I had to squint to keep the rain from blurring my vision, but even so I could just begin to make out the words on the large, looming billboard awaiting us at the other end of the Hydrostation dam. “Just a quarter kilometer more” I thought. I pulled my head down, pushing forward through the wind, and willing my bicycle tires to cut swaths through the puddles hugging the uneven pavement. I finally glanced up again, and this time the message on the sign had materialized into great curving, bolded letters. “Welcome to Romania.” After a month and a half, we were finally there. And in that moment, even the rain couldn’t get me down.
Romania. We’ve mentioned it many times throughout our posts. Admittedly, it may seem like a strange spot to place so much emphasis. After all, we’ve passed through 7 other countries, and some of them we barely referenced.
But crossing from Serbia to Romania represented something different – a moment we’ve come to see as a turning point for the Postulate One project. For us, Romania is where our first real work begins.
Over the next four weeks, Morgan and I will be tackling our first feature story, taking a break from the saddle for a while to focus full time on investigative journalism. We’ll be able to provide a level of depth and quality to our coverage that wasn’t possible during our day by day, vagabond lifestyle. Before, we didn’t have the time or energy to follow leads in a single location for an extended period. Now, as Morgan put it, “we can be more than the dudes on the bikes.”
This isn’t to say the cycling is over. We’re making it to China. But for us, this project has always been about more than the bicycle journey. It’s our ambition to build an organization, and to become journalists in the best way we know how – by going out and collecting stories.
So between the cycling legs, we’ve devised a way to bring those stories to you in an online magazine format – releasing an edition each month here at postulateone.com that explores an issue in one of our 7 long-term locations, by focusing on the people who shape and influence them. Bucharest is our first test, and it’s going to be a challenge.
Our topic of coverage? Gypsies.
More than 700 years after their arrival in Romania, gypsies (or Roma, as they are officially called) remain a source of tension. Among the mainstream, they have many strong stereotypes associated with them — a few of which are positive, like a tradition of vibrant dance and music – but most of which are negative, including associations with shameless begging, a distain for hard work, theft, and money-grubbing.
“Why are you talking about the Gypsy problem –Why can’t you just cover something else?” Our couchsurfing host in Bucharest was noticeably upset. Among other European nations, she was tired of always having Romania associated with the gypsies. While traveling in Italy, she had even had people turn their backs on her upon learning she was Romanian. Our host is not gypsy.
“Because you’re getting angry” I replied.
The reason Morgan and I know we’ve landed upon the story we need to cover is because the attitudes surrounding Roma people and their integration into Romanian culture is so strong – and varied. Ask any Romanian on the street about what should be done about gypsies and you’ll get a passionate response, ranging from sympathy to downright hatred.
A similar spectrum applies to the Roma. We’ve talked to gypsies who want equal opportunities and integration, and we’ve talked to gypsies who want absolutely nothing to do with their Romanian counterparts. It’s created a culture of separation that, as Morgan mentioned, sometimes feels like the US deep South, pre civil-rights era.
To put it lightly, the problem is incredibly complex. And in order to tackle something substantive in just four weeks, Morgan and I realized the need to narrow in on just one element of the Gypsy integration issue. We chose education opportunities for Roma children. The high school dropout rate for Roma children is five to six times higher than the national average. We want to know why, and if anything can, or should, be done about it.
On June 1st, we’ll present our coverage in the first magazine edition of our website, highlighting a number of perspectives from people weighing in from different sides of the issue. We’re curious to see what we find, and we hope you’ll weigh in as well.