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Reality is always harder than expected


I knew about labourers in Southern Italy, I’d read their stories. The uprising in Nardó, the makeshift camp for migrants in San Ferdinando, the acts of violence. Maybe I knew what to expect. But the reality of the situation is even harder. When I arrived in Calabria, in Lamezia first, then in Rosarno and finally in Polistena, I kept looking around. I was trying to understand the context, to get inside of it somehow.

My stay in Polistena began by meeting the staff: since that moment every aspect of our work, from the medical care to the socio-medical counselling we offer, became very clear. Visits, appointments, taking patients to the hospital: everything seemed very simple.

I walk through Polistena, ‘The Pearl of the Plain’, as it’s called. It’s hard to understand why it was given this name, but it’s in the countryside that I find my answers. The Outpatient clinic acts as a permanent surgery, but it’s so much more than that: twice a day, a mobile unit reaches the most isolated places in the Plain of Gioia Tauro. Our staff meet with patients, talk to them, take them to the clinic. This constant relationship between mobility and permanence strikes me. I wouldn’t be able to explain why, maybe the relationship between the two is just necessary.

Looking for answers to all of my questions in only four days is impossible. So I decide to focus on the smallest aspects of this trip, on certain episodes. On people.

M. is pregnant, we took her to the hospital to do some check-ups. She laughs and secretly eats some crisps from her bag.

F. has a visit at the clinic every day, he’s diabetic, he needs constant check-ups and may need to move to Foggia for work.

I., S. and J. fall asleep on the waiting room chairs before returning to the makeshift camp.

EMERGENCY’s Outpatient clinic in Polistena is also this: a break, a suspension from reality. A reality that’s right there, right outside. I make the trip back to the makeshift camp with the patients. I understand how many aspects of our normal, everyday life we take for granted: a home, a street to walk on, food. But what is ‘normal’? This is what Polistena does: it makes you doubt every constant, every certainty, every meaning. Borders, for example, are real here. And they don’t exist by chance: the marginality of the camp was created on purpose. The life stories in that waiting room tell of forced paths, of choices made by law and politics. Even these tents have a voice, the voice of those who live inside them, saying loud and clear: “We haven’t had water for days”.

Giorgio’s words come back to mind. He’s a nurse, and after asking me how I was he said: “Seeing all this is the right thing to do”. And nothing could be more true.

Serena, from Polistena