Standing on the side of a street under the porticos in Bologna is a man selling little packages of tissues. He is in the same location every day except for Sundays. He is cheerful and engaging, regularly speaking with people as they pass him by. Professor Pagano had called my attention to this friendly man and recommended that I speak with him to learn about his migration story. Professor Pagano and I walked over to meet him. After shaking hands and making our introductions, I learned that he is called Efosa. We had a short conversation, in which we shared information about where each of us were from and made plans to meet on Piazza Maggiore the next day to continue our conversations. When I went to buy tissues from him, he refused payment and instead, unexpectedly, offered me a packet for free. I was caught off guard as I had been accustomed to people asking for money throughout the city. It was a gift.
The next day, I was looking forward to meeting Efosa who had intrigued me with his magnanimous gesture. At the appointed time, he was standing in Piazza Maggiore with his bike, ready to tell me where he had come from and the journey he had experienced prior to arriving in Bologna.
I wanted to take him to a cafe but he refused and preferred that we sit on the steps of the San Petronio Basilica. Again I found his lack of want surprising. Later, I found out that his name in his native tongue means “God’s wealth,” it would seem that his name is a reflection of his character, generous even though he has very few material possessions.
He is Nigerian and speaks English and Italian in addition to his native language. In his country, he had trained to become a technician and had worked there. He left Nigeria in 2009 in search of better conditions and to help his family. He has a wife and three children. It was a hard decision but one he felt he had to make as there was no work; the economy was poor and there was government corruption. We used my phone to look at YouTube videos of Nigeria’s political and environmental climate, and he explained to me the conditions there and even discussed the natural hazards. When he left Nigeria, it was a harsh journey. He first went to Niger and then to Libya where he found work and for a while he was making sufficient money, enough to send some home to his family. He was in Tripoli, Libya during the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, and when violence broke out, he and many others escaped by boat to Italy as it was their only safe option. There was no food for many days during the treacherous crossing. They were rescued by the Italian police who brought them ashore and fed them. He then began a series of jobs working in Taranto and Napoli. After a while, work ran out in Napoli and he had a friend who invited him to come to Bologna to try and find a better life here. The Catholic Church here in Bologna has helped him and feeds people for free. He is grateful for the support the Italian people have extended him. He did express his concerns and his hopes for continued and better employment so that he could support himself as well as see his family again.
We talked about music – a universal subject, and the types of music he liked. He asked me about life in America and if it is better than in Italy. I could honestly say, the food in Italy was magnificent and we both had a good laugh about that.
Efosa is there every day – doing what he can to get by. To me, he is no longer a nameless stranger, he is someone whom I have come to know if only a little, during my stay here. Like so many immigrants, he is looking for a better life for himself and his family. He works hard and maintains an attitude of resiliency that, considering all that he has been through, is inspiring. He, like millions of others who have reached Italy’s shores, like my Grandfather before him, is the recipient of Italy’s ancient and deeply rooted generous nature.
If I have learned anything here during study abroad, it is that while the migration problems that challenge Italy remain, there are many hands at work trying to help resolve them – from the government, to educational institutions, to churches to individuals. Italy is rich in so many ways – history, art, (the food!) but mostly in heart.