Many families who lost their homes following the fall of Ceausescu in 1989 finally settled in the suburbs of Bucharest, populating the familiar towerblocks of the communist regime. Others were not so fortunate.
In Calea Vacaresti, south east of the capital, four families have made their homes in the dried out basin of an artificial lake, constructing shacks from bricks, plastic and cartons in which to live. Unregistered at birth, the poorest people of Romania are not even citizens in their own country.
When the weather permits, they dig for scraps of iron, copper and aluminium to sell to local car wreckers, but the advent of winter renders the frozen earth impenetrable. With sheets of plastic serving as windows, the temperature inside the shacks is no different to that outside, maybe 20 or 25 degrees celsius below. Anything and everything is burnt in a bid for warmth. The five
children who live on the site do not leave their sheds all winter, breathing in fumes from scraps of rubber and plastic bubbling in the flames.
The bed being carried across the tramlines will serve as fuel not sanctuary. Clothes are removed and thrown onto the fire too. Five-year-old Corina and her younger brother Claudiu both experienced problems with walking development, as a result of their enforced winter confinement.
The first time Corina walked on flat ground, she fell over; her formative steps were taken on the lakeside at a 45 degree angle. Grandmother Eliana is their sole guardian; their father is in jail, their mother long since disappeared. Eliana’s biggest fear is that the police will come and smash up their home, as part of their annual spring ‘clean-up’ campaigns. Her one wish is to live in a council house, like the ones she can see across the basin through her plastic windows.
Lele, a 33-year-old Romanian Gypsy of the Cocalaripeople, does not complain about life in the basin, in as much as he is accepting of an unconventional lifestyle.
But accustomed to communal living, it is the isolation he finds difficult for himself and his young family.
In summertime, Lele and the other men can sometimes get black market work. They travel into the city where they build big houses for the better-off of Bucharest.