One Family, One Room, Little Hope

Romanians long for decent homes of their own.

ALL over Eastern Europe, people dream of a place to live, an apartment of their own. Some even dream of a house. In the Anticorozivul chemical plant's housing project on the outskirts of Bucharest, these dreams are particularly strong.

For there, in the barrack-like apartment building on the muddy Aleca Mizil Street, people live in poverty and misery. The fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu has meant no changes, no improvements in their hard daily lives.

All the tenants in this building work at the chemical plant. Each family has one room, no matter how big the family is.

Virginica Vasilache, her husband, and their four children between the ages of eight months and seven years have one of these rooms containing one large bed, a couple of chairs, a table, a closet, a television, a refrigerator, and a hot plate. That's all.

Everything else - the bathroom, the toilet, the kitchen, the washroom - is shared with everyone else along the dimly lit corridor on the second floor of the three-story building.

Mrs. Vasilache has lived in this room for nine years.

``For nine years I have hoped for a better apartment, for nine years I have wished this house to be damned,'' she says, holding one child in her arms, while two others lie on the big bed and the smallest snoozes in the crib.

She is on a list, together with 800 other employees at the plant, seeking a better place to live. Maybe she'll get one in six months. Maybe the wait will be longer. The plant is their only chance. There is no other way to get an apartment in Bucharest.

Her husband is not around. He's out drinking with the boys, she indicates with a gesture to the mouth and laughs. She and her husband work six days a week and constantly change between the three different work shifts at the plant a couple of miles away. She never works the same shift as her husband, so one of them is always at home with the children.

``The night shift is the best, because then I can spend the days with the children,'' she says.

Together, they make 4,400 lei ($210) per month. Rent is 400 lei per month in summer and 800 in winter. There is now more food in the stores - everything is better after the overthrow of Ceausescu, she says. She even found olives today for the first time in six years, she adds and smiles; if she only had another apartment.

PAUL MOCANU, his wife Elena, and their eight-year-old son George live in a neighboring apartment. They have also lived here for nine years. George is mentally handicapped - perhaps because of the fumes workers breathe at the chemical plant, which contain zinc and lead.

``My teeth are not good and my chest aches,'' Mr. Mocanu says. ``I am not as strong anymore.''

For them, the revolution has brought more food to the stores and electricity, which is on now all the time. (Under Ceausescu, the power was turned off between 7 and 10 a.m., 5 and 7 p.m., and 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.)

``The television is also much better,'' he says, pointing at the old black-and-white set in a corner of their room, which is otherwise dominated by a big bed. ``We especially like the cartoons, which we could never see before.''

Paul and Elena also dream of a better place to live, maybe even a house.

``Here it is impossible to have a family life,'' they say, ``and we can't improve it.''

Since they are not from Bucharest, their only hope for a better place to live is their employer, the chemical plant. All other apartments in Bucharest are unavailable to them.

``We've dreamed of another apartment for years,'' Paul says.

``Now we're on a waiting list and have been promised one by winter. But we don't believe in the promises; it could take three more years.''

After 25 years of the Ceausescu dictatorship, the skepticism and mistrust of the people in Romania is deep. As they struggled to make ends meet and keep their families alive and together, the dictator built a gigantic new palace in Bucharest. They can now talk openly about that and everything else that happened during the Ceausescu years.

But the freedom to talk is, so far at least, the only obvious change in their lives. Now, in a democratic Romania, they hope for something much more.

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