The ground above the underground

8 PM
  We start our evening by drinking a coffee in a basement where the walls are painted in all possible colors, the heaters are rusted and the small windows are very close to the ceiling. This is the headquarters of the biggest NGO that deals with HIV prevention in Romania. It would be impossible for me to explain how my temporary work in this environment is changing everything…making me feel weaker, confused or pumping adrenalin into my brain, altering my states of mind…

I will just make a resume of an outreach evening… meaning going out to give syringes, condoms and humane ‘advices’ to people that are populating the underworld of Bucharest…the ones that we see everyday but we hardly find a platform for interacting with…

9 PM We carry all the boxes with syringes, condoms and sanitary consumables to the ambulance on which is written Social Service. We arrange everything on shelves and start our trip on the streets of Bucharest. So let’s see how it goes…

10 PM Our first stop is somewhere in between the center and the periphery of the city, where a lot of people and dogs are hanging around on the dark streets. The social service van is very well known in the area and it’s always received by a crowd of people in need of things we can provide them with. One by one they all get in the ambulance and receive a bag with condoms and hygienic consumables. Some of them are heroin users and ask for syringes but in order to receive those they have to prove that they are injecting themselves, so we require seeing a body part where the pink-brown skin reveals purple dots with a sieve aspect.

For someone who is not used to seeing such things it might seem awful, but when you enroll in such activities you have to be prepared to see it all…infants that were born addicted with no life expectancy carried around by dizzy mothers, 13 year old kids whose teethes are falling off and that have little chance to celebrate their next birthday, 15 year old girls that are selling their body in order to buy food, clothes and a next dose, etc. 

Heroin stops the process of growing and developing of the human body…so in the dark night, illuminated only by the headlights of the ambulance it all looks like one of those children shows where they are being accompanied by real or potential parents and grandparents.

I am into this for 4 years now and it’s the first job I ever had which motivates me to wake up and continue doing it every day. It doesn’t mean that I always feel useful, but at least I am trying to do something for them while developing this very personal contact with a different reality. I realize that they will always see me as an outsider, but because I am interested in them I become some sort of mediator between their world and the one of ‘normal’ people that after a day of work in the office go home to their families. […] While they are dreaming in their beds I get to taste the bitterest slice of reality from this obscure world which equally belongs to all of us. 

The police shows up and some of the people vanish on the small streets and get in the dark courtyards with the bags of condoms and syringes. To my surprise still a lot of people gather around their car. One girl decides to stay with us and asks us to wait until the police goes away so that more people could come and get what they need. “They will leave in a few minutes…They just came to collect their money”.  When hearing this I have to admit that a lot of bizarre thoughts crossed my mind as a silent revolt arose. 

Obviously the local authorities are very aware of everything that’s going on as part of this obscure nightlife, but still they don’t interfere as long as they take their share of cash out of it. The equation is quite complicated because it implies dealing with multiple variables, but still if we are to analyze it we would say that the policeman is getting paid by the state authorities to combat some things and at the same time he is exercising this assumed authority in order to get a double pay from the people that he was suppose to supervise. In this case the police officer appears to be some sort of highbinder who lives on the backs of the people that he was suppose to make sure that don’t exist. As a result the policeman gets rich without doing anything at all and everyone lives happily until they die… 

He comes to the ambulance and asks what we are doing. After hearing our answer and checking our IDs he disappears. “What are You doing here mister policeman?” my friend asks with a silent voice just when the officer got in his car heading to the next group around the corner to collect his taxes. “I am so pissed off with them and still I’m paying their wages out of my pocket. And look at these girls that go on the street every night…This society fucked them up and then these idiots in uniforms come and collect their share of complicity from them. How can people get so low? I would burn their uniforms and let them walk naked on this street to see who makes the rules on this street”

12 AM As we are driving to the main train station we see two girls walking in circle on the street. We stop. After 2 minutes of talking a car pulls over and the man inside asks one of the girls to get in. She swears at him and she gets into the ambulance. The purple make up shows her face traits strangely prominent for a 19 year old girl. She tells us that she was just about to end the evening because it’s too cold outside and she is not feeling too well as she just had an abortion 2 days ago. The bleeding did not stop completely, but she decided to go on the street again because of money reasons.

You know, I have a 3 years old daughter who is living in a social center because I can’t prove that I can properly take care of her. And it’s true…at the moment I can’t. […] I am living with the father of my child, because I was not strong enough to break up with him. He never wanted to see his daughter, but I see her every 2 weeks and buy her everything that she might need. I am going on the street almost every night and make a lot of money, but still I don’t have enough to start a new life. Sometimes I think that I will never have enough and in such moments I feel like my entire life is useless. I really don’t know what else to do now, but something needs to change…You know, if stupidity would hurt I would be in horrible pain…

She started her life as a sex worker when being 15 years old and pregnant. Her boyfriend encouraged her to do it saying that it’s the only way in which she would afford to raise the child. After the baby was born the state social care system took it from her and sent it to a maternal center. Lacking any legal premises for reclaiming her daughter she just continued doing what she is doing now…out of desperation and with a touch of hope. As the years went by she realized that it’s a long term project that might not have an ending and that this might be all there is to it. Still, she continues….every night. In spring she will be 20 years old.

Doing this job you understand more about the real world that you live in. It doesn’t necessarily make you stronger or more real because there are times when you break down and think that everything you do is useless. There are places where you go and hear that a certain person you knew for a while had died…another one found out that she’s HIV positive…a child was born from a drug user mother…someone jumped out of the window because of a traumatizing withdrawal….

But then there are people that are giving up heroin or girls that give up prostitution…smiles that you see on the faces of people that have been to hell and found the power to come back and tell us about it. These cases are rare but they keep things in balance. It’s hard to know which your contribution was as you remain a simple spectator of the surrounding reality. Getting so close to the dark side of life you risk becoming addicted to it and slowly realize how it changes your perspective on things…how it changes yourself. There will be no way back…you will never have the chance to deny that you saw all that and that you felt like you did. While trying to change the world you ended up changing yourself…

 2 AM. The main train station never sleeps as trains come and go without a break. A blue eyed girl with a weird haircut and a boy that’s sniffing diluents from a plastic bag are approaching us. They want condoms, syringes, a cigarette and a talk…In 5 minutes we are surrounded by a lot of people that are waiting to receive their share. They came from the gutters that are surrounding the park… one of the few free accommodation possibilities that homeless people have in this city. One by one they shake hands with us and introduce themselves…Alex, Florin, Dana, Mihai…One of them gives me a hug saying that I look like his sister, while another one is dancing with a small stereo near his ear. 

Look! That is my mom on the other side cleaning the street. She  doesn’t recognize me but I know her face. She lives in an apartment with my brother, while I prefer living on the streets. I wouldn’t know what to do in an apartment…[…]Here I am more on my own. I don’t steal and I don’t beg, but people know me and they give me little money, some food and clothes. And this is how I live…I don’t want more and I don’t ever want to get married…that’s for sure. 

His lips have a silver outline from the liquid that he inhales and his breath smells like paint. By all socially accepted standards he is an outcast, but he says that he is happy and I guess that is all that matters. “Happiness is a warm gun…” John Lennon said.. But still, happiness is a self defined feeling that is no subject to dispute by any possible authority.


3.30 AM  We stop in front of a house and my friend shouts at the window. A tiny girl comes to us and tries to get in the car. She is staggering and her eyes are red and glassy….She mumbles something and tries to get in the car…but soon she realizes that this is not the ambulance she had just called for taking her to hospital. She is 14 years old and has a very bad withdrawal…screaming at us and asking to give her some pills of whatever kind. Her hair looks like it’s been rooted out…her face bones are trying to break the skin…her eyes scare me. She lies down on the bed and looks at the ceiling of the van…I go out on the empty street and light a cigarette.

The real ambulance comes…and the girl rushes into the courtyard. My friend is talking to the driver explaining the situation. The driver looks at me sitting down on the sidewalk and sais “We could try to take you to the hospital…”.  “Oh no, not her…she is with me”. I could not say anything…maybe my eyes were just as glassy as hers, but my momentary withdrawal was of a different kind. The tinny girl came running out…and asked the driver to give her some pills and take her to the hospital. She is talking and spinning around in circles…then shouts at the driver: “Take me the hell out of here, because otherwise I won’t get through this night”.

They get in the car and leave. Silently, we watch them disappear. “Did you realize that this ambulance didn’t have a doctor? What if she was in a critical condition and needed immediate help?” I don’t answer. I think I reached my limits…I want to get out of this story and run away….It’s almost morning…Some people are waiting for the bus to go to work. The city is still covered in darkness.

5 AM We are driving to the periphery of the city where I live. I have no idea when there will be light but I have to fall asleep before this happens. The boulevards are deserted…and my friend is driving like a mad man. We listen to a band that I like…and they go like this…

My story stops here, lets be clear…This scenario is happening everywhere…And you ain’t going to nirvana or farvana…You’re coming right back here to live out your karma….With even more drama than previously, seriously….Just how many centuries have we been…waiting for someone else to make us free…And we refuse to see…That people overseas suffer just like we…Bad leadership and ego’s unfettered and free…Who feed on the people they’re supposed to lead…I don’t need good people to pray and wait…For the lord to make it all straight. There’s only now, do it right… We need to find courage, overcome…Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction…

I fell asleep before the daylight. When I woke up it was the same day…the same city…Something must be different though… But what?!!!

Text and pictures by Ana
Quotations by real people
Lyrics by Faithless

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