Photographs ©Lauren Hermele
It took me a few days to get used to the rush hour traffic in Crit. Every morning and evening, the cows and sheep would take over the roads. It was there that I confronted many of the preconceived ideas I had about whether Romania’s small agricultural villages were changing since it joined the European Union. For better or worse, I discovered that there was little if no change. Living in Crit is a tightrope walk between extreme beauty and what the locals refer to as “mizerie.” Are the villagers prisoners of paradise like one of my colleagues suggested? I’m not sure, but that poignant statement has echoed in my mind louder than I care to admit.
The majority of the villagers are Roma (Gypsy), but really are just poor Romanians with little in common with the caravan dwelling Roma of popular imagination. Even though Romania joined the European Union in 2007 after being marginalized from Western Europe for so long, little progress has been made. The local schools lack resources and are in poor conditions, alcoholism is prevalent; children start working in the fields and take on adult responsibilities early in life. Malnutrition and illiteracy also weave their way in and out of many households. Like many small villages in rural Romania, within the lyrical chaos and beauty in Crit, there is a structure that is inherently falling apart.