I used to have a recurring nightmare about my beach, the one running along the whole city till the next in a clean, long arch. In this dream, my father was driving a car by the sea, and all of us were inside. Soon the road started to crumble beneath the wheels, soil and sand disappearing into the waves. Only a narrow passage would be left separating the car from water, as my father kept on driving dangerously.
I live in Finland now. This summer, as every summer, I came back to Sicily; we had friends from Finland staying with us at the home by the beach. There are strong currents which keep the sea clean. Bathing in the waves rewards you with a pleasure that I find similar to a long sauna. We had the deserted beach all to ourselves, and there we chatted for hours, picturing imaginary yoga groups in beautiful isolation, or observing kite surfers enjoying themselves. This year currents had reshaped most of the beach, taking away some of the concrete paths people had built in time. There was not much left between waves and the dunes on some spots. In the evenings, we would have aperitif on the terrace or venture off some of the neighboring villages. We would meet friends. Lots of them. We would be guests at friends’ of friends, and take with us friends and their friends. Everybody would enjoy fish and the local wine. Some of the people would come from abroad. One of them lived at his family home and trained hawks for a living. Some were totally engaged with the “good earth challenge”, category under which I list anything that goes from permaculture to making good ice cream. We are among the first guests coming. I talk to our hostess, Denise, who is painting her toenails in flame orange to kill the wait. She’s attending a postgraduate Master in International Cooperation. It was difficult to find a job, and she went back to studies; in the meantime though, things had changed. While studying, Denise had found a job in a local NGO. They work with migrants, which cross the Mediterranean sea hoping to find jobs in France or Germany, and get stuck in Southern Italy instead.
Denise explains that Italian government grants 35 euros daily per migrant to organizations providing a roof, a bed, food, basic education and mobile phones; 2,5 euros are left as daily allowance for the person being taken care of. It is important to explain where this money goes, in an island where unemployment is high and growing, and no help is provided for those between jobs. The more people I meet, this summer, the more I realize Sicily has turned into this massive rescuing operation. You can hardly see any changes in the everyday life of people, but when I talk to them, many are involved with the new centers for migrants, which spread from the coast to the countryside. Sometimes they accommodate 20 people or so, and there are more than one in the villages I visit. My friend Martina is going to teach an Italian class, tomorrow morning, in one of those centers. She says most people there come from Senegal, and the luckiest one has already found a job as a model. I try to imagine how it must be to learn a language you had never planned to learn, in a place where you had never planned to be. I think of the generosity of many people here as well, how they never forget their grandparents had been migrants, too. And I think of myself, learning languages I was never supposed to learn, in places where I was never supposed to be, and loving it (mostly) all, because it is my choice.