Scicli, Ragusa, 13 July 2016 – “Grandpa, mangiaria!” It is 9.30 in the morning, breakfast time has passed, but Kebba arrives late and wants a Nutella sandwich which the other boys have already eaten calmly earlier in the morning. Thus begins a new day at the Casa delle Culture of Scicli. The boys wake up with a struggle, and there is always someone who remains in bed. Gerardo, who the boys now call “Grandpa”, goes up the three flights of stairs and enters the apartments while some boys walk sleepily along the corridors and bathrooms. “Grandpa” opens the doors of the rooms, he is usually singing a fake blues song made up at the moment or an Italian song from the 70s. He calls the sleepers who, after after having woken up at that moment, plead for another ten minutes of sleep. They usually get it, but not today! On Monday morning at 11 they have an Italian lesson, therefore they can’t get the sleep-in that they so desire. So, it’s time for action. The balconies are opened to let in as much light as possible and no one can fight the power of the Sicilian sun. The corridors are crowded with those waiting to use the shower in the bathrooms. Some guys, respecting their daily turn, bring their laundry bag full of clothes to be washed. To reach the laundry room, they have to pass through the kitchen, the smell of chicken with baked vegetables and rice is already wafting up the stairs and the young men bet on what Mauro or Erica are cooking for lunch. Adam is in the kitchen with his yellow apron cutting up eggplant and peppers and, without fail, arguing with the kitchen staff about how to cook rice, because in Nigeria he used to make it dry and grainy. The argument between Adam and Mauro always ends up with the same question “Which is better, Italian or Nigerian food?” No one has yet figured out how they always argue about the same subject, every day, and always with the same passion. Both unreasonably biased and unwilling to compromise. The argument ends with Adam claiming that Nigerian cooking is the best in the world followed by Italian cooking. Mauro has the same reasoning but in reverse….even though he has never set foot in Nigeria!
There are only a few minutes until eleven, the boys run down the stairs with notebooks in their hands, heading to the Italian classroom. Among the letters of the Italian alphabet and maps of the different continents hanging on the walls, the boys begin to recite in chorus the Italian verb to be, “io sono, tu sei, egli è…” Bernadetta, the voluntary Professor, stops the chorus to explain that “egli” can easily be replaced with “lui” because it is much more common. Among the days of the week, definite articles, and imperfect verbs, the time flies by and it is now nearly 12.30 in the afternoon, time to run to the kitchen and set the table. Four boys take turns arranging the napkins, cutlery and making sure that the water in the fridge is cold enough. Mauro or Erica has already filled the plates with chicken and rice, but there is a surprise: banku! Finally, the eternal discussions between Mauro and Adam have led to a concrete….and tasty….finale. Adam defied everyone by preparing this dish, which apparently originally comes from Ghana, but is also very common in Nigeria. It also seems to be a big hit with the other nationalities present in the House of Cultures as it disappears in a flash, while the rice remains in the pot waiting to be eaten.
The labours of the morning and lunch are followed by a well-deserved rest in the entertainment room where some boys use the computers to listen to music and check their Facebook notifications. This is the way most of them communicate with family and friends near and far. Thunderous laughter comes from the TV area. The Gambian boys are sitting in armchairs watching “Tom & Jerry” and explain that they used to watch this cartoon in their country.
Grandpa returns in the afternoon to resume his work shift in the best way: time for the beach! Several trips are needed to reach the beach of Donnalucata because the van can only carry nine people at a time, so it is up and down between Scicli and the beach until everyone is on the shore of that part of the Mediterranean that looks towards Libya. The screams of joy of wild boys can be heard from a mile, some tourists are shocked, and some locals smile shyly. Among splashing water, somersaults, freestyle swimming and the breaststroke, there is always someone who is pensive, standing on the shore or sitting on a rock. They gaze across the expanse of water, the Mediterranean, the much loved sea, the much hated sea. Some boys confess that they do not know how to swim. How they got through the crossing of the Mediterranean is a complicated mystery to be discovered. The journey between the African countries, the crossing of the desert, the stay in Libya, the exact moment when they thought, “yes, I will take the boat to cross the Mediterranean”, is a story that no one can understand, not even if you’ve heard it dozens, hundreds or thousands of times.
After an Italian-African match in the style of the “Marrakech Express”, which ended with a landslide victory by the Italians who were invited to play in the sun, the large group heads back to the van and everyone takes their turn going home, to Scicli.
It is already time for dinner, spaghetti with lots of sauce, because there always has to be “sauce,” mixed vegetables and a big slice of watermelon. The evening arrives and so does Bartolo, the night operator who always arrives well before his shift and is promptly overwhelmed by the hugs of the boys. No party tonight, there are no special events to celebrate, so some go back to sitting at the computers, some play cards, some prefer to roam the streets of Scicli at night, but must be back by midnight when the day at the House of Cultures falls asleep to the sound of closing shutters.