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He came on a white horse

They are only 4,000 Tinsmiths, one of the most insular clans of Bulgarian Roma. They live throughout the country working their old craft, repairing pots and pans and fashioning gutters. They have their own language and traditions, and keep apart from other Roma. Tinsmith tradition requires that they marry inside the clan. A few times a year, the clan gathers so the eligible girls and boys can meet. Another of their traditions is the bride price, a payment to a girl’s family from her future husband’s family. These gatherings have been characterized by the dominant culture as “bride markets” and sensationalized in the mass media. The Tinsmith’s traditions have become controversial since Bulgaria joined the EU. Because of the young age at which girls marry and because the girls are kept from school and denied opportunity other than marrying and being a housewife. When, I first met Rossi she was 23 and, when it came to finding a husband, far behind other girls from the clan, many of whom married at the age of 14 or 15. I learned that Rossi wanted to be a designer but her mother doesn’t allow her to study. I encouraged her to draw her fashion ideas and this made her happy. But she won’t have any chance to pursue a career. Tradition destines her to be a wife and a mother. Rossi’s mother, Stoyanka took her out of school when she turned 13, to keep her from the company of boys and protect her virginity. Rossi is permitted to leave the house only when accompanied by her mother. Virginity and long hair are important to the Tinsmiths in deciding bride price. Rossi has very long hair, perhaps the longest of all the girl’s in the clan, and her mother is asking as much as 30,000 Bulgarian leva (15,000 euros) as a bride price. Rossi fell in love with a boy at one of the clan gatherings but his family didn’t have the bride price. She begged her mother to lower the price but her mother refused. Rebelling, she ran off with the boy. Her brother’s went after her and brought her back. Now, unable to study or pursue a career, and only able to socialize with family or under supervision, Rossi stays at home and waits for HIM, her future husband. Stoyanka allows Rossi to use Facebook because she’s confident Rossi can’t lose her virginity online. I first met and photographed Katia when she was 13 and dressing to go to one of the clan gatherings. Two years later, Katia was deeply in love with a boy from a faraway city. Initially they communicated using Facebook but I noticed she stopped posting. She told me her boyfriend doesn’t allow her to use social networks. She told me she dreamed to be a doctor but now she just wants to marry and have children. I believe that if the world sees the Tinsmith girls, they may see the world too.