From Aztec chocolate to soup kitchens for migrants, in Sicily, innovation is traditionalby Wendell Steavenson / February 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Catania’s seafront is bordered by a railway. Iron railings, tracks, and overhead cables form a black fence against the sea and sky. I could just make out the tall masts of sailboats in the marina. The port where rescued migrants are brought in is locked behind warehouses and gates. Behind the train station the Catholic charity Caritas has a soup kitchen serving about 400 people a day. Half are poor Sicilians, half Africans. Dinner on one cold January evening was pasta e lenticchie, pasta and lentils, cheap and filling; better liked by the table of Eritreans (who were once colonised by Italy) than by the Ghanians and Cote D’Ivoirians on the next table.
I sat and listened to stories of arduous migrations: thieves, beatings, hundreds crammed in the open boats. In Sicily: reception centres, asylum applications and appeals, more thieves, sleeping in abandoned houses.
When Ezio Canfarelli got himself clean of his drug addiction he left his finance job in Milan and came to Catania. He opened a restaurant called Eleven Eleven as a social enterprise dedicated to employing people—like migrants and ex-prisoners, “anyone who needs a second chance.” In the summer he cooks at the beach, in the winter he has a small takeaway pizza-lunch snack place. His pizzaiolo is an Egyptian called Ahmed. Ahmed arrived on a boat from Alexandria in 2013 when he was 16 years old. “Four hundred people, eight days on the boat, at gunpoint, in silence.” As a minor, he was sent to a children’s home and then got working papers. He encouraged his 12-year-old brother to take a boat and join him, but his brother drowned. One day, Ahmed hopes to return to Egypt and open his own restaurant in Sharm El Sheikh.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have landed in Sicily since the Arab Spring, the fall of Gadaffi and the subsequent breakdown of law and order in Libya. Over the past five or six years the majority of migrants into Sicily have been young African men, but before them came Bangladeshis and Romanians; in the 1990s it was Tunisians who came to work in the fields. Sicily’s history is the sea. Swells and waves of invasions and empires or “dominations” as Sicilians call them: Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Goths,…