Elvis, 24, and Medina, 20, have been married for six years. They have a daughter, Elvisa, 5 (pictured with bottle), and they are expecting another child soon. Medina, who is eight months pregnant, dropped out of school shortly after third grade. Elvis has never gone to school. They live a nomadic lifestyle and are constantly on the move – always together with their extended family.
I found myself in the same compartment with Elvis and Medina on the train ride from Sarajevo to Mostar. As I was sitting face to face with Elvis, we tried to communicate with one another, and to my surprise, Elvis attempted to speak to me in Italian.
It turns out that Elvis relocated to Rome in the early 1990s during the Bosnian War. Growing up in Rome, I’d been well acquainted with gypsies. There was a gypsy camp not one kilometer from where I lived, and I’d pass their trailers every day on the way to school. The children would often play at the local church, the men could often be seen in grocery stores, picking up supplies, and many of the women begged on the streets; and in the early 1990s, they often (while begging) held up their IDs and documents, and cried out that they were from Sarajevo. This was the first time however, that I interact with one.
We talk about Italy for a bit, and eventually, Elvis tells me that he hated his time in Italy because of the prejudice his family experienced being gypsies (zingari). He said that Chinese restaurants were of the few places that did not refuse him service, and as a result, he ate at them once every few months. I was curious as to how he made money – he sold fake perfumes at beaches for a while, and worked several temporary odd jobs involving manual labor, and he’d stolen as well, which I got the impression he felt was justified.
Medina, at just 20 years, has lost most of her teeth due to poor dental hygiene. She also happens to be a chain smoker. The boy in the picture is Elvis’s younger brother Medio.
Top, clockwise: Esmeralda, 13, Elvis’s cousin, Medio, Elvisa, and Titanic, 11, named after the Hollywood blockbuster “Titanic.”
As I was taking pictures of them on the train, I noticed that the other Bosnians on the train seemed to find it strange I was interacting with them. It was pretty clear to me that Elvis’s family, even in their native country are discriminated against.
When the ticket checker came to our compartment, I noticed that none of them had a ticket. Elvis argued with the checker for a while in the local language, and he ended up successfully bribing the checker with the equivalent of 10 euro. Remarkable, as each ticket was 8 euro, and there were about 10 of them.
Elvis was constantly complaining of dental pain, and kept on taking some kind of painkiller. Eventually, he tore a piece of cardboard off of a cigarette carton, and fashioned it into a thin stick. He then had Medina insert it into a “tunnel” in his gums (see below).
And then when we got to Mostar, they left without saying goodbye. This is what Mostar looked like that night: