On the way to the school, Rizza, the sun is strong and relentless. Still, old men sit around a table positioned right in the middle of the sidewalk playing cards. They are wearing woolens— a seeming necessity to all older people, regardless of the weather. It makes me sweat just to look at them.
When I arrive inside of the building I feel the cool air and am relieved to be out of the sun. I love this old school and these classrooms in all of their stark simplicity. They remind me of photos I have seen of classrooms in Communist countries—plain walls, tables that accommodate two students each . Ever -present bars on the windows. The paint is chipped and peeling and the tables are covered with graffiti—some of it inexplicable such as “We love hands!” Others, such as “ItaloBoyz” or “Andrea mi vita” and “Azzuri,” are understandable.
A team of teachers including the tutor, Valeria, cultural mediator and co-teacher Ramzi, the teacher Mariela and a few expert teachers from different fields to instruct the immigrant students in legal, socio-economic and Italian civics and law. These classes occur every Monday and Thursday from 5pm-8pm.
The students are made up of predominantly men, with a few women. In this particular class, a Tunisian woman, Moufida, was a gentle presence. She has lived in Sicily for 21 years and is the mother of 3 children. She is curious to see what Italy can teach her formally and hopefully position herself to get a job in one of the organizations. She is warm and friendly and speaks beautiful Italian.
One man walks in, sits down, and in the absence of other students, decides to leave. Shortly after, observing true Sicilian time (30 minutes late!), seven men from Africa and Afghanistan take their place at the tables. They are well dressed and quiet. A few of them speak no Italian at all.
The class focused on different aspects of immigration and so, I was asked to get up and speak about my experience of Immigration as an Italian-American. My friend, former Brigadier of the Finance Police, Antonino Audino, spoke, as well, about his own immigration out of the country as well as his work with the immigrants and refugees seeking refuge in Sicily.
The students listened, patiently and with great respect, even the ones who could not understand a word. Ramzi mediated the information and placed it into the proper context for them. Ramzi is animated and connects incredibly well with the students, as do all of the teachers in the classroom. Ramzi, himself, is an immigrant from Tunisia and speaks directly to the students, emphasizing certain points. He has gained their respect and their trust. They never take their eyes off of him.
At the end of class, as I am packing my things away, I see something scribbled on the table that I was sitting at that I missed before: “ E strano crederci, ma e realta.” Translation: “It is a strange belief, but it is reality.” I wonder who wrote this—why and under what circumstances. What is so strange about the belief? Or maybe it is not a belief, per se, but hope, instead? And really, who among us can’t relate to such a sentiment ?