30 April 2014
I have arrived in Sicily. This is my final research trip, and it will hopefully conclude the impressions I had been gathering from the Southern border of the European Union. I have a lot of plans here, although the thing that currently preoccupies my mind are the unpleasant effects of some kind of gastrointestinal problem, the details of which I will spare you. I am going to visit two Jesuit accommodation facilities for asylum seekers in Palermo and Catania, and I will interview someone from the Italian Refugee Council. The people who work at refugee councils are often extremely well-informed, being able to give you inside information on the problems of asylum seekers that are impossible to find anywhere else. On Friday I am also going to have a phone interview with an employee of the Greek asylum service. My plan of speaking with fruit farmers and their migrant workers may turn out to be difficult to implement. I have noticed already that there may be unsurmountable language barriers. Nevertheless, I will try to do my best by driving around the Sicilian countryside.
I had been to Italy many times before, although never to the South. My knowledge of Sicily was limited to the TV-series Montalbano, to the few scenes in the Godfather, and to a documentary I remember about the ‘Moorish’ traces found in Sicilian architecture. So when I arrived here, I was very surprised. The terrain is extremely mountainous, and there is far more vegetation than I thought. Another thing: the contrast between here and Northern Italy could hardly be any starker. Sometimes the resemblance to Greece is stunning. You see unfinished construction everywhere, and pavements that are apparently not meant for people to walk on. There appears to be a garbage problem, as evidenced by vast amounts of black garbage bags you often find piling up next to trash cans. Driving is more stressful than in Greece. There are ports and harbours everywhere, and lots of people are selling fruits, vegetables and fish by the side of the road. The houses are very cute, colourful and they usually have lots of little balconies attached. There is far less tourism than I had expected. I have had pizza from two different places, and was rather disappointed both times.
I will keep you posted. Tomorrow’s visit to an accommodation centre in Palermo should be interesting. Hopefully I will be able to speak with refugees as well.