Journeying for centuries what is now the growing Europe, chased from everywhere, aren’t they entitled as any European to travel the continent?
Land of the human rights, France should know better. But the country seems now more focused on opposing the age of retirement than opposing the expulsion of the Roms.
The European Commission blames Paris for its extreme policy but most European countries are already considering similar measures and have even sent their own Roms somewhere else.
I’ve asked my parents if the traveling people have paid them a visit recently. My mom said that even in Normandy, the hunt against the Roms has started. “But,” she added. “Some people are protesting against their expulsion.”
That I’m sure can only be true. The French are the best when it comes to protest.

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