No, this post is not about cooking. It is about slavery. It is about the book I just finished reading: “Uomini e caporali” (“men & foremen”) written by an Italian journalist and writer, Alessandro Leogrande.
We all love “Spaghetti al pomodoro”, noodles with tomatoes – don’t you, too? Made with tomatoes in cans, most of them coming from Southern Italy: Puglia or Campagna. (In the latter many of the tomatoes coming from Puglia are processed and put in cans or bottles). But who is harvesting those tomatoes and what are his or her work condition?
Every summer men and women from Africa and Eastern Europe pour into the “Tavoliere”, a region of Puglia to engage in harvesting tomatoes. They are the modern day-laborers of agriculture. They become victims of corporatists who in alignment with the landowners deploy them through the region. They live in insanitary dwellings and accept wages that are far below any legal standards which often are not paid at all. They are isolated. They suffer hunger and thirst. Their passports are taken away. They have to pay exaggerated prices for food and water and transport from their already misery wages. Sometimes they are even beaten. Some of those new slaves who try to rebel just “disappear” or die in “strange circumstances”. As of this list from an Polish association called “Italy” today there are still 115 people missing.
But in the summer of 2005, three Polish students managed to escape from their guards and reach the Polish consulate in Bari. Due to their denunciation it was possible to arrest dozens of formen or better said slave drivers. The author met the victims, studied the techniques of those new “Kapò” and interviewed magistrates, lawyers, doctors and syndicalists who tried to oppose this cruel exploitation. Three years later he returned and the situation seems to have improved: The landowners or farmers decided to engage machines because they are now more convenient. They hadn’t been in respect to the slaves. The situation for the Polish improved. But today, there are dozens of Romanians missing and a handful died in “strange circumstances”. Because as long as the companies behind this system will try to lower even more the labor costs to raise their own profit this system of modern slavery will continue.
In the next months I will escort two politicians on their trips to Africa and Asia – that is fantastic! My role will be the one of a photographer. Currently I am preparing all necessary: Visa, flights, booking hotels, vaccination, reading books and the news on the current political affairs and last but not least reviewing my wardrobe. This is all very exciting especially because it is more than 15 years ago that I will travel to exotic destinations without my husband and this makes me feel a bit insecure (although I would of course never ever admit that. :-))
I will publish detailed reporting from my trips to Africa and Asia in my mother tongue German here.
Having left Sardinia for Austria we went to see an ancient ritual in Austria: The consecration of ham, eggs and bread. Saturday before Eastern we walked through a beautiful landscape and were told that near a small Hotel, that would open only in summer, at half past three there will be a rally of people waiting for the local priest to consecrate their food. And in fact, at three fifteen there was still no one but us, but at three thirty there have been around 70 people with approximately 20 baskets.
It is an old tradition to prepare the “eastern ham” at home and to put it together with eggs, bred and salt into a basket, cover it with a nicely embroidered napkin and get the priests’ blessing before eating it the same or next day. We had the impression that this yearly ritual was also a nice occasion to meet neighbors that you might not have seen for a while, doing something exciting for the children and feeling to be part of a local and yet broader community.
The priest’s headdress and outfit seemed to be very traditional. In contrast was the priest’s equipment: he came in a rented car with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and other celebrities printed on both sides and brought a microphone and loudspeaker which were quickly set up. The few words he spent where first traditional, praying, blessing the food and thanking the women for having cooked it and embroidered the napkins but then linked to daily politics in Austria and the discussion about crosses in public places. He called on his community to engage for the cross, the symbol that since 1800 years unifies and gives identification to Austria and his inhabitants, he said. The entire ceremony was not taking more than 15 minutes, then he rushed away to repeat it in the next small village.
We instead were invited to taste the consecrated ham and eggs and bred afterwards and it was delicious!
Women have always been powerful in Sardinia compared to other regions in Southern Italy. Sardinia is said to be the only Italian region with ancient matriarchy. The most famous women in Sardinia is Eleonora d’Arborea, who in the 14th century defeated Spanish invaders and composed the Carta de Logu, a body of laws which came into force in April 1395. They were considered to be far in advance of the laws of other countries,the penalty for most crimes being a fine, and the property rights of women being preserved. Another famous women is Nobel Price Winner Grazia Deledda, born in the late 19th century. Her most famous novel is “Canne al Vento”, about a young women and rebel to her father’s strict rules.
But why have women in Sardinian been traditionally more powerful ? The most reasonable explanation is that during winter all male members of the family left their houses for months to walk with their herds of sheep to warmer regions. (“Trasumanza”). This seasonal movement made it necessary for women to run the daily business alone, taking important decisions for the family and the income, producing and selling products from sheep like cheese or traditionally hand made carpets.
Nevertheless traditional society protected young women from being “dishonored” by strangers. So men were afraid to infringe unwritten laws. This is why the man in the picture above experienced difficulties when working for the first time with female colleagues in a Hotel in the early 70ties. “I tried to pass them without getting noticed”, he said. “I was afraid and also felt ashamed, the situation for me was uncomfortable. Until one day one of my female colleagues said to me: ‘Ziu Boicu, you can’t go on like this. Or you stop being afraid or you have to quit this job’. Then I made up my mind and the next season I came over it”.
Since 1972 we come as tourists to this small village in Sardinia. Every year, sometimes twices. I even worked here for two seasons. In 1989 at the bar of one of the restaurants. This is where I learned Italian and made friendships for life. One year later I had the best job ever – I was renting bicycles to tourists, sitting virtually the whole day in the sun, reading newspapers or books and waiting for tourists to sign a small contract, joking with them in different languages. Good times!
In those two long summers I got to know the people and the culture here quite well and I saw the growth since then. But also my father observed how things changed. Until the 60ties main income was based on mixed farming. Then tourists from “the continent” (how the islanders call their fellow citizens from Italy) as well as from Germany, Switzerland, France and other countries arrived and changed the live of the around 3000 inhabitants. The entire village was catapulted from a simple and archaic culture with ancient traditions into a modern, globalized and complicated world – in only four decades. High speed. What did this do with the people here? How did they manage to stay humble and build a sustainable tourism without committing the mistakes so many other touristic places and coasts in Europe did? Big questions I try to find answers to by interviewing people, taking pictures and also collecting pictures from the last four decades. The one you see above is said to be from the 1950ies.
Based on this material I want to write a book and dedicate it to the wonderful people of this small paradise on earth. Now in my sabbatical I finally have time for this project. By the way, I am not the first German writing a book about the village: the other one is much more famous in Germany, Ernst Jünger. He wrote “Am Sarazenenturm”, (in Italian: “Terra Sarda”) in 1954. The book was published one year later, the year electricity arrived in all households. Jünger was forecasting that progress and modernity would destroy this idyllic life and I want to find out if he was right with his premonition…
(c) The holder of the copyright of the picture above from the 1950s is unknown.
When have you spend exclusive time with your father (or your mother) lately?
I hadn’t for years. During school and my university studies, my father was very busy, working in IT. Since he retired I was very busy, working in IT.
Until some weeks ago, as you know…
Now we are in Sardinia together. Just he and me alone. For two weeks. We are discovering each other again. What we like to drink and eat. When we go to bed or wake up. What we read, what we think. I have plenty of time to ask about the past. How was I as a child? How was Sardinia in the seventies? Why he married my mother? Why did they buy a territory and build a house in Sardinia? How was his father when my father was a boy? How was my grandmother as a mother? What are my fathers’s values and drivers in live?
He has time to discuss with me his thoughts about the future of humanity, when Artificial Intelligence Systems will gain more and more influence. My father is engaged in a foundation caring about The Human Use of IT : How can we avoid that one day mankind is ruled by machines? What rules do we have to set to make machines respect human beings and their values?
You think this is kind of ‘voodoo’ and far away? You are wrong. It isn’t. we are almost there. Read the novel The Circle by Dave Eggers and you realize that IT Technology is already ruling our daily lives. Have Or look at the new generation, feeling under pressure by having to “like” their friends’s Social Media contributions in a timeline that never ends. Have you heard about cars driving alone? You certainly know Siri or other “smart assistents”on your “smart phones”. They will get even smarter. Filter your phone calls for you, take decision for you. But based on which values or parameters?
My father is a visionary men. He worked in IT since the early nineteensixties. He is passionate about philosophy, he already was as a young man. This is a rare combination and our daily walks at the seaside or through pine-tree forests are full of interesting discussions about strengthening human rights and democracy: today and in a future dominated by artificial intelligence.
You want to study Medicine in Germany – well, this is not easy. Not for Germans (you have to have a very high scoring at school and you have to pass a “Medizinertest”). Nor for foreigners: you don’t have to pass the special test, but you have to prove sufficiency in German language. Sounds fair. Here are the special challenges for a young student from Palestine:
It is not automatically clear if you are admitted although you graduate from high school in Palestine. Could be that your career at school is not enough and you have to go first for one year to the “Studienkolleg“. This needs to be checked with the University based on your certificate, as soon as you get it, means: in May 2017. In any case – you have to get the highest scoring possible at school.
You have to prove that you know German. Fair enough. Unfair is instead: only onsite courses and exams of the Goethe Institute are accepted (Goethe Certificate C2). But what do you do if in Gaza there is no Goethe institute and you have to travel to Ramallah (West Bank) passing through Israeli’s territories and checkpoints (that are more than often closed)? In case my young friend makes it, he will then be invited here to the language exam called DSH2, the exam is often around July 15th which is the last day of applying for the University in Germany for foreigners. Next chance is before July 15th, 2018.
To get a Visa it you can’t just start with the 90 days Schengen Visa for Tourism and then update to a student visa onsite – no, you need a so called “National Visum” for Study reasons (valid also for traveling to other Schengen countries of course). Well, here is what my young friend needs for getting the Visa from the German Diplomatic Mission in Palestine:
If you are entering Germany to attend a language course, you will need to submit confirmation of attendance of a language course with at least 20 contact hours per week. (I hope to show the confirmation is enough because how can you attend a course in Germany if you don’t have a visa that you get only if you attend a language course?)
If you are entering to Germany for the purpose of academic studies, you will need a certificate of enrollment at university. (Yes, see above)
You will need proof of adequate health insurance. (That’s an easy one I hope?)
You will need proof of adequate funding. (Fair enough, the German State shouldn’t pay for you).
Regarding the last point I am currently facing a new challenge: Last year, when I invited my friends from Gaza to visit us in Europe, I went to the KVR in my city and filled in a form that I guarantee financially for them. This was easy and done in less than 10 minutes, I just had to show my salary as an employee from the last three months and that was it.
This year, in my sabbatical, I am no longer an employee (can’t prove any salary any more) so I am not accepted as a “guarantee” any more. Now there is another way to overcome this: open a bank account on my young friend’s name with around 8.000 € on it that can’t be touched and are the guarantee for the German State in case of need. Good idea! But: I haven’t found a bank yet that would open a bank account for a person not yet present in Germany! I will continue searching and ask a friend of mine volunteering at Studentenpaten e.V.
Berlin! How much did I love this city when we were living there in the late 90ies and the early years of the new century! I was amazed by this city that was always in movement, new bars and shops opened every week, so many unauthorized parties in strange locations, so much room for creativity and crazy ideas! When I am walking on the streets of Prenzlauer Berg today I really miss that time. And we miss our friends with their wonderful multicolored backgrounds: Italians, Latins, Germans, Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, Russian and Sri Lanka. Today when we visit Berlin for a couple of days we only manage to meet some of them and it is always very nice, warm and hearty, as if we had never moved to another town…
In the third week of my sabbatical I was busy with German bureaucracy.
My health insurance company needed to figure out how much I will have to pay this year. Therefore they first wanted the official confirmation that I am unemployed. I don’t have this. I didn’t register at the job center because I do not want to get any financial support. Then they asked for my annual tax declaration from 2016 to see how much money I made as a freelance consultant last year. This didn’t make sense, because last year I was still an employee. The insurance systems in Germany are not prepared for workers taking one year off. But luckily in my insurance company I can still communicate with human beings and not machines, so at the end this nice lady and me found a compromise how to handle it that we can both live with. After that I had to deal with some more burocracy but more about that in other blogposts.
In the second week my husband and I went to Tuscany, Italy. We went to the place where we had known each other more than 25 years ago, where we lived for many years together and where we could imagine to live again in the future. Finally we had time to look for a small house or flat to live without paying a rent! Now it is the right moment to invest in Italy one says, prices are low, the crisis forced many people to sell. In effect, apart from widows who want to sell because they feel lonely and prefer to move closer to their children, the most common pattern was banks, trying to sell houses of which the owners are no longer able to pay back the loans.
Well, we didn’t really find what we were looking for. But we will keep searching…