Monday, December 19, 2016

Don't cry, my child, we are fighting for our rights

It's my last night in Swaziland for a little while, and it is the end of another journey. Yes, I'll be back, probably to continue the work that I've been doing in the past year and a half. But tomorrow I'll be leaving with the knowledge that something has already changed.
If you've travelled, if you've lived in places different that your hometown, if you've made connections out there in the world, you know how it feels: that moment when you know you've traded a piece of your heart for something else, something that is not explainable in a few words. That moment when you that, yet again, you're breaking an umbilical cord and you'll never be fully able to re-attach it.
For me, change is scary...sometimes I hate to admit it but it is. It's actually the "want-to-dig-a-whole-in-the-ground-and-stuck-my-head-in-it" kind of scary. To say it with Rachel (from Friends), sometimes change is "just kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck fantastic". Sometimes I cry for hours looking at pictures of what is soon to be in the past. Sometimes I want to deny and stop change so badly that I get angry, I get mad, I shout, I fight with the people around me, even with the things around me, covering a cry for help (Please make it stop! Now!) with angry words. I don't how many people could relate to this, most people seem to be dealing with change just fine, but that's how it feels to me.
So why do we do it, when we don't have to? I chose this field, this career, this kind of life. I knew change was an inevitable part of it, I knew change was actually its foundation. In particular, the work that I'm doing right now is all about developing social change. But I still chose it...why?
Well, because in the end change gives me energy. All this fear, all this sadness, all this anger, is nothing but energy, nothing but the "inner me" coming out and taking over. The "inner me" doesn't have it all figured out, but is very brave. It costs me so much to say it here, but change brings out my bravery. When I go through such a big change, I confront my fear, I live through every moment of it and then I come out on the other side, still scared, but also excited and fierce.
This year and a half in Swaziland was...easy. For the "inner me", at least. Of course, for the rest of me there were countless nights of no sleep because work is worrying me, hours and hours spent on working through difficulties in my relationships, way too many mistakes in planning expenditures within a budget and in organising events. I felt overwhelmed and upset and extremely disappointed in myself. I wanted to quit a few times, thinking I was not up to the task. So, that was hard....
But for the "inner me", it was very easy. After a week of being here I had already found my dance lesson. In a month, I found my favourite club. In two months, I found a partner that was incredibly willing to accompany me through all the hustles. In the space of six months, I had adapted so well that I spent Christmas and New Years here and it felt like any other time, like I was at home. Throughout all the difficulties and the hard times, I was happy to be here and I knew this was more that I could have hoped for.
....And this was before meeting "the women". "The women" have kinda become one entity in my head because of the way they make me feel. When I say "the women" I mean the groups of women who have walked this path with me, who have gone through this journey with me. The part of me that is disappointed with myself might have given up at some point, if it weren't for them.
They have, of course, individual names and stories. Khanisyle likes pink, she is always very pretty, she's quiet and shy, but she knows what she wants and how to ask for it. Busiswe is strong and opinionated, she gets emotional very easily, she likes telling me off but she is also quite funny (one day I asked her if her husband had more than one wife, she said "yes, of course, we are swazi!". A few moments of silence than she starts laughing, without saying anything, but I knew that what she wanted to say was "you really think I would let him have another woman??". The others confirmed she the only wife). We cried together when I told her I was going to leave Swaziland. Dlaliswe is a business woman and she loves being a business woman. She doesn't speak much about her private life, but I heard she used to make varnish wit her sister and she has lung problem for that. She's been telling me I drink too much Coca Cola, and she's right. Most importantly, she's a true  leader. Make Yende is sweet, she is always smiling and she always has some words to express her gratitude and happiness. She is also very reliable, the women of her coalition want to make sure she is always involved, in every activity, because they trust her to make the right decisions. I found Nomcebo scary at the beginning, she was always looking at me with a facial expression like "are you sure of what you're saying? I don't like you". Then she became something similar to a best friend and I understood that those looks were actually of concentration and focus on what I was saying, so that she could quickly form her opinion and respond, to have a real dialogue. She is the one that speaks english better in Lwandle, so she's been translating for me. She's young but she already has 3 kids. Her husbands supports the activities of the Women Centre fully and she would not accept any less, although she is also grateful. Nosisa was a colleague, but she is also one of the women. She unfortunately passed away in March, and that is why I took over the project, but she has left a big void. She knew how to relate to the other women on a personal level, she was a professional and a friend. She was a "gogo" and while none of us used to call her like that for fear of offending here, we all considered her a bit our still young "grandmother". She was simply amazing, and so is Nosipho - another colleague - who sings and dances with the women like that's what she was born to do. She's had to deal with her own family issues, she never thought she was gonna get married and now she happily is, with three kids, and can't stop talking about how her and her husband are most and foremost friends. There's a lot more of them...400, to be clear, and I love each one of them so deeply. 
All the women have welcomed me as their daughter and as their sister. They were worried when they realised I had a partner and they calmed down only when they met him. They were worried when we were meeting obstacles in our activities, just like I was, and we worked together to beat those obstacles. We were sad together when something couldn't happen, we were happy and satisfied together when we achieved some goals, we were grateful together for all that has been going well. I tried as hard as I could to have their back when other people were challenging them, and they always had mine. I fought with them a lot to, sometimes it was really like two deers locking horns for a while, but with love and respect. 
At the time, I was actually unhappy when I was asked to get more involved in the WIN project (at the beginning of the year). Until then, I had done a lot of work focussed on civil society, on human rights, etc... I thought working with rural women was going to be boring, too easy, less challenging. 
I was wrong.
The work with the women has taken and shaken me in ways I would have never expected. It has humbled me to my core, it has made me grow and turned me around. I cannot begin to write down everything that I've learnt, because there is no formula or dictionary. It is all in the human connections that I've made. When I talk with the women, the word "grateful" comes up a lot of times. Many times, they are grateful to my organisation for the work we do, but most of the times they are grateful to God. I know we have different ideas on this, but I have myself become more and more grateful in the last months, by being with them. I'm grateful to my colleagues, to the women, to everybody who made all this possible. A little part of me is also grateful to myself for not giving up and for being open to receive all that I have received. I hope I don't sound selfish.

When I think of how to describe my experience here, "my" Swaziland, "my" Africa on a social media, I always have trouble. For me, Swaziland was not pictures. It was not words to put on a status. I think this becomes clear when you look at my Facebook page lately, where I have written little compared to before. I didn't do it on purpose, it's just that if there's something I wanted to share, it is the sounds. The Swazi internet connection doesn't allow me to share many videos or audios, unfortunately. 
For me, Swaziland, or Africa, are its sounds. And the main sounds I have heard are coming from the women. 
The women sing, the women pray, the women tell their kids off, the women cry, the women give instructions, the women get angry, the women ask for help, they women speak their determination. The women make a lot of noise, a lot of sounds, and Ilove all of them.
When somebody then comes and tells me that man should help women get their voices, should help women speak up, it makes me very angry. Women have very loud voices, I hear them every day. The problem is that nobody listens.

So how does all this rambling tie up? Not so sure, but I think the point is that I'm scared and I wanna run away from this change, back to the comfort of my women. However, I am also aware that those women seemed like an impossible challenge one year ago, they were out of my comfort zone, and I wanted to run away from them to run into another "home". My life has been full of these "in and outs" of comfort zones, and I love it. 
I hope I am half as lucky in my next adventure, whenever that might start. I think it's clear by now that a part of me feels like it's already starting. I know for sure that I bring with myself a lot of new experience, a lot of wisdom from the women, a lot of beautiful memories. I also know (and again I am aware that I might sound selfish and self-centred) that nobody will love those women as much as I've loved them. They know it too.

It's time to go. I'll be looking for that hole in the ground where I can put my head to pretend like none of this is happening. Until the next women arrive.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A day in Amsterdam

Hi all :)

As I mentioned in my last post, I live in the Netherlands at the moment. I study in Leiden, a small town (a bit more than 100.000 inhabitants, according to Wikipedia) with the oldest university of the country (even the King studied there!). However, I live in the Hague, which is much bigger and, as you probably know, is the site of the International Criminal Court and, with it, of several international organizations. 

One of the great things about living in the Hague is that it's just an hour away from Amsterdam - a city that I've always loved. So today I'd like to talk to you about what you can do in Amsterdam. Yes, I am gonna talk about the red light district and the coffee shops, but first I'd like to make the point that there are other things to see! ;)

Nevertheless, it is a rather small city compared to many other European capitals, so you might be able to see all the most important stuff in two days max. A couple of weeks ago a friend from Italy came to visit me and we spent a day in Amsterdam, and that was enough to get a good feeling of what the city has to offer.

First, my favourite thing: Van Gogh's museum. I visited this a few years ago and I haven't gone yet, since I moved here, but it's definitely on my to-do list for the next weeks! I've always been very fascinated by impressionism and the artistic movements around it (if I'm correct, Van Gogh can hardly be defined "impressionist" in the proper sense of the word), and he is surely one of my favourite painters. The museum is not far from the city centre (it's near the Vondelpark...I'd say it takes half an hour max to walk there from the central station). It is slightly expensive (15 euros), but I can assure you it's worth it!
You can get tickets online here, which could save you a long queue! 

One of my favourite Van Gogh's paintings

Another museum that could be worth a visit is the one dedicated to Anna Frank. This is very near the city centre, the admission is cheaper and I'm sure it will be very interesting! Yes, you guess it, I've never been there. I'm sure I'll go soon...I don't really know why, I've never felt like it. I guess we hear so many things about Anna Frank that you kinda get into the feeling that you know everything about her story, which obviously can't be true.
Anyway, for any more detailed info, this is where to look: 

Now, when I go to other cities what I like to do is spend the morning doing something intellectually "important", then leave the afternoon for more relaxing stuff, something that generally involves discovering the city. There are, obviously, many more museums and galleries around Amsterdam (if you're interested, have a look at this website:, but this two I mentioned above are probably the must-see ones (yes, I do feel very ashamed I haven't been to the Anna Frank museum yet....), and this is why I wrote that you can get a good feeling of what Amsterdam is in two days.

The "narrowest house in the world" on Singel 7

What should you do in the afternoons, then? Well, walk around! The street between the station and the main square is the most important one, with all the big shops and the McDonalds&co. Therefore, it's the less interesting! :P But, in between (to the left and to the right) there's a whole beautiful, typically Dutch city centre to discover. Wonderful canals (don't miss the narrowest house in the world on Singel 7 - although all houses around the canals are pretty narrow!), beautiful buildings and lots of weird stuff happening. When I was there with my friend, we first saw a place where guys could pee (you know, those public urinals that, by the way, you can find everywhere in the Netherlands), then the pee would be transported in a sort of container (which you could see......) and, from it, phosphorus would be taken.  Apparently there's a lot of phosphorus in our pee, and this can be used as natural fertiliser. Well, instructive! Then, a while later, we bumped into two guys who were singing and playing (one the trumpet and the other the guitar) on a boat in one of the canals, under a bridge. I can't stress this enough: just really walk around in Amsterdam, and weird things will come to you!

The Green Urine thing where they get phosphorus out of pee

Canal entertainment!

Lastly, take a stroll in the Vondelpark. It's huge and it has all kinds of things inside. Lakes, meadows, playgrounds, an open theatre, bars & restaurant, pieces of art scattered around, a self-managed lost&found thing ("thing" cause I don't know how to call it: it's like a panel where you can hang stuff that people have lost)...You name it!

Then comes the evening. If you're going during the winter, it becomes dark quite soon. At that time I generally head back to the city centre and really start wandering around the strangest part of the city. Go to the street named Nieuwendijk and you'll get what I mean. To be honest, you'll already have walked through it during the day, but it gets magical when it's dark. All the touristic shops that sell anything connected to smoking or to the red light districts are full of this sort of psychedelic lights and music, and I just love to go from one shop to another and get carried away by the good vibes (and the crowd of italians trying to get the best souvenirs for the friends that stayed at home). Then, if you're into it, do hop into a coffee shop. The Bulldog in Oudezijds Voorburgal (hope I spelled it correctly!), very near the old church, is the oldest one, and is a classic. 

Then, after 8 or 9 it gets very interesting to walk around the small streets of the Red Light District. They are all around the Old Church (something I always found fascinating) and they are full of these sort of shop windows were women of literally all kinds smile and wink at the boys (some smile and wink at the girls too!). Now, there's a lot of arguments you could make about the District, but I feel like this is not the right post. ;) I do enjoy walking around there, trying to catch the guys when they are asking for prices or are just coming out of a window, or just enjoying the red-lit waters of the canals!

One of the streets of the Red Light you might have guessed! ;)

Hope you find this information useful. If you do go to Amsterdam and have other questions just let me know :D


P.S.= You MUST try the chips they sell everywhere around the city centre. Make sure you go in one of the places that sell ONLY chips and get the largest portion...You might not be able to finish it, but it's worth it!!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A masterclass by Salaam Fayyad

Hi all!

First thing first, a very short update about my life: I live in the Netherlands now, in the Hague. You can imagine how great it is to live in such an international city, one of those you always here about in the news, when there is an important diplomatic meeting! Well, I'm loving it. Also, I've started a Master in International Relations and Diplomacy, and I find it so interesting! Perhaps I'll tell you more about it in the next posts, let's get to what I wanted to talk to you about today.

A couple of days ago I went all the way to Tilburg (yes, this is a small country, but let me tell you...trains are horrible! So, to get from Leiden - where I had classes - to Tilburg took 1 hour and 40 minutes, 3 trains and lots of running) to attend a masterclass taught by Salaam Fayyad

Who is Mr Fayyad? Former president of the Palestinian National Authority (until June 2013), he has a PhD from the University of Texas and worked at the IMF and the Arab Bank until he became Arafat's Finance Minister. I got this info from Wikipedia and you can read more about his life there if you want...interesting career!

The title of the class was "Justice and Power". I'm following a course on conflict resolution at the moment, and exactly two days before the lecture we had a seminar on power. What a great coincidence! It really got me thinking about whether justice and power can go hand in hand: can they respect each other's role? And then Salaam Fayyad said something that really stuck with me: "Justice without power is inefficient, power without justice is absolutism". So, it seems like for him they can, and actually they have to, go together. Coming from a country like Italy, where too often justice is slave to power, I couldn't help but being doubtful, as much as Mr Fayyad's statement does seem correct. 

He did, however, solve some of my doubts later on during the lecture. He made it very clear that, in his opinion, any system, where both power and justice are present, needs to have frequent "checks and balances". People don't always behave "well", you can't just trust a small number of individuals to hold justice in every occasion, so you need a system that checks on their behaviour regularly and that balances out whatever injustice there is. It might seem like a really obvious argument, but I can't say that it is followed in many places. However democratic you might thing Italy to be, it certainly does not have enough checks on the behaviour of legislators in particular, but maybe also of magistrates (I say "maybe" cause I actually don't know much about it...I should get informed!). There is a politician, in Italy, (Fabrizio Barca) that devised a system of checks for parties that I strongly support, but I guess I'll have to talk about it another time...

This is me with Fayyad, at the end of the lecture. Yes, I look like an idiot (how could I not, next to such an important person?) and yes, the woman behind us seems like she wants to kill me. Scary!

Going back to what Salaam Fayyad said, he stressed the idea that there are, indeed, certain universal values, and that one of them is justice. He argued that thinkers have agreed on this for centuries, millennia even: Plato believed that a "just" society works better than an "unjust" one, because it works in harmony. In Fayyad's opinion, unjust laws are those that degrade human personality, the importance of which is a value shared throughout the world. In this respect, he mentioned the sense of oppression that comes up when we feel like we are obliged to give up a bit of our personality. In particular, he gave the example of the way we dress (I think he didn't talk about a particular sex, but my mind immediately went to women and their freedom to dress however they like). He said that it is not oppression when a person conforms to certain dressing norms willingly, but it is when (s)he feels like (s)he has to dress in a certain way in order to conform with what it is expected of him/her. A state has to correct the oppression, where there is one.

About this last example, I thought about Muslim women (probably I'm not very imaginative). When can we be sure that a certain woman dresses modestly (wears hijab) because she actually wants to, she feels like that's the best way to express her personality, rather than when she has heard so many times that she has to dress in that way, and now she does it cause that's what she is expected to do? I have a profound respect for Islam and Muslim women, I know many of them that wear hijab and I truly believe that it is their will to do so, but not for all Muslim women around the world the line is so clear. How can a state decide when it is oppression, and when it is not? I asked Salaam Fayyad this question but he didn't really answer, I think he felt like he didn't have enough time (the coordinator kept saying we were reaching the end of the lecture).

Another interesting idea that came up during the masterclass was that history has shown that no big change was brought about in a short period of time: it took three revolutions to bring democracy in France, and almost a whole century. How can we expect, therefore, the countries that have been through the Arab Spring to be democratic and just right away? Perhaps we can give them time, and see where the change goes.

Finally, he encouraged us to be optimistic and, in a way, idealistic. He believes, and I agree, that, whereas realism works on the short term, idealism works on the long term. True, at some level you need a bit of realism, but that doesn't mean you can be idealistic in general. So, for example, we can see the state of Palestine even before the world recognises it, and we can work to create a just society there, so that when it does become a recognised state, much of the work will have already been done. In sha'Allah ;)

Thats all for today, sorry for the long post but the masterclass was really inspiring!


P.S.= in the end me and my friend found out that he had been invited to a small reception in a café in the university, so we sneaked in. Was really cool to stop for a drink (well, water for me) with Salaam Fayyad! He seemed like such a nice man.

A drink with the former President of the Palestinian National Authority

Monday, September 24, 2012

The European Union seen from Brighton

Hi there, or should I say "Saluton"? (= "hello" in Esperanto)

One of the fields I'm most interested in is the European Union, a topic that is getting more and more interesting as the crisis goes on. It is also particularly interesting for me because I have the opportunity to see how two different nations (Italy and the United Kingdom) cope with it. That's one of the reasons I've recently started to engage with the notions of identity, in such a vast reality and diverse as the EU undoubtedly is.

Italian people are generally quite happy with the EU. No, they are not necessarily happy, but they acknowledge it as an important part of the identity. It's always been there, for better or for worse (and, generally, it's been for better, though not always). Italians ALWAYS complain, about everything, and they obviously complain about the EU, too. But they complain about it as a teenager would complain about his parents: they don't leave him the freedom he would like, but deep inside he still loves them and generally does what they say. A look at the Eurobarometers can easily show this inclination.

The UK, on the other hand, is the total opposite. British people not only dislike the EU for what they feel are its "impositions", but they don't even acknowledge being part of Europe. I know not all British are like this, but that's the feeling I get when talking to many of my fellow students, even those who study Politics with me. Speaking metaphorically again, it's a bit like the EU was a distant relative that has the habit of always come into your house and criticize you. Your parents keep telling you that you have to put up with him, so you do, but if it was for you'd lock him out of the house and never let him in again. It's really, really weird for me, because it's a conception of the EU that doesn't make sense.

What's the perception of the EU in your country, if you are from a EU country? Do you think the UK will ever feel European, or do you think they'll keep on feeling almost like another continent?


Friday, September 21, 2012

Have you ever been to a Japanese wedding?


As you know, I went to Japan and South Korea last year, in March/April. I had always wanted to go, so when my friend Keigo told me he was going to get married in Kyoto at the end of March, I thought...why not? The terrible earthquake and its consequences did not stop me, and it was totally worth it, since I had the chance to see a Japan completely emptied of tourists. For fear of radiations, though, I could only spend one day in Tokyo, instead of the 3 I had planned. I stayed in Osaka instead, further from Fukushima.

Anyway, my friends' wedding was reeeaally interesting. Ok, I didn't understand a word of what they said, but I'm sure it was all interesting! :P 
I was obviously the only "Western" person, so everybody was being really kind. As it's generally unpolite to say "no" when they offer you a drink, I kept saying yes to the beer, the wine and the sake (a famous Japanese alcoholic drink)...Needless to say, the result was me starting to behave as a typical Italian girl who has had a few drinks: talking very loudly, laughing and drinking more. OOOPS!

I managed to take some pictures, though, and to follow the whole ceremony with attention, despite the alcohol. The bride, Risa (which you should actually read "Lisa" - you know how people from the far east find it difficult to pronounce our "r"s), had a beautiful dress and changed into an even more beautiful one around the middle of the afternoon. Give a look at them:

Bride and groom

Me with the newly married couple ^^

The food was all typical, which was great for me. I didn't eat it all, though, either because it was too much or, sometimes, because it was raw fish with too many vegetables ( I hate veggies!). 

This is how the table was set at the beginning...luckily they had a fork and a knife for me!

I remember this one! Miso soup maybe? Veeery nice anyway! ^_^

Nearly at the end of the ceremony, Keigo said a sentence in Italian, thanking me for being there. VERY nice of him, as I hadn't understood anything till then. :P I was sitting at a table with a Taiwanese couple (Ivan and Tiong Wan), though, so I could speak English with them.

Did you know that it's common, in Japanese weddings, to give the couple some money in an envelope, as wedding gifts? In Italy you generally give presents, often things that they'll need in their new house (although the habit is changing now that many couples live together before getting married). I personally brought typical Italian stuff, and I think it was appreciated...If you are going to a Japanese wedding, I recommend you do the same! Japanese people are generally very interested in other cultures.

I'll leave you with this last wedding picture, with Keigo's friends, holding some hammers used during the ceremony. Actually, they even called me to use one of them at a certain can immagine my surprise when I heard them calling my name, after a long speech in Japanese...It was fun anyway! XD

Sayonara people,
Stay Human,


P.S.= The title is taken from Gogol Bordello's song "Have you ever been to an American wedding?". Gogol Bordello is my fav listen to them if you have the chance!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Finally back

Hi all!
Really sorry for not posting anything for aaages but I have been without internet connection for some period, then busy with the job and then again without internet connection. Now I'm here though! Moved into my new flat, got a chair (no other furniture yet, so I'm sleeping on an inflatable mattress) and finally got the internet! Who knew you have to do so many things when you move into a new flat by yourself??
One of the things I had to do was to ask Southern Water to put a meter in my flat. Did you know that most of the houses here don't have meters for their water? I think it's crazy. It's something that you NEVER see in Italy. Ok, it was useful for us last year because the un-metered bill was quite cheap since we were splitting it up among 6 people, but it does encourage waste, doesn't it? Southern Water says on its website that they've noticed that, by installing meters in the houses, people use 5% water less. THANK YOU! *ironic mode* Plus, it's not fair on people who don't live in that house at times (like me when I go back to Italy for the holidays).
Well, I've done most of what I to do now and I can relax a bit more, though University starts on Thursday. Last week I managed to spend some time in Cambridge with a Libyan friend of mine. He is from Benghazi so he has lived the revolution in person...we had so much to talk about! As you might know, I'm very interested in Middle Eastern politics and it's extremely interesting to see the point of view of someone who lives in another reality, with different medias from ours. 
Maybe I'll write more of what we spoke about in another post, I've got to go now. Sitting on the floor to write on the laptop on the chair isn't that comfortable!
Bye :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I'm trying to get a hold on this


There's a new song on Italian radios these days that I'm totally loving! It's the No Doubt's single "Settle Down". I have to confess I didn't know the band before hearing this song on my fav radio station, RDS, but I promise I'll listen to something else from them soon. 
I couldn't actually understand all the lyrics at first, but I fell in love with the lively rithm and the voice of the singer (which apparently is Gwen Stefani - and I've always liked her - but I didn't know it before starting to write this post :P ). 

When, today, I looked the words up on the net, they surely didn't disappoint me!

As a matter of facts, I'm kinda trying to get over a horrible period of my life, so lyrics like:
I'm fine (and nothing's gonna knock this girl down)
I'm hella positive for real
I'm all good
No I'm fine (and nothing's gonna knock this girl down)
It's kind of complicated that's for sure
But you can see it my eyes, you can read on my lips
I'm trying to get a hold on this
And I really mean it this time
seem to be quite a good fit for me. Not only that, they made me think that getting over bad periods in life IS actually possible, you just have to be positive and get down to it! Not easy, I know, but somehow manageable. 

My father, the other day, said to me: "Aiutati che Dio ti aiuta" (="Help yourself, then God will help you"), meaning that I shouldn't just sit around waiting for some external help. If you believe in God, you might believe that He will help you, but you surely know that you have to start doing something about it yourself.

Well, I think this will go on my list of "songs-to-listen-to-when-i'm-depressed", it just puts me in such a good mood! :D 

I hope you guys, on the other hand, are all doing well and enjoying life!
Even if you don't need some musical push to get on with your life, do listen to this great song and tell me what you think about it :)