Monthly Archives: August 2012

Ramzi Harrabi: Immigrato Tunisio : mediare per la cultura per il cambiamento e per la pace.


Ramzi (left) consulting with a teacher in the classroom.

Ramzi Harrabi is a musician, a poet , cultural mediator and an immigrant from Tunisia, living in Italy.  While I have often reported on the difficulties that immigrants often face, Ramzi represents success—through determination and understanding of himself and those around him.  He interacts with his community in an open and honest way, which has earned him the trust and respect of many.  He took some time to answer some of my questions.  His perspective is a unique one: informed by his own experiences,  yet circumspect and  full of hope.

MR:How did you come to live in  Italy?

Well, Initially, I came here thinking that  I would only be staying a few months. I wanted to find my father and get documents as every body had said that Italy was planning an amnesty for all illegal immigrants.  I arrived from Germany where I had overstayed my visa. My idea was to come here to Sicily where my father who is an immigrant, would host me , wait a few months , get documents  and then travel again. But as you can see I m still here.

MR:You are well integrated into your community  now, aren’t you?

RH:Yes and I always was.  I think that  human beings have a natural tendency  to be part of any community where they are hosted.  I can  tell you it took me a couple of years for me to adjust mentally and to accept that Sicily was my new address.

MR:You are a cultural mediator, what are your views?

RH:I think that the most dangerous thing for  people today is the “ethnocentrism” , as it makes us think only to support who we belong to and become less rational in our operations and actions . That is why I try always to mediate  between cultures and try to help people around me to interact as one group and one global community, with a unique  goal of having  different perspectives . Planet earth is one and so is mankind. Humanity is a bit disorientated from this point of view, as generally  countries and communities  have acted to promote a culture of superiority and hostility towards others. Thus in turn leaving less space for curiosity and harmony .

So a cultural mediator is a person who acts as a bridge between two different people and helps them to absorb each others  perspective without prejudice  and with the advantage  of comprehension and tolerance.

Above all, you  should be a good listener , because listening is the most important criteria in communication. Furthermore, observing others, deciphering individuals and cultures and trying to accept them as they are is the key to constructive dialogue.

In my opinion , any human being who has this quality can happily be integrated and coexist in any social reality.

MR:You are the president of the council of immigrants in Sicily. What exactly  is your role?

RH:I spend more time trying to convince the Italian associations that are  part of the council to act with intercultural competence  and with less with the intention of charity.    We need  to help people with professionalism  and with the placing the right  figures in the right posts. Charity  is welcome but it is never enough, by itself,  in the process of integration.

As the council of immigrants we try to help the municipality to prepare its projects for the integration of neo-Italians and to train the figures that will work with immigrants plus a daily work of mediation, wherever it is requested.

Ramzi, out and about in the community

MR:What have you done that you are particularly proud of?

RH: “Futuro Inter-Culturale” is an educational project in an elementary school that I designed and managed  myself for the municipality . I also taught a few subjects related  to Islam, Arabic culture and ethnic music . I taught local kids a Tunisian song that they performed with me at the closing of the project;  today after 5 years they still sing it when they see me. It is an incredible feeling, knowing that I  left an imprint in their lives. I am pretty much sure that those kids ( around 70 of them ) would never willingly act with racism against any body.

Another great experience has been leading Arcadia University (MCAS) students in Tunisia and introducing  them to my homeland while helping them to discover the beauty of diversity, thus planting the roots with them for future peace  between the  USA and  Arabic nations.

MR: So, are you a singer , a painter or a poet? 

RH:I am simply a human being that is trying  to express certain feelings via Art. Communication is based on listening as I said earlier,  but also it is mainly based on tapping  in to people’s hearts and minds. So if you want to be listened to you should be able to reach those hearts and those minds.

MR: Well, said.  Thank you, Ramzi!

 

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La Strada Dell’ Oblio: ‘The Way of Oblivion’: “Lost” by Ramzi Harrabi


 ‘Today the situation in Italy is changing in the direction of an even stricter control of refugees and migrants.  The main restrictions concern the possibilities of obtaining a visa as well as the militarization of the borders and the Italian territory.  The ‘way of oblivion’ is the specific shape assumed by exclusionary practices in the Italian context. Refugees are like ghosts in the Italian public space and discourse; their fate seems to be entrapped between their representation as an anonymous mass that threatens the Italian borders, and their oblivion as individual subjects and citizens.’

—-Enrica Capussotti and Lilliana Ellena, Feminist Review, 73, 2003

Lost by Ramzi Harrabi

LOST by RAMZI HARRABI

This piece is by Tunisian artist and musician Ramzi Harrabi.   I have meditated on this piece and it has grabbed me and moved me in a vulnerable place.

I see the boats going along their voyage,  moving away from its point of relative safety and towards what will almost certainly be a perilous journey with many promises at the outset, but really, no guarantees.

The ocean is a brilliant blue, seemingly peaceful and benign when viewed from solid ground , but is really  treacherous , as one is tossed about its waves . Allow yourself, for just one moment, to imagine this:  men , women, children, the elderly, board a rickety boat or a rubber dinghy.  The “captain” of the boat decides to remove the provisions—small  amounts of food and water meant to sustain those taking the journey, in order to squeeze more people on the boat.  This means more money for the trafficker, who charges what would amount to outright extortion in any other setting—human cargo.

Harrabi uses various shades of red and orange— perhaps the the licking  and persistent flames of hell—representative of the trials and tribulations the journey is rife with.  The yellow sun is interspersed and hard to shield yourself from as you bounce upon the ocean.  The night, when it comes, is even more sinister.

Witness the lost boat(s) upon Harrabi’s canvas, perhaps representing the many that never arrive at their destination.  How many has the Mediterranean claimed this year? Last year?  Five years before?  The nameless , faceless “ghosts,” who,  are already vulnerable take the chance of a lifetime. This is the ultimate gamble, where the currency with which they  pay, is often their  life.

There will always be the boats. People are on the move.  The men who profit from human misery, preying on hopes and dreams.   Those who never arrive.  Those that do and remain “clandestine” like ghosts, moving uneasily and with heavy hearts in the new place they’ve found themselves, far from those who love them.

Harrabi applies heart, mind and soul and tells an entire story on canvas. We can find so much there if we, both literally and figuratively, just open our eyes and , for once, are willing to see, and not, thoughtlessly, just look away.

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Interview with Gabriele Del Grande of “Fortress Europe”


Gabriele Del Grande spent six years travelling around the Mediterranean , along the borders of Europe in order to chronicle the passage of refugees and immigrants crossing borders.  He is a writer , blogger and journalist in Italy who is, to say the least, well-informed and passionate. He maintains a blog–Fortress Europe, where he  posts on every aspect of immigration and migration , both the human side as well as the political.   He is a passionate and tireless champion of human rights and his blog is, incredibly, translated into 21 different langages.  I interviewed Gabriele by e-mail who was gracious enough to find time to answer my questions about the human cost  immigration and migration in Italy.
Sempre Sicilia: Do you feel that Europe is a fortress—perhaps both literally and figuratively?
Gabriele Del Grande:When you realize that some 18,000 people have died trying to reach Europe, the image of the fortress becomes real. If it is not enough, just think to the around 200 detention camps which exist all around EU with the function to detain, identify and deport tens of thousands of foreign people every year.

Gabriele Del Grande

SS:Border patrol and border closings , coupled with the failure to rescue those at sea is incredibly worrying . Please speak about this.
GDG:Concerning patrols, the situation is very different from country to country. Italian Coast Guard, for example, has always distinguished for an extraordinary effort in life rescue at sea. At the point that some officials of Frontex criticised Italian authorities telling that they had opened a sea highway in the Mediterranean rescuing people even in the Tunisian and Libyan waters. Off course there are problems in the rescue, especially in Malta and in Greece (for political reason) as well as in Libya, Tunisia and Morocco (for lack of meanings, like boats, radar…). But the main problem is the borders’ closure. I mean we do have to rescue people at sea, but at the same time people has to get the right to travel legally without risking their life. In the eighties there were no sea crossing, and the reason was that people didn’t need visa to reach EU at that time.
SS:Recently Amnesty International blasted the European Union in not so subtle language about their indifference to migrants’ lives, saying ‘Today, Europe is failing to promote and respect he rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. . . Hostility is widespread and mistreatment often goes unreported. ‘ While I believe the reasons for this are not only multifactorial, but complicated, please speak to some of these issues and your personal thoughts on how the EU is failing migrants.
GDG:The issue is very complex and has different sides to examine. I mean we don’t really have a European policy, everything is left to the central government, and so the migration policies can differ a lot from one country to another and from one legislation to another. But generally speaking I think that the main problem with migration is the lack of a European policies on mobility. I don’t believe that a foreign should receive aid from the State because he is a foreigner or because he is a refugee. I do think that people has the right to travel and to cross the borders, following their projects. And here, I insist, EU must decriminalise migration and give to everybody the right to move and to stay. Otherwise we can consider ourselves responsible for the massacres of the Mediterranean, those 18,000 lives lost in the last 20 years at the gates of EU.
SS:Do you think that Amnesty International will be successful at holding the EU accountable for their actions or lack of them?
GDG:I’ve no idea. EU is politics, I mean we vote to be represented in the EU, and the political parties who win the majority decide how to rule the Union. In these years of widespread racism we assist to the institutionalisation of racism and discrimination, even inside the leading party. That’s why we need, first of all, a new culture, a new approach to the issue, which will be caught only in a second moment from the political forces.
SS:Amnesty had also  reported  a secret deal with Libya a while back–purportedly with the Libyan National Transit Council in order to ‘curtail the flow of migrants”. Thoughts?
GDG:The deal actually was not so secret. It’s an old story, since the times of Gheddafi, EU and Italy are trying to negotiate with Libyan authorities a treaty to push back people intercepted in the sea travelling towards Lampedusa (Italy). The great concern of Amnesty and other human rights organization was that once arrested in Libya, people could face inhuman conditions in the detention camps. That was true at the time of Gheddafi, and unfortunately it is still true nowadays in the after war Libya. Anyway there is a great difference. That since the end of the war, Libya is no more a transit country for Europe. In the first six months of 2012 only one thousand people crossed the Channel of Sicily, leaving from Libya and Tunisia, nothing compared with the 50,000 who did it in 2011. The reasons are mainly two. From one side the big economic crise which hit Europe making it less attractive for the workers of the south. From the other side, with the end of the regime of Gheddafi, the smugglers networks collapsed. And that happened because smugglers very tied with and supported by the regime forces.
SS:Amnesty makes a bold indictment against Italy , asserting: ‘Italy, has , at best, ignored the die plight of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers . At worst , it has shown itself willing to condone human rights abuses in order to meet national political self-interests.” How does this line up with how regular Italian citizens feel about those flocking their shores?
GDG:Italy lived three years of racist policies under the last government of Berlusconi, with an Interior Minister – Roberto Maroni – from the xenophobic party Lega Nord. Now fortunately not everything went wrong. The Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional some decrees, while some European directives corrected in a positive way those same policies. Italian citizens have many different views. The common point is that often they do not have a real experience of the issue, and they just repeat a main discourse produced by the political class and spread by the mass media.

The Always Perilous Crossing

SS:The human cost of migration is high. Do you see things changing?
GDG:Yes things are changing very fast. With the crises Europe is becoming less and less attracting, and people are heading somewhere else. The number of arrival by sea decreases every year. And the social movement for the rights of foreigners become stronger and stronger. So we have to be optimistic and do our best to keep on struggling.
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Culture: Yours, Mine and Ours: Some Thoughts


In my work, my interactions with people, my poetry and fiction—–in  my life in general,  I am always exploring the  question of  culture, identity and belonging. I do this less in an academic way than in a personal way.   I have asked myself questions regarding these notions for as long as I can remember—before I could put a name to the activity.  I only know what it felt like so long ago, as a young girl.  I call it “belonging, “ now, with so much distances, though I would not, nor could I have called it that then.  Children feel more, tend not to intellectualize, though even way back then I lived in my head, much as I do now.  Because for me, life  is guided by a series of questions I ask myself and must answer.  And sometimes getting at the answers means coming out of myself.  Thus this blog, as just one example.

As I have shared in a previous blog post, my identity is rooted quite firmly in the notion of being Italian-American.  But the interesting thing is that I was always so conscious of the identity.  I felt it through and through and would have had a difficult time, at best, extricating myself from it if I had wanted to—which of course, I never did.

Thankfully, I did not have to fight for my identity.  I did not have to assert who I was.  I felt comfortable (still do) in my culture.  Others accepted that  I was Italian-American.  My classmates all “looked” like me, our families had the same values, our mothers and fathers were friends, former classmates, my friends cousins married my cousins.  Culture was intertwined  and inextricable on so very many levels.

For many years, as I child, I would preface comments to my mother such as “When I was born in Italy,” and my mother would have to remind me that, in fact, I was not born in Italy and where I got that silly notion she had no idea.  I wasn’t until so many years later that the reason I thought that way was because I felt that way.  I used to proclaim that Sundays, in our home , were “Roman Days”. What that mean , to me, what that the smell of my mother’s “gravy” (Italian-Americans NEVER call it “sauce”) was bubbling on the stove just like every single home in our neighborhood.   I was a quiet and inscrutable child , so there was a lot that my parents did not question about me.  But, maybe by now you understand what I am getting at:  I could not have identified more with my culure if I tried.  And I didn’t have to try—–it just was. And as a child, food one just one of the ways I identified with culture.

Much like the age old question “Who is a Jew,” the notion of belonging , at its very essense is being  challenged in the European Union as people are on the move, for any variety of reasons, though most of them being economic.  People will go where the jobs are , because one must eat and live.   “Who is Italian,” is such an interesting notion to me as Italy has seen a burgeoning of immigrants and refugees in the past 20 years.  Let me qualify this:  if you do not look European, your identity is challenged. And where are most of the refugees  and immigrants coming from?  Countries in Africa, mainly.

We have our own problems in the United States with “Who is American,” and argument I eschew because it tends to bring out the worst in those who call themselves “patriots.” And yes, we all  know that none of us, no matter how many generations our family has lived in the US,  is a “native American” because we all came from somewhere, first.  But  in the United States, the argument is mainly about legality—who is a legal American.  We do not question ( at least not according to the law) that the child of an immigrant if born in the United States is a citizen.  That does not protect them from taunts, from hatred or hate crimes.   But they are entitled to life , liberty and the pursuit of happiness (such as it is), at least on paper.   And, for the most part, we celeberate cultures , these days—we do not try to hide who we are.  A friend from India once asked me why so many Italian-Americans do not speak Italian.  In her family, from New Delhi, India, it was imperative that the language live on through generations.  I pointed out to her ( a lawyer) that  no one had ever tried to squelch that, to force her or her family to “assimilate” or be discriminated against.  Italian-Americans were reviled during the first and most  intense waves of immigration and were forced to abandon the language for “American.”

I know of so many stories of bullying and  ridicule of those who spoke the language.  To speak your native tongue was seen as “unpatriotic.”  It is   still is a common sentiment amongst many that  “If you want to speak that language, go back to your own country!”  To which many can honestly respond “This (USA) IS my country!” The controversy over Barack Obama’s multiracial identity  would be amusing were it not so sinister in its implications.  A black man.  A white mother.  A Muslim name.  And the egregious campaign to accuse him of not even being a natural born citizen of the United States.  Culture and belonging are complicated things still used discriminate in ways one cannot even imagine.  That the campaign about Obama’s citizenship continued after he was already President speaks to the rabid emotions connected with it.  Abandon all intelligence upon entering here.

In my own experience,  at home I am perhaps too Italian (to some).  In Italy, I am perhaps, not Italian enough. Because, as we know, predjudice occurs with alarming regularity (and cruelty) amongst our own kind.  Sicilan vs. Italian.  Southern Italian agains Northern Italian. Well, you get the idea.  One wonders how anyone else trying to be who they really are,  can ever achieve it.  Sounds so simple , but really, it is anything but.

At the European Championship,  Mario Balotelli, a striker for the Manchester City team, born in Ghana but adoped and raised by Italian parents ,was subjected to  bananas being thrown at him by Croats (no strangers to one of the worst kinds of ethnic conflict in recent memory) and  racially degrading chants by  the Spaniards referring  to the obvious: black, but with an Italian name, and perhaps not quite so “evolved.”  On the other side, I consistenly read about Balotelli in saintly terms, his benevolent parents  raising someone totally out of their culture, etc.  And even that grates on me , somehow.  To be treated as some sort of “artifact” is less objectional, in my opinion, but objectional anyway. Balotelli’s story is a good and inspiring one, but that is not the sum of who he is.  And despite all of his achievements, when the story is told in this way, it seems somehow, well, reductive :  what upstanding and wonderful people these Italians were to go against the grain.  It says very little about the amazing striker that Balotelli really is. Do you see what I mean?

So what does all of this have to do with immigration?  The connections are quite easy to see.   Those who are brave enough to leave the what they know, the culture they were born into, to live in another, will have trials seemingly more difficult than the ones they left behind them.  Maybe difficult or next to impossible to find work without exploitation,  a place to live that has a measure of safety, enough food to nourish the body and a sense of belonging.  Being who you are and what you hope to become wherever you may find yourself in the world should not be that difficult.  It is the epitome of unfairness that it actually is.  Welcome here , there.  Welcome anywhere.  Welcome to the world as we know it.

Note:  I welcome anyone, anywhere , to add your own opinions about your own experience with culture and/or immigration.  It is a conversation I would love to have. If you would like to be interviewed about your own experience, please contact me. 

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“Chi Nasce Qui e di Qui”—If You Are Born Here, You Belong Here


When I posted a one question poll asking whether or not the children of immigrants should be granted  automatic citizenship, I was not prepared for the type and number of questions I was asked , before  many  would  hazard an answer.  It actually delighted me that people thought the issue important enough to want to clarify what I meant  , exactly.   Many people wanted to know the context and asked ’are you talking about the USA?’  Others wanted to know if the children were born in the country in which their parents immigrated  to  or if they arrived with their parents.  Some took the opportunity to ask me what, exactly, was my interest in Italian immigration.   One respondent said she did not  answer questions ‘outside of the writing life.’  Still another said he was vehemently opposed to both immigrants and their children having any kind of status in ‘our’ country, but decided not to take my poll.   One person, joked that my poll would hardly provide the proper “crossection,” of the population needed, which, of course I knew.  This is a blog, afterall, and not a scientific experiment.  Still, 82 respondents is not too shabby, even if I did have to twist a few arms.

The Results

And so, I will admit, that I left the question intentionally ambiguous.  I simply wanted to get a sort of general impression of how people think about immigration and who “belongs” and who doesn’t.   I thought of every possible response and every  category EXCEPT for the one which would exclude any possibility of citizenship for children of immigrants was answered.  Even the  ‘I don’t know’ section got a few votes. While Italy does not currently have a policy for the children of immigrants, there is no lack of support for one.  The proposed Sarubbi-Granata Bill would grant citizenship to the children of immigrants born in Italy.  Supporters make so much sense on this point: if they know the language, were born in the country, go to the same schools as everyone else, etc. etc.  it is beyond ABSURD that they would not be granted automatic citizenship.  Not only do they deserve this, it could go a long way in mitigating so much of the racism directed at  them, simply because they are seen as not really belonging—not Italian, or not Italian enough. Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano continues to speak openly and passionately in support of immigration reform

The so-called “Balotelli generation” is the present and future of Italy, a reference to Mario Barwuha Balotelli, an Italian soccer player for both Manchester City and Italy’s national team, adopted by an Italian couple.   Shamefully and paradoxically, that Balotelli is a beloved national hero has not protected him from racism in Italy.

Italian politician (MEB-Member of European Parliament) and journalist, David Sassoli,  heads a campaign called “Chi  Nasce Qui e di Qui”—Whoever is Born Here Belongs Here.  This campaign has the support of many whose opinions count.  We can only hope that it continues to gain momentum and that the children of immigrants in Italy, in fact the EU in general, will get what they rightly deserve: citizenship in their country of birth.

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Asylum-Seeking: Ahmed Saleh, Darfur, Sudan


The first time I met Ahmed Saleh was in refugee center in Siracusa, Sicily in December of 2011. I was introduced to him amongst a dozen other men staying at the center, having made their way to the island from Libya, Tunisia, Sudan, and Afghanistan among other places. Because I tend towards being shy, particulary in crowds, I focused on the friendliest  of faces. Ahmed’s was one of them. I have spoken here before of the smiles that one is greeted with, and Ahmed’s was no exception. Tall and thin , with a handsome and boyish face, he exuded an innocent sort of optimism that was absent in the others. I did not get to speak to him that day, but of the visits I made to the center, he was always there , on the periphery. I noticed that the more animated of men are as eager to find out your purpose there , your own story , as much as you want to hear their’s. But Ahmed was not one of them. For a long time he would be on my mind.

Ahmed Saleh, Sicily

This past May, I was in a classroom in Rizza where a Civics Class for refugees was being conducted. I looked up to see three men walk in. My friend Muhammed, Ahmed and one of their friends found out where where I was and came to see me. I was thrilled. After the high emotions died down, and good strong hugs were exchanged, Ahmed told me that I looked “different from the last time.” “Uh oh,” I thought. “Better?” I asked. “Worse?” I pressed. The men burst out laughing. “Better, better,” he said. “Maybe more relaxed.” He was right.

I’d gone to Sicily in December after a bitter, sad and life-changing personal experience that had settled into the marrow of my bones. It was something I couldn’t shake. I remember being on the plane from Rome to Catania and not being able to stop the flow of tears, something that concerned the flight attendant to distraction. I thought that I would not be able to get far away enough, but once I was the emotion flowed and I was unable to stop it. But I had work to do. I knew what I wanted to do in Sicily. I knew I wanted to lick my wounds and conduct research on immigration. A tall order.. Not(yet) being able to engage in what real ethnography calls for—living with and amongst those I wanted to study—I conducted interviews with as many people as I possibly could and tried to balance my questions so as not to be too intrusive. No easy feat. No one is a stranger to pain and suffering and while I desperately wanted to know about the lives’ of those who had come to Sicily seeking a better way, I had no intention of dredging up what hurt the most. I knew all too well how that would feel. I don’t know whether that makes me a bad ethnographer or a good one, but I’d like to think it makes me a compassionate one.

Ahmed.

Because the mood was such a lighthearted one with Ahmed and the men, I couldn’t bear to start questioning him in the way I would have liked. He likes to laugh and joke around. In a little café where we all ordered cappuccino, he was quite taken with the beautiful young barista behind the counter. He spoke to her, but kept looking back at us , laughing as we urged him on. She seemed shy and intimidated by the number of us in the small place on the way back from the school. When we left he told me that he was going to back the next day, “alone.” We all laughed again. But somehow, I intuited a heaviness in Ahmed’s laughter, and the expressions of deep thought between the joking around. A sense that he was not very rooted, and was young enough to be impatient with what he had found in Sicily. The only thing he would tell me was that he worked a job that had ridiculously long hours, little pay and absolutely no breaks at all, which sounded to me very much like the work that immigrants and refugees are granted. The eyes will often tell a story that the mouth won’t dare. The look in his eyes confirmed to me that this was true, although at the time I did not know why. Hardship of various kinds is with the immigrant or refugee nearly all the time and every day living  can be a challenge for the body and the mind as it is an exercise in survival. Chances are , for most of you who might be reading this blog post, you are not subject to the constant weight of desperation and displacement in a setting in which you feel you do not belong. Or if you are, you can understand why Ahmed had to leave Sicily.

The Bonds of Friendship are Strong Ones.

Ahmed recently left Sicily in order to find a better life in Norway I first learned of about Ahmed through our mutual friend Muhammad, Ahmed’s best friend. Muhammad , older and possessing an eternal patience, knows why Ahmed left, but doesn’t share his enthusiasm that life will any better in Norway than it is in Sicily, something we discussed. I communicated with Ahmed by e-mail which left me exasperated , because I desperately wanted to know that all was well. Ahmed is anxious to receive his Norweigan docments and had been hoping to be able to stay there for a good long time.

Curently he is staying with a friend and looking very hard for work . He was overwhelmed with the kindness that he was greeting with upon his arrival in Norway. He claimed a huge difference between the Norweigans and Italians, but would not answer why, specifically. Instead, he said “ I want to tell you something. After all this welcome that they gave me in Norway, money and everything, they will not call me ‘settled’.” Norway has rules that a refugee must seek asylum in the first country in which he arrives in Europe. Ahmed, in an incredibly ironic twist, is considered an Italian to Norweigian authorities and so will allow Ahmed to stay for six months.

Ahmed, originally from Darfur, Sudan, now resides in that in-between space of finding happiness in a country (Norway)in which he is not welcome for the long term and returning to a place(Sicily)that will have him but where he does not feel that he can be happy. Still, I feel hopeful for Ahmed. He has been through a lot. He traveled to Sicily via Libya on a small boat, paying “the man” 500 dollars for the “privelege” while others paid 1,000. During the frightening journey he said he saw so many people give in to hysteria , attempting to fling themselves overboard, often succeeding. When I asked him how he endured, he characteristically answered plainly and without embellishment: “I wasn’t concerned for myself. I tried to catch some of them. Some of them fall.” Life in Sicily began for Ahemd with a landing in the Port of Pozzalo. Ahmed worries now about having money and a place to sleep when he must return to Sicily. I ask him if he can to back to the refugee center. “I don’t know,” he answers and even through e-mail I sense a bit of desperation. “Do you know?” he asks me in return. I don’t , but I tell him I will try to find out.

Ahmed is young , strong and optimistic. I hope that the worst is behind him  and  that his return to Sicily, where there are people there who love him , will be dolce. Muhammad will certainly welcome his friend with open arms.    Second chances are a gift.