When we were invited to the brainstorming session to help with the choice of our master thesis topic, we did not think much of it. A year later, after successfully defending the research paper, we were invited to present our findings to the Royal embassy of Denmark to Kenya, to World bank in Kenya and RAISD conference online. Our area of research has developed further to highlight the agency of Somali refugee women in accessing livelihoods and rebuilding their lives in host countries while also putting into account their political, religious, cultural and social contexts. We were honoured to share our findings at RAISD conference in Palermo, Sicily, Italy.
Palermo was interesting. The flight was intense as I was still suffering from the side effects of Covid vaccine. The few taxis we took were driven like Ferraris, fast. Drivers were reckless and did not respect any pedestrian crossing or traffic lights. One memorable incident was on the day my research colleague and I arrived. We only had sneakers and therefore needed shoes to wear at the conference. We took a taxi to the shopping mall which was far from our place of residence. The driver was either high on something or he just thought he was driving a Ferrari at formula 1 because chiilee.. it was madness. On our way back we decided to take the bus which was similarly driven so fast. Palermo was busy, hectic, noisy, vibrant and full of life.
On the last day of the conference, we met a group of young Africans doing amazing things. They were such Pan Africans, proud to be of AFRICA. Together with a friend we had just met at the conference, we all went to an African restaurant in the middle of Palermo. The cuisine was a mix from all over Africa. I ate Mefa, which was a mix of rice and coconut sauce. Well that’s what I ordered. I ended up eating from one our friend’s plate that was having what seemed like pilau with cod fish. It was delicious.
There was Burna boy and Davido playing. Everything was calm. Calm before the storm. In about one hour, the square was filled with people, young and old, black and white, Asians and middle Eastern. It was insane. There was music from all the food stalls and all over the world. There was African pop music, house music, techno, name it. Everyone loved and laughed on each other. It was pure joy of just living. Being human. I have never seen anything like this before. Despite the chaotic city life, I was falling in love with Palermo.
RACISM IN TERRASINI, SICILY
Little did we know what awaited us in the North of Sicily, in Terrasini. After the party, we decided to take a one hour train to Terrasini. It was a fast and relaxing train ride. The owner of the B&B we had booked sent her son to pick us up from the train station. All was well until we left for the beach and later to look for a place to have dinner. The first stare and sneer was from a woman parked in a car in front of our residence. I assumed that it was just me. It was just in my mind.
The second incident was at the first restaurant we visited. A middle aged woman was standing outside the restaurant holding her dog. She sized me up from my head to toe, sneered and gave me a look of disgust. I was flabbergasted, confused and even scared. On this occasion, my partner noticed the look and surprisingly shouted “WTF”.
We proceeded to the next place where we wanted to have a pizza. The waitress was very kind in explaining their pizza menus to us with minimal English. As soon as we had ordered our starter, two young women entered the restaurant. Shortly after, they both went to the lavatories which was close to where we were seated. Before entering, they stood and literally stared at us. I still didn’t think much of it. At this point my colleague was not having it. The climax of it all was when I went pay for our bill. They almost choked. They couldn’t take it that a black woman was paying. It was actually funny to witness. I have never been looked at like that before.
The stares continued for the rest of the week, including not getting the bread with our order in one of the restaurants to women assessing my dress and sneering. It was hectic. While I thought I had enough, Munich happened. My transit flight had been delayed and I thought of exhausting the last amount of money I had with me. I therefore went to shop for scents. I had the shop attendant follow me around the shop like a child. There was no other person being followed. When I picked the perfume of choice, she came forth and asked whether I needed help. At this point I was fed up. I asked to pay and just leave.
These incidences rarely happen when I am travelling with my caucasian husband. He is definitely assumed to be the right in my wrong, he cannot steal. Travelling across Europe as a person of colour can be hectic, tiring due to small minded racists. Suspicious inspections at the airports, profiling in restaurants and shopping places and many other racists acts towards us. It is exhausting. All that being said, I met the couple that sat next to me in the plane to Palermo, met again in Terrasini and coincidentally they sat next to me on our flight back. Funny fact, them being Swedish and Scandinavian made us feel a bit safe and familiar. We laughed about it.