Editing by Selena Magni.
Today Pequod had a long and deep conversation with Papis, a Senegalese man living in Italy. Sometimes living in a foreing country is not an exciting challenge, you simply have no other choice.
Your name, age, nationality, where are you from? Where do you live now? Which is your current occupation?
I’m Papis, 33 years old; I live in Bergamo today and I’m from Dakar, Senegal. I’m unemployed.
Why did you decide to leave your country?
I left Senegal for economic reasons: I have not finished my studies and in my country if you don’t have any qualification it’s really difficult to find a job, make an asset or build a house. When I started my travel, I hoped to find something different in Europe, more possibilities to learn, a job and a better economic situation.
Why did you choose Italy?
Actually, I didn’t choose Italy. At first I arrived in France and I liked it, but it was too difficult to stay there for me, so I left France and came to Italy. I have some brothers who have been living here for many years and they hosted me.
Describe your life in Italy (your occupation, your everyday life, social life, etc.). Tell us something about the city you live in (top 5 places to be, where to go, what to do – be our tourist information center!)
Actually, my life is a bit boring, because I have no job and no money. When I first came to Bergamo, I found a job as leafleter and I remembered that I had to get up very early and walk a lot, but I liked that work, because it allowed me to discover the country where I was living and it gave me money to live. Now I still get up early but I don’t have anything to do, so I have breakfast, watch international news and do something in my home; then I go out in search of some little business. I spend most of my time with Senegalese friends. We like staying at home cooking our traditional food all together. I try to spend as little time as possible at home, just to find something to do, but I regard my home as a peaceful place and when I go out I’m often worried, because I never know what I’ll find in the street.
I discovered the places that I consider as the most beautiful in Bergamo walking around in the city. Tourists who come to Bergamo always visit the same places: the center and Città Alta, a kind old Roman stronghold, and it’s great, yes! But I prefer the smaller cities, like Clusone or Stezzano: here you can see some historic villages with little historical centers that are really interesting and during the summer, there’s not much to do in Bergamo city, but out of it every village organizes events and sometimes you can hear a good concert or listen to an interesting conference.
How is living in Italy different than living in your country?
The differences are many! Here everything is organized: public transport, business, health. The first thing that you learn when you arrive in Europe is that you have to regularize your position and your activity, and to keep your documents safe. In Senegal it is really different, especially for business: there isn’t any kind of regularization of economic activities, you just start it. For the documents it’s a little bit different, because in Senegal you always have to take your documents with you. If the police finds someone living illegally in Dakar, for example, they take him to jail or send him back to the border and if nobody searches him and he cannot prove his identity, he will stay there for a long long time. It happens rarely though, because the police controls take place during the night for the most part, during the day there are too many people in the streets to control! Here is different: policemen walk in the street day and night and control people identities. In Italy is easier than in other countries, there is more tolerance.
Which is the biggest challenge of moving to a new country? Have you had any regrets so far? What do you miss the most?
The biggest challenge is integration. It was not easy to stay with people from Bergamo, to have dinner with them, to have a conversation. Now there are some people here, with whom I like to stay and hang out; I have Italian friends and my wife is from Bergamo. My regret concerns my studies, in Senegal first and then in Italy: I suppose that if I had graduated in Senegal, I would not have come here and my life now could have been easier. I can say the same about my first years in Italy, when I was here with my Schengen visa. What I miss the most is my mum, my home, my family, but I think that I just remember some better times. If I return now in Senegal, I won’t find what I miss, it’s just homesickness. I would like to stay in Senegal for a year or more to feel seasons changing, rediscover the wind of my country and be a real Senegalese again.
What does Europe mean for you? Do you perceive the existence of Europe as a community?
When I was a child, Europe for me was my promised land: I used to see on TV some fantastic images about your clean streets, your organized life and a lot of vegetables! I wanted to go there! Now I know that Europe is a bit different from what I imagined: I like it, yes, but it’s really self-concentrated. Europe has educated me: I know the importance of organization, how to manage money and be autonomous. I like observing old people who live in country or in the mountains: I like their lifestyle and their independence. But I don’t believe in the existence of a real European Community: Europeans are so different from each other, they have different values and habits. Africa is different: our cultures are similar. I could live in Congo or Ivory Coast without any problem, but in Europe it is difficult for most of the people to leave their country for another and there are countries that are regarded as non-European by a lot of people, while they are in fact European.
Italy, your country and Europe. Use three words to describe each of the previous.
Bergamo – anxious
Italy – pleasant
Europe – individualist
Dakar – cumbersome
Senegal – peace
Africa – promised land
What would you say to someone to convince him to move abroad? What’s the best thing you’ve got/you’ve learnt by your experience abroad?
I don’t think I could really convince someone to move abroad. I mean, what I’ve been learning in these long years of travelling and living abroad is that, despite all the difficulties, this is an experience that makes you grow and teaches you an important lesson, even if sometimes it’s even too hard than what you deserved. That’ why I think that travelling, living in a place which is different from your home is a fundamental experience, visiting new places, discovering new cultures and opening your mind. But still, your birthplace will be always your home, no matter what, that’s why the perfect thing would be to come back home, after living abroad, with a handful of experience that will complete your real life in your motherland.