I was on the train yesterday, on my way back to Milan to then get to the airport and catch my flight. It was a bright, warm and sunny day, although the early morning covered everything in a fuzzy haze of tiredness which clouded up my vision for most of the trip. To keep myself awake – and avoid missing my stop – I decided to play some music on my laptop and noticed two foreign guys staring at me and speaking in their own language. I asked if they needed anything, to which they replied no, but still they kept looking which quite frankly was distressing me a bit.
At last, the youngest of the two seemingly decided to take the plunge and approach me, asking me what brand my laptop was. We started talking, in English, which he was amazed I could speak so decently despite being Italian (Italy is not the best English speaking country in the world, unfortunately). Although a bit diffident at first, I found myself liking speaking to this man and I guess he did as well. I asked where he was from and he told me he’d come all the way from Nigeria. When I asked him “Why did you come to Genova, of all cities?”, he replied “Because that’s where I found myself”. That struck me more than it should have.
As a born and bred Italian, I know my country pretty well. I know its people, its attitudes, its ways of thinking. I’d be lying if I said some of those weren’t the reason I decided to leave. Italy can be welcoming and can tear you apart, it can open up its arms in a warm embrace and can kick you till you bleed. Underneath the layer of sunshine, food, music and fun, there’s a darker place, full of resentment and close-mindedness, which has been fed by twentieth century propaganda and the mass media presenting people with manipulated facts. That’s the reason why what he said next struck a chord inside of me, as I knew he was completely right. He looked at me, smiled and said: “you’re the first Italian I have met who is nice to me. I have never met anyone like you”. It sounds crazy that someone should be so amazed at the fact that you are simply being polite to them, merely going as far as answering questions and attempting at making a conversation, and it made me feel ashamed of my country and of a lot of Europeans as a whole, as I know the negative views are widely embraced by the masses.
“That’s where I found myself” is something which should instantly ring bells inside your head. I hear people everyday going on about how unfair it is that we have to “take in” so many immigrants, talking about how we just “can’t afford” these waves of foreigners taking our lands, our homes, our money, slowly making their way into our societies and shaping them according to their beliefs. When did these walls come up and why are we not trying to tear them down? Why is there such a strong division between people, who could be from Asia, the North Pole, the Sun or Mars, but are still people nonetheless? “That’s where I found myself” sounds like desperation more than anything else, something that goes beyond economical reasons and goes to the core of the issue: these people need support.
In school, we learn how humans developed through the centuries, how they went from crawling on all fours to being able to stand on two feet, building houses and tools for themselves, creating languages to unify communities and learning that team work is better than individualism. We learn that the earth is one and that we all come from it, independently from which specific piece of land we happened to be born in. What makes one person more worthy than another and what makes someone belong to a space more than someone else? Why do we need to have borders which separate us, drive hatred and make us all feel a bit less of that human we’ve been talking about for so long?
Here was this guy, standing in front of me and smiling at me as if we were on the same level. As if I was as worthy of talking to him as he was of talking to me. Face to face, human to human. He told me I was the only person who had truly been nice to him, and I kept wondering why? We hear stories everyday of people risking their lives, fighting as hard as they can to cross over, flee “their” broken lands and find a better future somewhere else. Chances are this guy has found himself in more life or death situations I could ever have nightmares about, as well as gathering up the courage to actually leave his home for the complete unknown, hoping it would be better. To me, that’s definitely worth some admiration and respect. Instead, they found themselves in a hostile land which looks at them as if they’re thieves, guilty of stealing something which wasn’t even there to begin with. It broke my heart to hear and to see the pain in his eyes as he told me about his dreams, which had come to a halt as the reality of Europe – and of people’s views – dawned on him and his friends.
I am writing this blog post because I want to say my own on this and I want to ask a general question: why? Why do we treat other human beings as if they were less than us and when did we lose our integrity, our love and our sense of solidarity against all odds? When did we become less of those humans we speak of with so much praise and most importantly, can we fix that?