18 September 2012

Chapter Three: Settling in.

A Sicilian Diary of Nina Perkowski

The last few days have been quieter, no more travelling to Cassibile or Mineo – instead, I took some time to explore my new temporary home town, Catania. On Friday, I attended a screening of a film on the US bases in Sicily and worldwide with a subsequent discussion – and ended up leaving early, after 2,5hrs of understanding only the very basics of what was going on. Over the last few days I also went to a concert in an occupied theatre, strolled the market, went for my first ride on the back of a little motorino, explored a bit of the city’s seaside, and took long walks through the city.
While regarding the concert, I had hoped for some dancing and the right setting to colloquially talk to some people, it ended up to be a seated, quiet evening – with a rather interesting musical performance on stage. Walking back home though, there were suddenly hundreds and thousands of people out on the streets, drinking, talking, sitting and standing inside or in front of bars in streets that had been closed off completely by the police, and that were carefully guarded by police officers. Watching the scenes as I passed by, I felt slightly out of place among the chicly dressed locals. Maybe it wasn’t that bad after all that the concert had ended up being a quiet one, rather than being a proper part of all this hustle and bustle in the rest of the city centre?

At the market, I was amazed by the amount of fruit and vegetables sold there, and slightly taken aback by the piles of meat presented and cut everywhere. Language-wise, shopping there turned out to work fine – even though all vendors did take notice of the fact that I was a foreigner they understood me just fine and I in turn could understand them. In terms of language more generally, I started to revise grammar and learn vocabulary intensely two days ago. As I would like to have meaningful conversations with people living in Mineo and Cassibile, for instance, – and ideally as soon as possible – I really hope that revising and learning new words in addition to interactions with Sicilians around me get me to a much higher level quickly.

My primary contact person here in Catania is on vacation now, and will be gone for a week. As he is the only person with a car working from Catania in Cassibile and Mineo, I won’t be going to these places in the next week. While I heard that there are divisions between the various activists working with migrants and refugees here, I decided to reach out to other local organisations in the meantime to get to know their work and their perspective on the situation of migrants and refugees in Catania and Sicily more generally. A wonderful contact from Catania shared some of his knowledge of the local ‘scene’ of migrants’ rights activism with me, and I hope my attempts to contact people will turn out to be fruitful.

As learning Italian will not only be a matter of studying grammar and words, I also contacted the university sports club and asked if I could join, and am in touch with a number of Couchsurfers who are willing to meet up with me and show me around. Luckily, I now finally have a working mobile phone as well, making communication with others a lot easier. After the miraculous disappearance of all in all 25 Euros that I had spent on my first SIM, and the slapstick-like experience of being sent back and forth between different branches of the same store to solve my issues, a very friendly and helpful assistant in one of those branches had pity with me and advocated on my behalf vis-à-vis the service hotline. Thanks to him, I got somebody to explain to me that they knew where 0,65Cent of my credit had gone. Some had been used towards payment of the monthly plan, but 15Euros just had disappeared. Whereto? “I don’t know. I can’t tell you. Maybe you used the internet or signed up to some payed service.” Mhhhh. In the end, I just bought a new SIM, the friendly assistant gave me 5 Euro credit with it, and my phone finally works.

Just like last week, I have close to no idea what the following week will bring. I am looking forward to hopefully engaging with some of the organisations I contacted though, and to understanding more and more about the migratory situation here on the island…

Nina Perkowski came to Sicily to research the living situation of immigrants from Africa in Sicily for her PhD. For borderline-europe, she reported the situation in Cassibile and Mineo, where there is a collective home for asylum seekers. Within ten chapters Nina wrote down her experiences and her monitorings.

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