Here we are. We made it to Garbatella, Rome. Just to catch you up, here is what my first experience here looked like: turbulence for 7 hours from New York to Madrid, 10 hours of sleep over a span of 4 days, stomach infection from dairy that I should not have been eating (lactose-intolerant). Once the infection was finally gone, I contracted the flu that forced me to stay in a 10-foot radius for about 3 days with the fear I would infect my roommates, which I ended up doing anyway. The classic case of homesickness, and finally, random moments of sadness due to the idea that I was missing something, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Two weeks later, as I walk to the store for the first time alone, I feel an odd sense of belonging. Not the need to look over my shoulder, not worried that the older women behind me are talking about my American wardrobe. Just the sense that I needed fresh air and I am simply walking around my new neighborhood to get it. I worry about money while abroad, a lot. Yet, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to explore every part of this underappreciated place. Though there is nothing wrong with travel, there are many experiences that are just as fulfilling as paying for a fancy tour or a wine tasting.
For example, myself along with four other Arcadia students prepared and distributed food to the homeless last night. It was a seamless operation, really. As the five of us were being introduced to the leaders of this charity organization, the volunteers were working like magicians behind us setting up tables with fresh fruits and vegetables to be mechanically bagged and distributed soon, at the same time fresh hot pasta arrived that came from a white van that vanished almost as soon as it appeared. I didn’t realize how much I was in awe until Carla, a young woman I met that evening, came up behind me to see how I was doing, needless to say it was a greater shock than anticipated. Similar to a factory, everyone had a job, added their components to the designated packaging and passed it on to the next.
We had an encounter within the first five minutes of being there that surprisingly didn’t alarm me as much as others may have been, but allowed me to see just another connection between here and the United States. This young man, likely divorced, found himself in a downward spiral from unemployment or maybe even incarceration, came up to us. Assuming we had food and money, he got frustrated that we were speaking English rather than helping him. Every Wednesday, behind of the Piramide train station, many volunteers serve and connect with over a hundred members of the homeless population in the southern parts of Rome.
I always had a want to serve and give my time. Growing up, I found myself in emotionally and mentally unfortunate situations, yet never physical. No matter if I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from, I always had a roof over my head. I was my duty to not take that for granted by giving when and what I could: my time, effort and understanding. Since being in Rome, I have noticed that I have been waiting for opportunities to write about, to complain about.
“Oh, my goodness, guess what happened to today!”
“See, I knew this was going to happen, being the underrepresented 5% of, not only, the program, but probably the entire neighborhood”
It was last night that I realized that is what is making my experience so difficult thus far. I was waiting for someone to sneak in a racist comment, I wanted to be targeted just so I could say ‘I told you so’ to the world; this is a very negative view, and I recommend disputing it immediately you notice it arising. Last night, I saw that so many colors and sizes of people all wanted the same thing. Attention. Some in the form of food, some just wanted to be listened to, and we had to sit and do just that, even if I could not understand a lick of any of it. It turned into a physical language of empathy, even when you cannot understand the verbal. There were stories behind their grunts and pointed fingers. Rafa, a supervisor for this program said, “your biggest weapon in your smile and your gentleness.” It was not my place to judge how they got behind Piramide station, but to simply complete the task.