The most uplifting thing about this assignment was that I was able to survive it. I visited poor, dangerous communities where many of the Gypsies were jobless. Yet I was never beaten, and nothing was stolen from me.
I went to the home of a Gypsy king in Romania. It was a hot day, and he was two hours late. All the time I waited no one even offered me water. Finally he drove up in his Mercedes and we started a conversation. Then he asked me what he would get out of my taking pictures. Youll be seen all over the world, I said. Youll be famous. He liked that very much.
While I was taking pictures of him, his mother came in and placed a $300,000 gold crown on his head. Then, out of the blue, she asked me to give her a few rolls of my film. I told her it was special film, and that she wouldnt be able to develop it in Romania. But she was insistent. Then give me some money so I can buy some film at the kiosk across the street, she said.
In the end I refused. Gypsies were mistreated for so long that there is incredible pressure for them to get something out of outsiders. Its a game they play that they have to win, and usually its for money.
I hired a guide named José in Madrid who claimed to have good connections to Gypsies. As we left the airport, I asked him how he made his living. He looked at me and said, I talk about God. I didnt know what to think, but I asked him not to talk about God while we were working. In fact, I forbade it.
The next day I waited 45 minutes while he approached some Gypsies on my behalf, or so I thought. When I heard him say Jesus in Spanish, I took him aside. This is not what I hired you for, I said. I insisted he do his work or he would be fired. He angrily agreed.
Not only did he do the same thing the next day, but he handed my car keys to a drunken guy who tried to drive off. I caught the guy and went over to José. This time I gave him two options: Drive me back to the hotel where I would pay him for his time and fire him, or I would drive myself and still fire him. He took me back, we argued all the way, and I kept my word.