MotM Update | This Is What’s Up
14 May 2019
This Is What’s Up
When I left you last, I was on a stopover in Napoli reflecting on the nature of home and what you would need to survive when you left it. I had just departed Sicily (after departing Rome, after departing New York City), where I met Ebrima in the southwestern corner of the island for the first time after two years. The drive back to Palermo was on a bus through the craggy Sicilian hills where white swooping blades of turbines ate up the wind coming off the Mediterranean. They appeared again and again in Titan surprise as we took every turn and ridge in the road, a big, unbroken wave hello. From Palermo a special person entered my life––this guy from last year, a journalist who covers migration too. We stopped in Cefalu, admired the sea and each other, and drove across the rest of Sicily’s northern coast until hopping aboard the ferry from Messina to Reggio Calabria. We stopped in the migrant enclave Camini in the hilly province of Reggio Calabria, where people who had arrived from Africa and the Middle East over the years were welcomed, housed, and offered employment to help rebuild the town. “Mangia la torta,” was the first thing mayor Guiseppe Alfarano said as he handed me a slice of cake on a paper plate when we met at the central bar/cafe/trattoria/pizzeria (it functions as all four) in Camini. A kid’s birthday was in progress, and he wanted me to feel welcomed, too––“Eat cake!” We toured neighboring Riace the next day, the more famous city in the very southern tip of the boot, where migrants have been welcomed historically with warmth and labor opportunities. The guy and I parted ways in Lamezia, Calabria with a kiss and I went on alone to Cosenza in search of two Gambians I met in Lampedusa two years before. One was sick and couldn’t meet, the other had left just the day before, unannounced, to the north of Italy where he was now waiting at the French border in Ventimiglia; later, he texted, that he arrived safe after crossing the Alps on foot. I met Amadou (reunion story forthcoming), Douglas and Issaka, and encountered both housing managers and regional administrators in migration who expressed concern and deep care for the migrants in their charge; hospitality is more intuitive and expressive here than it is in the north. In Rome––home––and beside that guy again, I kept a base of travel that took me to Krakow, Poland, my ancestral homeland, for the first time. I stayed with a friend, another journalist covering migration, who I met in Lampedusa two years ago, and was astonished to keep seeing how that tiny island has brought the world and my history to my feet. I went back to Rome and saw Pazi, who said he’d have to meet and approve “this guy who wants to date my sister”; I’ve always wanted a brother and now I’ve got one. I met Mustapha, Almameh and Foday (all Gambia; all stories forthcoming), and reunited with Ousman and Yanks (both reunion stories forthcoming), and with Fabulous (reunion story forthcoming), too. Bakary and I had a fleeting hello the same afternoon, where he turned the interview on me and asked a checklist of questions about my boyfriend instead of me asking him about his work, his pending contract, and his seemingly unending wait for his asylum hearing to be scheduled. In Bergamo I met Lamin and Buba (Gambia), but missed Wally, who none of us had heard from in weeks or months; we shared concern for him, who was normally an exuberant presence in our lives and WhatsApp feeds. Baye left for Ventimiglia at the border by the time I arrived in Milan to see him; I missed everyone in Milan, a city where I’ve found it harder to connect with migrants than in, say, Rome and Italy’s southern cities. But I reunited with Moses (story forthcoming) in the foothill town in Molise, Isernia, where he recounted his normal day-in-the-life. It includes waking at 6:00am, begging for work carrying customers’ bags outside grocery stores for pocket change, then returning home by 10:00pm to rest in time to do it all over again tomorrow; his average daily earnings are 15 Euros. I returned to Isernia again the following week to greet his housemates; they were reluctant to speak because, they said, the housing managers were eavesdropping on them. Those very people, their managers, became my friends and expressed gratitude for the writing I do to give Moses and the others visibility; but the life experience of most migrants living in the housing is still so far on the fringes of Italian society and governance that they don’t recognize the intention of their hosts, one very swift barometer of how integrated migrants in Italy truly are. And that is the past three months. That’s what’s up.
“WE ARE ONE,” says the message spelled in fractured rocks on the edge of the Estrella desert near Phoenix, Arizona. I am in this pocket of the southwest for a break, and in Tucson all this week observing Operation Streamline hearings at the US District Court. I’ll be there in the name of dignity for the disenfranchised Mexican and Central American migrants being criminalized for their lack of privilege. A small silent protest while I work up the rest of the stories to share with you soon. Until next week!