Written by Harriet Paintin, illustrated by Hannah Kirmes-Daly.

Podu Turcului weekly market – a cacophony of horse carts, pigs being sold from the boot of a car and homemade alcohol. Different Roma communities from across Romania gather here every Monday morning to sell their wares, and the usually quiet streets of Podu Turcului are full of life and laughter. The bars are already open at 8am, and groups gather over beer and succulent grilled sausages to catch up on the week’s happenings. A dusty parking lot is filled with tables piled high with second hand clothes, horse saddles and harnesses, in the background the livestock market is full of strong, working horses and squealing, fat pigs.

Margarita was sitting on a small stool surrounded by second hand shoes spread out on a plastic sheet; she stood out amongst the other stallholders in her bright pleated skirt and colourful headscarf. Her deeply lined face crinkled into a smile as she enthusiastically gestured for us to sit down.

“Jesus didn’t make a distinction between gypsies and non-gypsies, so why do people? We’re honest people, we want to work and take care of our family. That’s it”. Her voice was strong and impassioned, her gestures were so emotive. “There’s a lot of discrimination when people don’t understand the gypsy culture. Where I come from, in Transylvania, it’s different. People are more accepting there”.

She gestured towards her wares spread out before, shoes of all colours and sizes. “We have all of these things to sell and we try to come to places like this where people don’t have much money, to try and help them in this way. The people are very happy to buy good things, these shoes come from Germany and England, and here we sell a lot cheaper than in the shops.”

The Roma community are often portrayed as needy or disadvantaged. Margarita strongly tried to assert that she is neither of those things; rather, her resilient voice insisted of the help that she tries to bring to people within her own community. She waved as we stood up to leave and, as we parted ways, she wished us “health, love and power”.