Tuesday, June 26, 2012

#20 ~ July 1975 ~ Rome, Italy

When I woke up next morning, it took me awhile to figure out where I was, and what am I supposed to be doing. I saw a big room with bare, white walls and cold tile floor, 2 military style beds, small table and few chairs. And then I felt my little girl snuggled up under my arm, sleeping peacefully. We are in Italy! Somehow I did not feel any fear or stress any more. I was looking forward to what is going to happen next. To me, Italy was the country of beautiful songs ( I loved Robertino Loretti sinc I was a small child), amazing arts, history and romantic movies. What and how are we going to fit in? How long are we going to be here? How are we going to understand anyone? Oh, there were so many questions. Breakfast was in the dining room with other families. We knew some of them from Kiev and Vienna. It was a happy reunion. Since there was nothing that Masha could eat, I found the kitchen and asked if I could use some milk to make hot cereal for the baby. Italian women, who were working in the kitchen looked at me like I was insane. They kept saying:"Mango, mango" and I kept pointing on the stove and saying: "I need milk. I have everything else". Finally, they let me cook, but they were watching me closely and kept talking and laughing. I was smiling and kept pointing on different subjects and they were teaching me Italian words. After breakfast we went for a walk. One of the boys from the family that arrived to Rome a few days earlier showed us a small grocery store, pretty park near-by, bus stop to get to the train station. It was very hot. I got enough nerve to walk into the bar and ask for cold water for the baby "freddo acqua". And it worked. I was so proud!!!
Later that afternoon we had a meeting with the representatives from the HIAS.

What is HIAS?
HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is the international migration agency of the American Jewish community. They provide rescue and refuge for persecuted and oppressed Jews around the world. In recent years, as the population of Jewish refugees has diminished, they have directed their expertise to assist refugees and immigrants of all backgrounds. HIAS also advocates in Congress for fair and effective policies affecting refugees and immigrants. Since 1881, HIAS has assisted more than 4,500,000 people worldwide.

 We were told that we have 2 weeks to find an apartment, that we will be getting financial help for rent and food. That we need to economise, which is nothing new to us. That we will have to attend school to learn English and that information about our familly will be sent out to different Jewish Federations and as soon as someone will be willing to "accept" and sponsor us, we will be notified. They also told us that we are very, very lucky, because immigrants that came before us, did not have any support or this kind of help. All this was possible because of the financial aid and donations from Jewish people, mostly from the USA. It was hard for us to understand any of this, but we were so grateful and humble and ready to do whatever possible to become independant. I knew back then, that I really wanted to repay the kindness and compassion, care and empathy that we received from people that we did not even know.
So everything looked wonderful, until we were told to be on the lookout for thieves and con artists. Apperently there were two kind of immigrants: families, like us that did not know anything and just wanted to live a normal, happy life, who were not afraid to work hard and people who took advantage of our situation.
It was impossible to rent an apartment in Rome, so we had to find something in Lido de Ostia, a suborb of Rome, where Italians had their summer homes and were renting apatments for the Fall and Winter. We did not know how to do it, where to go, who to ask. And that's when a Russian speaking man approached us and said that he will help us. But it would cost us pretty much all the money we had: $180.00. As a family we received about $200.00 a month. There would be nothing left for food or train fare or anything else. We could not afford it by ourselves. So in order to rent this place, we had to have 3 families move in and live together. It was no fun...
Apartment itself was very nice: very clean, one big room, with small kitchen, thick red carpet, inside bathroom and bath. Great thing about it was, that it was one block from the beach. But living with 2 other families was simply impossible. We could not get a good night sleep, there was no privacy, no place to even talk to each other unless we went outside. But we had to live like this at least for awhile, until we learn by ourselves how things worked...
 Local post office was the place for meetings, gathering information, learning, socilising, selling and buying. We would go there every night for the latest news, since we were cut off from the world.
Pretty soon we found big farmers market, clothing stores, learned how to bargain with locals and how to find things on sale. When we bought a pair of tiny jeans for Masha, it was such a joy! We could not help and bought a pair of jeans for myself and Felix as well.

Felix, Marianna (Masha) and Marina with newly purchased jeans in Ostia Lido, Italy.
We were learning how to survive, how to enjoy life, sunshine, beach, new sights and each other.

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