“Whenever you are looking for me, just know I am at the flowers market”

    Zsiga Claudia Linda is a 37 years old  human rights activist.

    “I was born in the city of Cluj-Napoca, in the country Romania, on Coastei street, number 18. That’s where I spent my childhood, which I would say was perfectly normal and beautiful. I did whatever a child does: played tag, hide and seek and football. I had an open childhood. Family means everything tome. I have a really good relationship with my family. I have a really good relationship with my parents, we understand, help and support each other.

    Education wise, I went to a high school focused on industrial studies, where I studied alimentation and did my traineeship at a factory that is near to where I live now. I started working from the age of 19. My first job was at a textile factory, sewing clothes at a machine, as well as shoes, after a few years.

    The toughest moment in my life was when I was evicted, alongside my family, in 2010, on the 17th of December. At five o’clock in the morning, over 100 constables, police officers and people from the City Hall came to our building and told us to pack our belongings, saying bulldozers will be coming over us in our homes. There were -20 degrees Celsius at that time, that’s how cold it was outside. Just as the officials arrived, they cut off the electricity, the central heating and the water, leaving us without access to anything. We wish we had more time to pack our belongings, but all our possessions got transported in garbage trucks, no mind being paid to their value or quality. Everything was thrown in together, treated as trash. The moment we arrived at the location of Pata Rât (the name of Cluj-Napoca’s junkyard), we finally realized where they had brought us to – until then we had no idea. Adults, children, we all started crying. The snow was reaching up to our knees, the air was dreadfully cold, the wind was blowing. There was no vegetation, no trees. This had happened a few days before Christmas and that year the children did not even go caroling. It was such a lonely and ugly year. The event left us all scarred. Everyone suffered from this trauma and 10 people from the community even passed away due to the sadness of what had happened to them.

    That is when I felt an injustice had been made, considering me and the entire community living at that address were living a peaceful life. We had access to Wi-fi, public health, public transport and out of nowhere, we got broken off from society and moved near the local landfill. That is when I felt the need to get involved into civic activism.

    That year left its mark on everyone and the people who died, died of sorrow. The children’s scholarly performance started dropping down. They started being discriminated against, getting called different names that referenced their living conditions. Other students and even teachers, would make mocking comments about the dirt on their shoes, but what they did not know was that the children had to walk almost a kilometre in mud, from where they were living to get to the bus that would take them to school. Many children suffered immensely.

    The scenery at Pata Rât is similar to the ones from the horror movies, seeing as that is where all the garbage from Cluj-Napoca gets collected. People live at a distance of 200-300 meters from all that garbage, the air is polluted, the water is not that clean and it is full of trash that gets blown around by the wind on the surface of the community. Three weeks ago, we did some community work, some cleaning, but it amounted to zero because although we filled over 100 bags with trash, the wind continuously blows over junk into the living areas. The scenery consists of children that have no access to water, people who do not have electricity. There is a lot of poverty, a lot of dirt. It is like the people have been forgotten by society. Before us moving, there had only been one community, called Dallas, which was made up of about 20-30 families. As the years passed and more evictions took place, this ignited the birth of other communities such as Canton and Coastei. The relationship between them is good though, they live in solidarity with one another. They get along. In the beginning, nine years ago, when we first moved into Pata Rât, there had been some conflicts, because we dressed differently, we walked around in shorts and shorter skirts, which prompted the people that had been living there for a longer time to make certain comments. After we got to know each other a little better the conflicts stopped.

    I feel good now, because it has been almost two years since I moved from Pata Rât, but I cannot ever say I am 100% fine, having the knowledge that so many people from my community still live there. I still think about their problem and not only theirs, but also the problems of all the people that do not have decent housing or that live near garbage dumps, but what can I say: yes, I feel OK. This time around, I feel like I have regained my place in society, but before, when I was still living in Pata Rât, I had felt like I did not belong anywhere, I was not feeling at ease. I felt like I was falling into an abysm, into a chasm, sort of forgotten by the world. Now I feel like I have found my place, because I live in the city and I am in permanent contact with people. I do not feel like a particularly important person, I feel like a Romanian citizen, a citizen that should have some rights. I was very quickly accepted into society due to my personality: I am popular, friendly and there is no hindrance as to why someone should not accept me as I am and even if in the beginning they do not, they come around in no time.

    Recently, I registered into a newly created party called Demos – democracy & solidarity – where I found exactly the people I needed to keep on fighting. Me and my colleagues, we want to transmute laws that will better the living conditions of Romanians, enable decent housing and access to jobs; more or less to reduce the inequality that has been created by the gap between the very poor and the rich. We, as a party, are working to ensure that every citizen has access to a work place, a place to live in, public health and so on.

    My life experience is what recommends me (in politics) and the fact that I can discover myself in every person that does not have a shelter, in every person that does not have access to the city’s facilities. I am recommended by the fact that I do not have to sit in an office and wonder how someone people live like. I know what it is like to live both in poverty and in luxury, considering all the phases I went through in my life. This is why I believe I can represent those people, that practically are not represented by anyone.

    I thought about leaving Romania a lot, but I do not have anything to do abroad. Here I do. All I can do in a foreign country is work for my own well-being, my family’s comfort, but nothing for the rest of the world and the people in Romania that are alone and that are not represented like the Romani, Romanians, Hungarians or any other ethnicity. Not only Romani people lack access to water and electricity, there are a lot of Romanian communities in rural areas where children go to bed starving, because their parents have nothing to put on the table. There are different types of situations, but it is for these people that I want to keep on fighting.

    There was a peak moment when I felt like giving up, but Ms. Enikő Vincze (manager of a social housing association) came to my support, encouraging me and telling me that if I were to give up, there would not be another, stronger voice in Pata Rât that could preach about injustice and demand a solution. We kept on talking – I know I cried a lot that day – and I finally decided to keep going. I get my energy from seeing all the injustice happening in Europe, in the whole world.

    My biggest fear is that Pata Rât will never be desegregated.

    Happiness means a lot. For me, personally, it means having a good relationship with my family, with my children, having access to all we desire, being able to buy and do whatever we please, being able to offer my children everything they need, even if I did not have that when I was their age – coming from a family with a lot of children. Happiness means achievement and fulfilment.

    Right now I sell flowers. I also have two boys who are currently working, so we do not have any financial troubles so to say. I sell flowers. I have been selling flowers for about four years now, actually for more than that. I used to be an occasional florists, selling flowers only during different holidays, but for four years, I have been working at the flowers market every day. Whenever you are looking for me, just know I am at the flowers market. I do have some free time – I try to make some. Nowadays,  I am mostly divided between taking care of the household, the family, attending the party meetings and gathering signatures.

    I would like for people to remember me as a fighter, as a person that always spoke her mind in spite of what others thought, a person who knew how to impose herself and provide her perspective.

    Message for the people in Cluj-Napoca:

    Have solidarity with the people in Pata Rât, give them a chance to make themselves known to you, do not judge them over their clothing, because after all, those people do not have access to water and electricity. You should always put yourselves into their shoes and ask yourselves: If I were like them, could I have lived in such conditions? Could I have lived with rats that come from the landfill into my house? Could I have lived without water, without electricity? Could I have sent my children to school in good hygiene?”

    Describe yourself in 3 words: I am impulsive, fiery, friendly and extremely honest.

    What is your favorite song?: “Me tut kamav”. It is a song in the Romani language, which translates to „It’s you that I want”. It is a religious song that I love a lot. I’ve known about it for 5 years and I can listen to it a 100 times a day.

    If you could be anything/anyone, what would you be?: If I could be any person, I would be a person that can make decisions in politics, a person with a high status that gives me the possibility to make good decisions for the people that are not represented.

    If you could dine with anyone, dead or alive, who would that person be?: Martin Luther King.

    What would you do if you won the lottery?: I would go to Pata Rât and buy food and clothes for the people there. If I were to win a huge amount of money and I mean HUGE, I would buy a lot of land, on which I would build houses for homeless people.

    What is your favourite place?: The Mărăști neighbourhood, more precisely, the flowers market there. That is where I spent most of my childhood and I would love to move back one day.