Laura from Cornwall UK decided to take on a teaching job in Trapani, Sicily. Although an experienced expat, she was initially overcome by a surprising bout of homesickness and tells us how she overcame it!
I’m quite the expert expat, I have lived in Germany for five years and in South Korea for one and a half, so I considered myself to be well-prepared for settling down and getting accustomed to the saucy Sicilian lifestyle! I surprised myself by getting incredibly homesick the first few weeks after my move. I had originally thought I had lived in enough foreign countries to not sit up all night staring out the window and longing for mundane things like fish ‘n chips. I mean after all I was in Sicily: great food, good wine and fantastic weather!
It may have possibly been the weather and my silly expectation of it as being sunny and warm all year round. However it has been raining and miserable since I got here, which technically I should be used to given where I come from. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that two of my friends just had children and I was still single and living in yet another foreign country. Or perhaps I had been abroad too long? Regardless of the precise reason, I was feeling quite low all of a sudden. Deciding that this was going to ruin my general attitude toward Italy, and seeing as I didn’t really know anything about the country and that would be unfair, I resolved to explore my new home!
I live in the small fisherman’s port of Trapani, where I rented a studio apartment with a petite balcony overlooking one of the many piazzas. From what I saw so far, Trapani is really beautiful: narrow cobblestone streets, tiny cafés and bars, little shops with trinkets, a fish and produce market, and lots of piazzas with benches on which the older Trapani residents would sit and read the newspaper and chat away.
I decided to visit the port, as I’d always found water comforting and figured it would be good to gaze at the sea a bit to collect my thoughts. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I arrived only two weeks ago and do not believe in carrying maps, I got quite lost as I ambled in the general direction of where I thought the port was. Well, the port wasn’t where I expected it to be and I ended up walking in the exact opposite direction for at least 30 minutes!
Frustrated at myself for not having a clue where I was and it being near ten in the evening, and this being the exact thing I did not need right now in my current emotional state, I simply sat down on the curb and was just about to drown myself in tears and misery, when I heard someone calling down from a little balcony on the street across from where I sat. I looked up and realized a little old lady was speaking to me. I was extremely thankful that I had taken Italian before coming to Trapani, so it didn’t take long to explain that I was lost. I didn’t expect her to come down and give me directions, thinking it would be just as easy to yell them down into the street, but she came down nonetheless. However, she didn’t come down to give me directions, but took my elbow, told me I looked half-starved, and brought me up the creaky stairs to her small apartment.
The apartment was overstuffed with old furniture, thousands of porcelain cats perched on all sorts of side tables, bookshelves and dressers covered with old and new family photos, and a large cross with Jesus hanging as a centerpiece on the wall facing the door. It smelled of cinnamon, mothballs and, I hate to say it, tomato sauce. Oddly I immediately felt at home…
The friendly old lady, who introduced herself simply as “nonna” (‘grandma’ in Italian), disappeared into her tiny kitchen and began banging pots. I didn’t quite know how to tell her that I wasn’t hungry and honestly just wanted to get back to my apartment, so I asked instead if I could help her in any way. She shuffled me out of the kitchen and sat me down with a glass of juice at her tiny dining room table. Soon I was sitting before a steaming bowl of pasta. Despite not being in the least bit hungry I downed every last bite, it was so delicious! I spent almost two hours sitting and talking to my newly adopted nonna and quite frankly had the best time in Sicily thus far. It was as if my feet had led me directly to her by some strange magical force!
When I got home, having been given a map by Nonna, I lay in bed feeling truly happy. I was glad I hadn’t found the port and by luck got lost and met Nonna. I had an invitation to be back and have dinner with her and her children the following evening! I was already looking forward to it! Isn’t that everyone’s dream? Being integrated into a large warm family abroad? I had always envied people with large families, secretly part of my reason for my move! Who knows, perhaps I’ll meet my Italian prince here and have a big happy joyful family of my own, and someday be a nonna myself!
It truly is amazing how a small kind gesture can change the way you feel in an instant! Now I was no longer homesick, and certainly didn’t miss fish ‘n chips!
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons