My name is Alunita Nicola. My surname is the only thing that I inherited from my father. He died when I was less than a month old. Shortly before his death my parents fled from Romania to France during the Ceausescu dictatorship. My mother was heavily pregnant with me at the time. Without a husband, she moved back to Romania in order to raise her four children.

We lived in a cabin. I should probably say “survived”, actually. We often didn’t have anything to eat, there weren’t enough clothes for everyone and I had to walk more than a kilometre to get water. I was already an adult at ten years old. At that age, instead of going to school, I started working in the vegetable fields in order to financially support my mother. At 19, I went to Germany for my first time as a seasonal worker, where I picked asparagus and berries. I taught myself the alphabet and looked for night classes so that I could learn German. I speak my native Romanian as well as German, Italian, French— and even a little bit of Swiss German.

photograph of a smiling Alunita Nicola
Portrait of Alunita. (Bodara/Suprise)

Living in Romania is still difficult. There are not any prospects for young people there. Poverty and corruption make life difficult. You have to pay the doctors, even if you have health insurance. A few years ago, I nearly died from appendicitis. If my mother hadn’t buttered up the doctors, they wouldn’t have operated on me.

I am excited that my 11-year-old son can go to school in Switzerland now. Life here for me isn’t easy either, but I’m able to survive and my son has a future. I fight every day to earn money to pay the rent. I’m just able to make ends meet by selling Surprise. I’ve not found another position of permanent employment until now. It’s difficult to find work when you don’t have a permanent residence permit. The issue is that I need to find a permanent job again in order to increase my chances of getting permanent residence permit. Sometimes the pressure of that almost makes me ill.

People on the street give me power…I often chat with my customers. Many of them change their opinion when they hear my life story.

I would like to be independent and to earn enough to give my son a better life than the one I had. I would like to teach him that you have to work for your money, but that you can also live on it. But how can I do that without a permanent residence permit or a permanent job?

Luckily, I forget this pressure when I’m working for Surprise. People on the street give me power. Many of them encourage me when I’m stuck. I often chat with my customers. Many of them change their opinion when they hear my life story. Their interest in my life touches me. A friend of mine told me about Surprise when I was desperately looking for work. From the first time I walked into the Surprise office, someone has always there for me whenever I have needed help. Sometimes I go to the Surprise team’s football training, where I often score goals. When I have some money, I take my son to the indoor swimming pool. I often have to save money, though, so we go for long walks instead. My biggest wish is to find a good job.

I would especially like to sell SBB [Swiss Federal Rail- ways] tickets. I’d get to meet different people, like I do through my work with Surprise, and I could help them in their day to day lives. This probably won’t happen as I don’t have school qualifications. However, on the other hand, I’ve learned that I can achieve a lot when I work hard.

Street Spirits is a monthly feature in which someone who lives on the street tells us their story.

Translated by Catherine Castling. This article originally appeared in Surprise, the street newspaper in Basel, Switzerland. Courtesy INSP.ngo.