We drove past all the famous statues and piazzas, the wide streets lined with archways, pastry shops, cafes and clothing stores, the beautiful historic churches, and practically everything I would recognize as belonging to the city of Turin. The recently reconstructed highway rolled out in front of us as my romantic images of Italy dissolved in the side view mirror. We were suddenly driving along the urban outskirts, architecturally reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”, where concrete sprawls over flat, dusty terrain and springs up into soviet blocks, also known as public housing, the panorama spotted with cerca 1970 red or blue sheet metal facades–constructions from the artistic void. We pulled off the road, which extended into a blank skyline, and stopped in the concrete lot of one such facade.
It was Saturday morning and I was accompanying a psychologist on her visit to an apartment where two Nigerian women and one younger Romanian woman resides. TAMPEP arranges accommodations for women who have completed the Social Protection program and are beginning work, or looking for work on the road to autonomy.
Two women met us at the door to the apartment, their sharp features were heavily drawn and their dark bodies glossy from the heat, they wore illustrious wraps to cover themselves and no clothes. I received hard distrustful glances until my presence and position had been adequately explained. We waited for them, I thought perhaps to dress which only proved true for one of them, in the dining room where it appeared no one has ever dined.
The apartment’s interior reflected its surroundings, barren and bland. The apartment did not look inhabited, there was life inside these walls but no home. No wall or table top wore any affection at all, only blank stares, which caused my eyes to circle the room repeatedly, pausing in each rotation on the uncomfortable sight of the large metal-framed unit that stood stark naked in all its enormity along an entire wall of the dining room, my eyes ran down shelf after shelf of bare surface before moving over to tan metal window shades, then the white walls, and around again.
Only the two Nigerian women were at home. I was informed that actually I have already met the Romanian girl, she is the young girl who comes to clean the office every day. I was not surprised; she is friendly with the other Romanian girls that aimlessly float in and out of the TAMPEP office, and she cleans too often, like she needs something to do in order not to be as aimless. At first I was really annoyed by the cleaning ritual, because she uses harsh chemicals all over the office more often than could be necessary, but this also led me to think that the situation was more complex, and to admit feelings of awkwardness and foolishness as I confront the daily discomfort.
All three women have been living in the apartment for different lengths of time and have different experiences with the program. These women are all off the street now and have denounced their traffickers—basic criterion for the very onset of the social protection program.
I did not ask too many questions, mostly I just listened to them speak and tried to piece things together. Neither woman was happy. I did not shrug from my mind for a moment what I imagined and could realize about their realities, their pasts, presents and even futures. One woman has three children in Nigeria, who she has left in the care of her mother. The youngest of which was hospitalized with Malaria this February and is back at home now. She hopes to be able to bring them all to Italy within the next few years, meanwhile she continues to send money home and to look for more than a part-time job. Problems escalate because she has been in the program for too long, she must find a full-time job additionally because TAMPEP cannot continue to support her without one. Every so often she would let her head drop, shrug her shoulders, roll her neck, and then raise her eyes to look at me and say, “Life goes on, but it is very difficult”.
Posted By Anya Gorovets (Italy)
Posted Jul 24th, 2006