Children of the Sewer

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Travel

Children of the Sewer

Bucharest's foundations are home to dozens of deformed children.
March 22, 2012, 2:45pm

In 2011 I travelled from Italy to Bucharest, where I spent a few weeks photographing the sewage system of Gare Du Nord (the city's main train station) and the children who call it home.

Under the guidance of a heavily tattooed 30-year-old man who calls himself "Bruce Lee," they spend their days begging in the street and sniffing a toxic paint called Aurolac. They meet every afternoon in the sewer, form a circle, and begin their ritual. "It makes us forget the hunger and the piercing cold for a few minutes, but then everything gets worse and you want to die. This is why a lot of us end up cutting ourselves with knives and razor blades," explained Bruce, as he showed me his own scars.

Next to him sat Valentina, 27, who complained that the rats and the mice gnawing at her head would not let her sleep at night. Her friend Fiorentina, was 33 years old and two months pregnant. Her deformed hands are the hands of someone who was born and lives underground in conditions of excruciatingly poor hygiene, and who continuously uses drugs. Her son will almost certainly be born with physical deformities, too.

Then there was Costel. At 14 years old, he seemed to be the most pampered of the group, though his face hadn't escaped the ravaging effects of Aurolac. He told me he liked living in the sewers, which are currently inhabited by an estimated 5,000 people.

In 2012, Europe's biggest consumer brands are starting to invest in Bucharest, but the subterranean legacy of Ceausescu's dictatorship continues to live its halflife in the sewers.