She Called Me Sierra Leone
by Khadija Koroma, ITALY
She called me Sierra Leone
I don’t know why
I took offence
Why I felt a pang
Was it her tone
That made my insides
That made my blackness
Fade to white
Or was it just me
Am I still in the darkness
But I only use one
But you only hear the one
But I only live in one
What’s happened to my blackness
What has the world done
What have I done
I wrote this poem when I was in Bologna in Italy, and I was doing a two weeks 6 cities tour of Europe. And Bologna was my second to last stop. All throughout my travels I’d been referred to as ‘English’ ‘British’ and a ‘Londoner’. So when my friend that I was visiting introduced me as Sierra Leonian to her friend I felt a pang inside and I just had to write down what I was feeling. And that is what this poem is; what I was feeling in that moment. I felt offended at first and then felt ashamed of myself for being offended. I love Sierra Leone and where I’m from and I was so disappointed in myself for being ashamed of where I’m from. Even if it was just for a second.
One Year, Two Cultures
by Maddy Crabbe
My return to London in September 2016 marked being away from home for 11 months. I studied abroad in Canada for eight months and worked as an English teacher in Italy for three. I really enjoyed studying abroad, and although it was challenging at times and I had serious bouts of depression, I was able to pick myself up with the help of friends I’d made along the way, as well as a steady growth in my self-confidence. My best memories of my year abroad are from joining the University marching band. My proudest moments were performing at Toronto Fashion Week and at the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Montreal, for which we won an award. I began solo travelling halfway through my year abroad, with trips to Kincardine, Washington D.C and the Niagara Falls. I found these times a really good time to reflect, and enjoy my own company. Towards the end of my year abroad, I felt the desire to continue travelling, so after receiving a job advert for teaching in Italy, I applied to work last summer as an English teacher at summer camps. I had the best summer of my life teaching adorable children, immersing myself in the culture by living with various kind families and embarking on an adventure so different to anything I’d ever done before. Despite having some problems coping with racist attitudes and micro-aggressive behaviour in Italy, I had a wonderful time and I am sure that I will go back next year to do it all over again.
There Is A Stranger In My Home
by Caroline Omotayo
Last week for the first time in 5 years, I went to Italy. I was born there and I moved to London when I was 9, so it was sort of a homecoming for me. The important bit about my story is why my parents decided to move to London, it’s therefore more of their story than mine.
My Dad moved to Italy from Nigeria when he was 22. Hoping to start a better life in a land supposedly filled with opportunities, he took the jump. He arrived to a land that was filled with opportunities… but just not for him. Despite studying to become a chemist, the only door that ever opened for him was that of an ‘operario’. Translated, it means the bottom of the job ladder. In summary, the job market saw colour first and talent never. In truth, we were lucky that we were able to entrench ourselves in our small community and despite not being well off, we became well known in the town and our family friends soon became well, family. However, fast forward 30+ years it appeared that the same mentality which restricted my family’s economic progress still remains.
I was excited to go back. Firstly and lastly because of the food, but also to see if anything had changed. I was prepared for the underlying theme of the trip to be about Brexit, but instead, I came back with a new perspective: I’m too woke for Italy.
In between the laughs and conversations, I noticed something different. We were just from two completely different worlds. The revelation occurred in the midst of statements such as “People run with machetes in Africa”, “You look like Naomi Campbell” (as flattering as this is, I don’t and you frankly need to increase your black girl palette), “There are lions in Africa”. For once, I found myself short on words. In that moment, I became more connected to the black beggars in the streets, the prostitutes lining the camps and the man walking downtown because he could not afford a car.
I wanted to make sure that I corrected their ignorance. I was confused about why I had never noticed such comments before. Was it because I was too young? Or was I just not listening. I discovered that it was the latter. The ideas were always there, I just upgraded my seat to the adult table. I was no longer a kid and ignorance was not bliss. The issue was not that “Well there are not that many black people” or that “We are all suffering from the economic downturn due to the governors”. Governments, ministers and institutions are all built by people and people regurgitate opinions, which in turn create false road maps of places and countries. As my food quickly lost its taste:
I realised how important it is that we change our narrative of our native countries.
When we talk of change and development we think of it in monetary terms. Investment is created through perception. If a country is perceived to be ripe for opportunities, it suddenly becomes attractive. Now, I am not an economist and I know it is way more complex than that, but my point is perceptions are created through discourse. What discourse are you perpetuating of your country? What stereotypes are you repeating and allowing to be passed down through generations.
You may not be able to donate a million dollars to a cause but you can donate your voice.
The dark tall grey buildings of London which I so often wish I could replace with the coloured cobbled streets of Italy, changed me. The Italy I knew was just a fantasy, the trip was really an awakening, that frankly I had always been a stranger in my home. I hope to one day help to change those of opinions, but for now, I’ll start here.
*inspired by an airplane reading of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Losing, to Gain Again…
by Nnenda Chinda
I remember the day I arrived in Italy. I remember it very clearly. It was a very hot afternoon in Rome. It was the 1st of October 2005. Actually, although my parents had discussed sending me to school initially to live with a family friend until they decide to join me from Nigeria, it was never really a concrete plan. Just talk. Italy was an interesting choice for us – I always heard of people moving to the U.K. or the States, but never other countries in the continent. You never heard of someone moving to Spain or, say, Greece. Perhaps, and surely, there must have been, but I’d just never met anyone with that experience.
Back in the 70s, my stepdad moved to Italy thanks to a job advert in electronics advertised in the papers in his hometown of Peterborough. He took the opportunity and moved to Rome. It is easy to fall in love with Italy (and just as easy to fall out of love with it!) – He fell in love with the dolce vita lifestyle. Rome in the 70s, he used to tell me, was the place to be. It was a lot more carefree, and there was so much one could get away with! He, my stepdad, had became really close to an Italian family-they were Romans and they gave him the best experience of life in Italy, and from the way he always talked to me about them I could tell Italy really was his home. We followed suit, as many Romans do when they buy country houses in neighbouring towns to escape the summer heat and, and bought a house in small village just an hour north of Rome. Since the age 11 we would visit every holiday, and at every opportunity we had. Italy became our second home, but little did I know that a year down the line it would be the place I’d call my home – at least a physical home ‐ for the next 6 years.
Italy for me was like a time warp. Visiting during my summer holidays, everything seemed and felt so different to life in the hustle and bustle that is Lagos. Our village, Vetralla, gave one the impression of being stuck in the Middle Ages. It was, indeed, positively medieval and unlike anything I’d seen throughout my life in Lagos. I think this is why I loved Italy. Living in a small provincial area, it was not long before my family became a subject of spectacle, and bewilderment, for many – it is hardly surprising as the only black family, rather, a black woman (my mother) with a white man (my step-father) and two children of different colour spectrums. Hard not to catch any attention! Nevertheless, the locals took to us and we took to them, at least for the most part.
During the flight to Italy, my stepdad insisted I start learning how to decline basic verbs like ‘I am’, ‘I go’, ‘I stay’, ‘I come’ and so on… It was tough going, very tough, as I had to cram so much vocabulary, bearing in mind that I would have to start school in no less than a week and in a completely different language, and communicate on a daily basis in that language, too. I had never realised how much language would become my window to the world. And the quicker I learnt to speak and understand it, the better equipped I would be in order to survive in my new world. For a very long time, I was mute.
I had mixed feelings during the fight to Fiumicino Airport, in Rome. Of course, I was excited to start on a new venture, but it then suddenly hit me that I would be living in a part of the world I really knew nothing about. You see, visiting a place is one thing; you’re there for 3 weeks? A month? You never do really grasp the day-to-day realities or nuances of being thrust full-time into an unfamiliar surrounding. You suddenly quickly become a threat. Besides, there was a sense in which I would have to grow up really fast, and I felt that from then on I would have to become responsible for myself. I had to learn the language in order to communicate and be in that part of the world. That was my responsibility, and this no one could do for me. When you grow up as a suburban child in an affluent area of Lagos, like I did, it can very easy to take many things, people, food, familiarity, comfort, for granted. I had to lose all this, in order to gain it again. As one might imagine, I very quickly started living on the inside. It was infuriating at best. I HAD BEEN UPROOTED and was at a loss.
11 years down the line, I still think of that skinny little girl who left Nigeria for Italy, having bought into the promise of a better and more exciting life abroad, in Europe… I think of the hours sat down crying, trying to cope with unfamiliarity, prejudice, school work-load etc. I think of the excitement I felt when my parents finally decided it was time to move to the UK to provide my sister and I with even better educational opportunities, and again, I bought into the myth that England would provide me with unrivalled opportunities: a more multi-cultural environment, posh boarding schools, elite universities, job opportunities and so on.
Nevertheless, I think of the resilience and hard work I put into my studies whilst in Italy, which, undoubtedly, helped me secure a place at Cambridge University. I think of the good food (I took it for granted a lot, until I came to the UK), the lovely weather, and the kind people, who made a truly remarkable experience. I think of the sacrifices my parents made, and continue to make, to give me the best. And I think that despite, and because of, the challenges, I can be who I am today, and really, there is only one place I’d rather be – Italy.