Departure for a Dream

Leggi in italiano

The “Lo sguardo dalle frontiere” (A Look from the Border) editorial is written by the operators of Mediterranean Hope (MH), the project promoted by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI). Or by the volunteers who accompany us for longer or shorter periods. This week’s “Look” comes from Lampedusa and was written by Paola Spallarossa, the mother of one of our operators, Marta Barabino


I have dreamed of it, hoped for it, and imagined it so many times. To be on the front line. This is what I always wanted to do, be it in Africa, South America, Nepal or India.

And quite by chance, I end up doing it in Italy.

Italy is the gateway to Europe. Italy is the welcoming party. Like it or not. The first stretch of land after a sea of pain. Land that prompts discussions, controversies, desires, and regrets.

And I am there, thanks to my daughter who chose to help her fellow man. All mankind. And the women, and the children who seek a life worthy of this name. And who knows what they will find. Fatigue, rejection, and closed doors. Indifference, cruelty, and ignorance.

But also smiles, love, caring gestures, understanding looks and affection.

I will have the honor of being one of them.


I had thought about it, but in the end, I didn’t bring a pen or paper, and for me writing on a keyboard is not the same. But I’m here, and I can’t stop myself, and I don’t want to delay it any longer.

I am at the lowest point of the island, the southernmost point, beyond the gateway to Europe. Then the continent changes, at least in terms of its name and human jurisdictions.

I look at this wonderful and limpid sea, and I think of those down there and, at this precise point where I am, those who never made it.

So painstakingly close. That same pain that drove them to leave, from that point of departure and of no return that leads them out to sea. Despite everything and everyone.

And I also think of those who made it.

Their expectations and requests, their yeses and nos. Those given and those received.

I find it hard to imagine a peaceful life for them, one without too many difficulties, as foreigners in a new land, which would have gladly done without them. And one to which they would have gladly not have had to move.

I had the privilege of being able to welcome them and look them in the eye.  Eyes reddened by the sun, wind, salt and perhaps tears. Seeing one of those looks gives one an indelibly different perspective.

I see a lot of teenagers, about the age of my youngest child. The age when the world opens up before you and everything is still possible. They come with fear in their eyes, and many are disillusioned. At this point my own eyes redden, for that sense of injustice creeping in and can no longer be stopped.

How long will it take for people to be able to come and go in peace without all this? It takes time for things to changes, it’s true. Even more time for historic changes. But every life lost at sea is a cry of urgency that demands immediate action.

It is the challenge of our time. Welcoming others will enrich us. And above all, it will make us more human.

I knew that coming to this island would give me a look from the border that from afar, however much is heard or witnessed by those who live close to it, can only be imagined. I can’t shake off the overwhelming feeling that we cannot escape this, that it remains inside that sickness of Africa (because it is African land, after all) that we will carry inside as a nostalgia and an urgency to return forever.


I feel a compulsion to write every now and then.

Inside you feel the need to do it, to let out what you might not say out loud.

You have a pressing need to release the sense of injustice that you feel when you look into their eyes and see those looks. Looks that say thank you, everything is fine. And maybe they ask why.

Even I ask why. Why this risk, this gamble, this dangerous crossing that may lead them to a better life. Or may not.

I look at them, and I feel my stomach churn through my sense of helplessness and pain.

I look at them and can’t help but think that letting my underage son go out into the world alone, with a phone in his hand and (perhaps) a pair of slippers on his feet, is not human.

For a mother, it certainly isn’t.


When you look at them, you smile, and the feeling is immediately reciprocated.

When they say, “Hi mommy”.

When you greet them on the minibus making its way to the hotspot and they lean over to say hi or blow kisses.

When you search for someone’s gaze as they leave, and instantly find it.

When you welcome them as soon as they get off the boat saying “Bienvenue, ça va?” and always hear the same answer: “ça va”.

When they already greet you waving from the boat.

When they wait, wet and tired. And they wait. And they wait. Without breaking down.

When their gaze dissolves in gratitude.

When their eyes look but do not see. Lost somewhere in space and time thinking about what will be. Or what has not happened.

When you get home, but your heart is still on that pier.