THE RUNWAY

PATIENCE'S STORY


Alter Ego Association - Ufficio Migrantes (Diocese of Vieste-Manfredonia-San Giovanni Rotondo)

I don’t know whether this is a story of rebound or not, but it is undoubtedly the path I walked on my own two feet to get here, and of the happiness I feel for being able to tell it

Patience

PATIENCE’S STORY

I thank God for all the things he has done for me
I thank God for all the things he is going to do for me
Even though my friends hit their heads against the wood, hit their heads against stone,
Everything God designed for me, I will take it.

“I often hum this song, which is preciously guarded in the hard disk of my memory. I used to keep track of the songs I wrote. I have kept all of them in a box, in Sicily, among heaps of stuff that I left there, fragments of past life, memories of the person I was”.

Agho Patience’s story opens with a wound, an opening that gives a glimpse of a history of dreams pursued, unfulfilled expectations, multiple setbacks and fresh starts, every time from different departure points.

Patience, 45 years old, arrived in Italy from Nigeria. Since she was a child, Patty dreamt of fighting injustice and becoming a lawyer. But, as we all know, dreams have to come to terms with reality. Starting from the context in which we were born. “Nigeria can be a wonderful or a terrible place, it depends on the family you come from. I, for instance, come from a large family, we are eleven beautiful siblings, grown far apart. Because of some financial straits, my parents had to entrust me to the care of my uncle, so I
moved to the city at the age of six. Thanks to my uncle, I could study and attend elementary school, and that was when I developed my passion for justice. As a child, I thought I would like to study law, become a lawyer and fight injustice, strive against
inequality. When my uncle passed away, I dropped out of school and returned to my family. My dream of an education was shattered, I was suddenly forced to give up my aspirations and give in to the compromise of a mediocre life for love
of my family. For some time I worked in the countryside, along with my siblings, still dreaming of a better future”.

And when all seemed lost, the ambition of continuing my studies and becoming a lawyer became concrete again. A friend of Patience suggested she left Nigeria and moved to Italy: “I thought that was my chance to start over. I took the things I owned, and I left”. However, things got difficult for her already during the various stages of her journey, making her realize it wouldn’t be as easy as she imagined: “The journey was exhausting, it lasted three months, I took buses, trains, planes. As I approached my destination, Italy materialized before me, the life that awaited me. In my eyes was my entire family: my siblings, my father, my mother. They were many frames, that repeated over and over“.

Once she arrived in Italy, since she couldn’t pay off the debt she had contracted to pay her journey, she was forced to flee. And so her ordeal along our peninsula began. Her journey started in Emilia-Romagna and took her to Calabria, then to Sicily and, finally, to the runway of Borgo Mezzanone. “There are memories I don’t want to recall, they still hurt too much”, says Patience. In Calabria, she worked as a cleaning lady, dishwasher, seasonal worker. She became caregiver of an elderly lady. “The pay wasn’t too bad, but after a while I was diagnosed with a fibroid and I had a surgery, the doctor gave me two months bed rest, so I lost my job”. And so Patience decided to leave the “perfumed land of Sicily”. She worked as a caregiver for an elderly gentleman from a wealthy family, but what was supposed to be a working relationship turned out to be a form of slavery. “They kept me prisoner for many years, I lived in their garage and looked after this elderly man, whose son I have rarely seen. My days were marked by his needs, he lived my life for me, and all for 300 euros per month. On my arrival, i had been promised 600 euros per month, but I had to return half of my monthly salary to my employer. It wasn’t the life I dreamed of, but I tried to settle.

In my spare time I composed songs that I sang to keep me company while I did the housework. Everyone in the house used to hum my songs from time to time”.

One day, an unexpected phone call arrived from Patience’s brother, who invited her to Nigeria to attend her nephew’s baptism. When she returned, there was nobody to welcome her. The door was shut, the phone disconnected. “Even today, nobody answers me, nobody gave me back my belongings. That garage, where I was prisoner for years, still holds the remains of my past life, my computer, my jewels, my songs, my clothes”.

“There is very little left of the cheerful and carefree little girl I was, for too long I believed I was born in the wrong place, in the wrong era, in the wrong world. Deprived of everything, without work, I had to leave again: I had heard of a place in Apulia where
there was work in the tomato harvesting”.

In Apulia, “the most brutal stage of my desperate search for happiness” awaited her: the runway of Borgo Mezzanone. “A huge expanse of makeshift homes made of cardboard, wood and sheet metal stretched out before my eyes; I couldn’t see the end of it. Bycicles, so many bycicles. It was a crucible of people from all nations, all in desperate search of something. Some remain on the runway for a short time, some stay forever, I was shivering at the mere idea of spending my whole life in the ghetto. I am a private woman and I tried to stay out of trouble, but trouble found me anyway. To sleep on the runway, in a cardboard house, I payed 5 euros per night. During my first night there, someone stole my cell phone, the little black box that was the access to all my loved ones: my family didn’t hear anything from me for two years. Shortly after, my residence permit expired and I became an illegal immigrant, a ghost without an identity”.

There Patience worked in the fields, during the seasonal harvests and risked her life twice: freezed to death during the frost of 2017, and later due to a fire, caused by a charcoal candle she used to warm up. “The memory of the flames flaring up a few inches away from my face, while I wanted to scream but I couldn’t even let out a wheeze, is vivid”.

But what seemed like a journey towards endless suffering, encounters an unexpected breakthrough. Patience meets Dina, a volunteer who helps her obtain her documents and to file a lawsuit against the family who had left her out on the street in Sicily: “They
owe me 18.000 euros, but I have not received anything to date”.

Today, Patience has left the Runway, she has found a job in a factory, with a regular contract. She’s happy. She’s free. She lives in a rented house in Borgo Mezzanone and returns to the Runway only to take care of her dogs. Furthermore, she joined the association Ufficio Migrantes as a mediator between the inhabitants of the ghetto and the association, to help those who, just as happened to her, are struggling. “I’m not exactly a lawyer, but as far as is within my capacity, I commit myself so that the voices of those left at the side can be heard and to make sure that, although many of us don’t even exist for the Registry Office, they keep existing as people, as a part of the community, and as such, are safeguarded and assisted”.

With the “Alter Ego” association, she is planning to set up an Italian language school for the inhabitants of the ghetto, who often struggle with the language and are unable to express their needs.
“A few years ago, if someone had asked me to portray my life, to capture it in a click, I would have collected images of the Runway, of my wooden house, of a difficult past. Today, however, each of those shots contain a tiny bit of my effort, of the small victories I can glory in, of my new, normal life. I don’t know whether this is a story of rebound or not, but it is undoubtedly a story of sacrifices, the path I walked on my own two feet to get here, of the battles I had to fight alone, of the small victories I can be happy with, of the happines I feel because now I can tell you this story. As for my past, I bring with me some songs, many faces, and the awareness that I made it. This is my story and I thank God for bringing me here”.