Constantin Mustafa, 59, Co-op, Canford Lane, Westbury-on-Trym

On special Romanian celebrations, Constantin likes to bring traditional food from his home country to share with his customers

Eight years ago I moved to Bristol and I started selling the magazine from the moment I moved here so I can survive. I heard about The Big Issue through some friends from Romania who lived here. They explained how it works and took me to The Big Issue office and I started vending from there. Things have been pretty good recently and my family and I can survive with the money that I make on my pitch. I get a stable income where I can support my wife, children and grandchildren and we can live well. 

I have a very good relationship with my customers. Ever since I started selling, they have been nothing but loving towards me. I am part of this community now. With every magazine that my customers buy, I know that at the end of the day I can provide for my family and put food on the table. I try to explain to them that I am thanking them for every single magazine sale that I make. I want to say thank you to everyone who helps me, and to everyone who walks past my pitch every day and says hi to me. All my customers have a very big soul. 

On special Romanian celebrations, I normally bring traditional food for my customers. People are not like this in Romania, I almost feel like it’s part of their culture to help people out. In Romania, people of different ethnicities like myself are avoided and insulted. But in this country, I haven’t been insulted, on the contrary, people hug me, thank me and support me.   

I used to work in construction and welding and even plumbing. I did many jobs in my days in Romania. But this is my home now. I left Romania because it is impossible to live there any more. Everything is expensive there, there’s no job opportunities and not enough hospitals and schools, and this is all because of the government and the president. The people who are governing the country should be ashamed of themselves because they are not helping their citizens. During communism, everyone was offered a place to live and jobs. But now, everyone is struggling there. 

I miss Romania, I love my country but I have no reason to go back there to visit. A lot of people are leaving because of the poverty there. All the younger generations have moved to other countries and the elderly have been left behind. My children sometimes go there on holiday. 

In Romania, very few members of parliament are supportive of the Gypsy Roma community. I was involved with politics there, but I didn’t support only one party. I tried to help all parties, because I wanted all of them to start helping citizens. As a person who fought in the Romanian Revolution of 1989, I was a hero in the country. So I was supposed to be awarded certain benefits, pensions and have certain rights, but I didn’t get them.

I was an adviser in the Roma Political Party and I was supporting them with several campaigns for the leaders to win more votes in the parliament. But I was left disappointed when the leaders changed and we were left disenfranchised. After this, I decided to move to UK.  

The Big Issue is good for me as I am of a certain age and have some health problems. At this age I don’t have an awful lot of plans, I want to live a peaceful live and I want to see my grandchildren receive a good education here, go to universities, find good employment and accomplish things. The future is in their hands. My kids are working and are helping with paying rent and utilities. I have a very hard-working family. 

People always find ways to survive even when they are faced with life struggles. We shouldn’t judge people. God will always help you to find a way to survive. 

Interview: Paula Gombos

Co-op Food - Westbury-on-Trym, Canford Lane, Westbury-On-Trym, Bristol, UK