This one’s a short post with a meaningful story behind it. Here I am in Sicily, about two months into my summer fling with Italy- and money is getting low.
Although I saved a lot of money by staying in hostels (and while working I lived with host families), somehow my budget had gone completely out of the window. It was this night where I rummaged around my rucksack for loose change and went down the market to buy 3 or 4 tomatoes, a bag of mozzarella and sweet-smelling fresh basil leaves.
When I returned to the hostel there was an American girl with bright red face and arms, standing in the kitchen holding an aubergine, looking at it knowing she really had no idea what to do with it.
We got chatting as you do and it turned out she was also here teaching English at camp, only it was our rival camp, one that our bosses had previously worked for but quit in order to establish a company of their own. We moved to the bedroom and started chatting sitting on our bunks. The room was the biggest I’ve ever stayed in, about 10 or 11 bunk-beds inside! We knew a lot of the same camp songs and we talked about our favourite activities and what special kids we met along the way.
Then from somewhere in this massive two-floor room, a guy shouts up “can you talk somewhere else? Some of us are trying to sleep”.
I look around the room and every single bunk is laden with rucksacks, clothes and jewellery hanging from the frame- none of which have anyone sleeping in. I checked the time and called back to him, “it’s 3 in the afternoon…?” to which he replied, “I haven’t slept in days, please bugger off.”
Eyebrows raised, the two of us grabbed our towels and headed to a quiet part of Siracusa, in Ortygia, close to the sea where it’s possible to sunbathe as well as jump in and swim. We could have taken the bus down to the beach but this spot was absolutely perfect for what we wanted.
Just the day before I had bought a beautiful picnic blanket from a guy from Africa who told me he made with his own bare hands before giving me a wink and a cheeky smile. The blanket was big enough for the two of us to sunbathe on, probably could fit 3 or 4 people. So I laid it down on the ground and we used our bags to keep it from blowing up. She helped me apply sun-cream to my back (one of the best things about be-friending strangers!) and we had a truly perfect couple of hours relaxing and chatting about our lives.
It’s always interesting to hear how someone else has got to where they are today. She’d had quite a privileged life. Parents own a couple horses and paid for her university tuition, rent, bills, etc. She was about 4 or 5 years old than me but her adult life was only just starting.
I hear a lot of stories like this. The truth is it irritates me- I guess because I’m jealous. Her parents were even paying for her entire trip to Europe.
But after getting to know her and seeing what a kind and loving girl she is, I can’t be jealous of her. I have a family of my own back home- and it’s safe to say that whatever it looks like on the outside, no family is perfect. The thing I love most about my upbringing is that I was always encouraged to be adventurous. She told me how she was afraid of open waters. How sad, I thought, remembering the long days my family spent on the coasts in Harwich and Clacton.
After a lot of persuasion I got her to face her fear of the ocean and jump in with me holding my hand. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she realised she had survived – and how beautiful it is swimming in the blue Mediterranean sea!
Slowly and happy with our day, we made our way back to LOL hostel (great name by the way). We go to the kitchen and she shows me her bag of eggplants. I get out my tomatoes etc and we agree on sharing our food between us.
I make the tomato salad and leave her to cut up the aubergines and fry them. Unfortunately they went really soggy and I think it’s because we were supposed to put a load of salt on them and let them water out a bit, oops. Still, with limited funds and a plate of food who were we to complain?
We took our food and sat outside in the seating area. I had arranged tonight to go out with two girls in the bunk next to mine who I’d met that morning, and asked her if she’d like to join us. I mentioned that the night before I had met some gorgeous Italians, one in particular, whom I was hoping I would see again tonight. She decided with her early check-out tomorrow that she’d like to stay home, but thanked me for asking her.
“My family was my guide to my reality” – Haywood Nelson