Myself in Italy


"Yes, but you’re not here to study, you’re here to survive” – the lady on the other side of the counter answered. I was at the Foreign Office.
I was speechless, my eyes were full of tears and I was unable to find the way out.
Walking towards the bus stop I thought about myself, my fate and the fate of all of us who are forced to leave our country.
It was 1992, and it was the first time I had set foot in this country. My country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was at war, rather under attack, even though the World called it a “fraternal war”.
I was a student in Sarajevo and I had come to Italy to learn Italian. I wanted to stay here for three months then go home and finish my studies, but the war forced me to remain, and my knowledge of Italian was minimum.
Through the student agency I found a job as babysitter. According to the agreement I should have worked half-day and then attended an Italian course the rest of the time, but it was not the case because I was “assigned” to a family and worked from 7 am to 10 pm. I had a day and a half free each week, which didn’t seem much to me. I later learned this was a general rule. When I asked my employer if I could attend a language course, she told me that she needed someone who worked all day. I had to accept what was offered.
Three months later I had to leave the family. I contacted the same agency to find another job, but was refused, the reason was: “Young lady, you did not respect the terms we had agreed”. It was true, but I had told her 15 days beforehand that I couldn’t stand it any longer and wanted to leave.

I didn’t know that in this case I could have filed a complaint against the agency, because I had paid for their service. I didn’t know that by law, the family where I had worked should have paid me a settlement (the same law that gives a day and a half off to cleaners).
I was on the streets, without a job, a home or money and I only knew one person in Rome, a girl from Croatia and she suggested I contact the parish.
Through them I found another family and in my new home I received a wonderful welcome. I worked all day there as well, but the atmosphere was completely different.
In 1993 I received my first residence permit, and as my permit was “humanitarian” I asked if I could receive some sort of financial help or something provided for refugees. They said no. I could go to eat at the Caritas or receive a certain amount of pasta and Parmesan. But I didn’t need food as I ate I in the home where I worked, but I needed more money because my family in Bosnia depended on my help.

I didn’t know who to contact for information because the immigrant institutions knew little or nothing about “these Bosnians”.
The lady of the house where I worked and lived was a great help. She taught me how to use the “all the town” guide, she said I must always have a bus ticket because the fine at that time was 50,000 lira, and that I could buy a ticket in any tobacconists (back home they were only sold in newspaper shops), that I had to be careful with my bag and purse, that I shouldn’t carry my original documents around with me (she prepared an authenticated copy for me). What surprised me most was her last sentence: “I must say that for a foreigner even 10,000 lire was quite a lot, because they were not earned easily”. I looked at her, I was surprised and I was very grateful to her.

After two years in Italy, I decided to enrol at University. To be honest I didn’t know where to start, I didn’t know there was a “Bosnian Community” in Rome where I could meet my own people and obtain the information I needed. At the central police headquarters (the first place foreigners go to) they did not have that information. Among all the advertising they did on the TV, they had never given this news even if they knew that Italy, like the other west European countries, was full of ex-Yugoslavian refugees.
Therefore I had to find the way alone and fast, everything was difficult. In the capital of Italy there was not an office where I could have my diploma from Bosnia translated and evaluated. The translation cost me 150,000 lira and my Professor, who I met by chance, confirmed the evaluation. After all this fatigue I finally became a student.
I didn’t have much time for studying because I had to continue working, but the lady where I worked and lived gave me as much time as possible free to study.

After the first few months studying I sat my first exam, which went very well. At that time I also met my boyfriend. He suggested I go to the Foreign office to ask for a scholarship, but thanks to my bad experience in the past with them just hearing the name of the Ministry terrified me. However he pushed me and accompanied me to knock on the same door as a year ago, when I left crying. Perhaps I had guessed the “right” time to go, because the “lady at the counter” was not there that day. Another person listened to us and sent us to another other office, where they solved all my problems. I became a scholarship holder of the Italian Government and now I am terminating my studies.
Unfortunately I never met the lady again who was there the first time I went to the Ministry, but I would like to meet her and tell her that I have survived and I have done a lot more than she ever thought I would, perhaps …