“Recently, something like that has happened to me in a shop. There was an elderly gentleman there, you know, I thought I would get a heart attack, he made me so much nervous. He infuriated me so much. I went shopping to Kaufland and there was a queue. I was buying in bulk, that is the way we love it. At least when it comes to holidays we do not like the idea of anything missing. The idea of good holiday is excess. So there I was standing in a queue and had the whole check-out cluttered with goods and products. Yeah I was standing there with all the things and all of a sudden he barked at me in a nasty way:”What do you think you are doing here?! Back to Romania!”. And then he started to use bad language you know, I do not want to repeat that. That was really horrible. At first, I said but Sir I am standing in a queue, what do you want from me?” At the same time my husband was standing in the other queue because the lines were really big, so I told him to stay in the other one just in case it was quicker. Is this against the law or what? And then he lashed at me in a nasty way. So I told him I could call the police and added that it was a pity he was so old and did not know how to behave. “What have I done to you” I asked? To which he said:” Get the fuck out of here” and continued using swear words, at which point I thought I would explode! If my husband had not come, I do not know what I would have done to him! The moment he saw my husband he calmed down. But you know what, neither the shop assistant nor a single Pole stood up for me. How can one treat people like that? It is terrible. How is it possible? If I, for example had jumped the queue and was before him then he could have had some reason, but I was standing in my queue with my money to pay! Did I steal anything from him? Did I do anything to him? Did I make him dirty? No! And the lady in the shop saw it but did not react. She did not say a word. There is no racism? There is and a big one...”
“(…) Life was like that, we used to live out of a suitcase. We used to go on many tours. There were really many concerts. We played not only in one musical group. The groups changed when we were in Terno. Later a lady from Sobótka visited us. Her son, who is Polish, played the clarinet, and she wanted to found a Romany band. And she did it. She died this year. Bu I think she established a Romany group because of her son who loved Romany music very much. She set up the band first here in Wrocław in Impart. So we started a little bit here in Wrocław but later we joined the old group Roma in Estrada Poznańska. Thus, when we came to Poznań we joined Estrada Poznańska and as a result we were in ROMA.(...) My husband plays the guitar and dances. We stayed in Roma for quite a long time. My son practically was brought up in Roma. He was the eldest, but back then I had only him so he used to go on tours with us. Later, when my daughter was born she did not like concerts, or tours. Not very much. Whenever she saw me put on a costume she used to get some kind of a shock. She was small she was not even two years old. She cried a lot so I would leave her with my mom and took only the elder son with me. Many years passed. In 1988 we went first to Italy to record for a film. It was a film called “Torrents of Spring” with Nastassja Kinski and some other actor from America, Hector or something. So we played in the film. The scene was nice. The story was about some kind of gypsy camp. They came to the gypsy camp. We stayed in Italy for a week and then we went to New York on a tour for a month. The film received some kind of award so they invited us to the ceremony and we went there. We were a kind of surprise for the actors. We went to Cannes to France. The actors did not know about our arrival at Cannes. There was a dinner planned and we were supposed to be a surprise for the actors as we played together in the film. It was fun. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we stayed there for a week. During the dinner we entered the hall quietly, there was no stage and it was dark, but the surprise was even bigger because of that. The same band appeared again The actors were really glad. The experience was really great, you know.
We are Catholics, right?. But not all Romany people are Catholics. They can be Jehovah witnesses or of other denominations and they do not celebrate festivals in a spectacular way like us. We have real fun. We get together I mean me, my family, my grandchildren and the whole family, so there can be about 100 people, or over 100 people (..) It is so when we organize holidays here in this hall. Because when there was no hall we used to celebrate holidays at home.
It looked like that. Christmas. It was like that. For us Christmas eve is very important. Our mothers sisters have already died. So now it is our generation. Our mothers and sisters instilled the tradition in us so much that it stayed with us. And now we want to teach our children so that the tradition could be handed down on and on. Before all that, the tradition was like that. When our mothers lived it was like that, that we gathered at the eldest sister’s for Christmas. With everybody else that is with children, grandchildren and grand-grandchildren. Everybody used to meet in one flat. They used to put food on the table, break the wafer, stay at the place for an hour or two and move on to another family member, to another sister. As many sisters or brothers there were as many visits. Before we visited all of them it was dawn. And on the first Day of Christmas it got repeated. The visits continued all the festive season long. Now that we have [the Centre in Brochów] we get together because we have a place. So we no longer invite each other but come here all together because there is more space. And of course, everyone brings what they want that is food, vodka obviously, drinks, everything. You know here we have tables so we put everything on and have fun till dawn! (…)
[The Day of the Dead] is slightly different at us. We really get ready, get ready everything in the cemetery. So you know, you go to the cemetery clean the graves, do everything that is necessary. You know we do not have the rich graves as in Osobowice. You know. Have you ever been there? They have a slightly different work there. But we try to do our best and we do it a week in advance not just in one day. We live for it because it is the Day of the Dead. There I have my parents, one brother, another brother, father. Here a grave of an aunt, another of a cousin. Yes, it is so because many old gypsies have died. Of all the old gypsies maybe two elderly women and one old man are still alive. Besides them, all others are dead. But many young people have also died. And we live for the day, celebrate the day on All Souls Day, right? And later in the morning we have rich celebrations not just a candle or a flower because the Romany like it posh, so we celebrate it this way. There is a lot of all that. There is real excess, you know. So we sit at the graves, each of us at his family’s grave. But we want to mark it a holiday so then women gather at one place, men at another place to celebrate. There is vodka so it is a bit loud. You know what it is like. But then the priest comes to celebrate the mass so silence falls. And we sit till late in the evening. Till darkness falls. It is their day I mean All souls’. Later when we come back from the cemetery there is a party. We have a drink. A little bit of that. As you drink for dinner. There is nothing wrong with that. The Poles also drink. After the drink we just sing and dance. It is just to show respect to the dead that we remember them. We celebrate it in a joyful way not a sad one. This is the way All Souls Day is celebrated by us”.
When I die (…) I want you to play music all the way from home to the cemetery, which is quite a walk. I do not want you to grieve, because all my life was devoted to making music and singing’
Bożena Siwak was born on 27 February 1962 in Wrocław, in a family which belonged to Bergitka Roma. Her parents used to live in the region of Jasło before the Second World War, where they had a farm. She had 3 brothers and a sister. One of the brothers died as a young at the age of 25 of kidney disease. She used to attend a primary school in Brochów, Wrocław, which she finished despite clear unwillingness to learn. Bożena has always loved gypsy music. At the age of 8 she used to sing in an amateur gypsy band. Already in 1977 she becomes employed in a professional musical band set up by a manager from Lublin. She goes to concerts under the care of her brother. In the 80’s she belongs to a well-known group - TERNO, in which she sings and dances. It is there where she meets Tadeusz Paczkowski from Włocławek, belonging to Polish Roma, who becomes her husband after mutual escape from a concert tour. The have three children all of whom cherish musical talents. The youngest son Gracjan plays with them to this day. In the 80’s they both belong to a musical group at Impart, which soon takes over the famous ROMA at Poznań Estrada. They live “out of a suitcase” for many years, going on tours around Europe and even Canada and the USA. Bożena, along with the band, takes part in a film entitled “Torrents of Spring” and appears at Cannes Festival where the film was nominated for Golden Palm Award. She participates in the production of several other films and numerous tv programs realized by TVP. After the change of the political system and the split-up of the group her earning situation deteriorates. The Paczkowskis still play music and go abroad in order to get by. At the beginning of the 21st century they give up musical career and focus on the Romany community in Brochów, Wrocław. Together with Józef Mastej they set up Romani Bacht Association, within which they organize educational and artistic classes for children, they build Romany Centre with a common room for children, computers, gym, family festivities hall and a recording studio. All that is possible thanks to European Funds and support from the City, in addition to extreme individual effort. Over 5 years Bożena runs children’s musical band “Terne Romani Bacht” at Social Integration Foundation PROM in Wrocław. At present she is running children’s musical band at a primary school in Brochów and artistic and musical classes in the common room at the Romani Bacht Association. She loves music and flowers, she did a course in flowers arrangement. She is not very fond of cooking. She is of the opinion that her husband is much more talented at that, but she is famous for her pierogi (dumplings) enjoyed by her family who come to taste them from all over Europe. She has 9 grandchildren. It is very important for her to guard the Romany tradition and hand it over to younger generations.