Crossing cultures and traditions at Maison des BeteleursWhen I came back people asked me, what were they doing there? The question left me on a bit of a wrong-foot… what did we used to? We used to live but we were 20 people who lived and grew up together and learned together, and so we were in a remote village in the proximity of Bordeaux, and so often we were at home, but in that house there was the world. There was the world in the true sense of the word, people from all over the world (India, Estonia, Korea, Denmark, Spain, Russia, France …) and then we were the group of “Italians” (Italy, Gambia and Somalia). And each had the tasks for the operation of everything from cleaning the bathrooms, to feeding the hens, the firewood to the fantastic world of cooking. It was enough to look at the shelf, indeed the shelves, some spices to understand the cultural richness of that place; for as I see it, as a good Italian, but also as a very curious person, food is something that holds much of the world of a person and the pleasure of sharing it with others or even more to cook together unknown recipes is a magical encounter.

But let’s take a step back: before we left, I did not know what to expect, I continued to think about the various elements that might create problems: I accompanied a group of varied people: 2 Italian girls and 4 boys, 3 of which Gambians and the other one from Somalia, to an international work camp in France, at Maison des Bateleurs, in Montendre. The boys hadn’t been in Italy for no more than 2 years, they are asylum seekers or refugees, the boys are Omar, Demba, Mohamed Hassan and it’s very nice that they too have had an opportunity to experience an international exchange, every time they called the group of Italians and I saw their faces, they made me smile.

At the Maison des Bateleurs the alarm rang earlier and afterwards we were all doing the housework, in split shifts, and then we moved to the various laboratories.

You could choose between cutting the stone, building with wood and painting, and in 15 days we built the “things” that it might seem like nothing, but when you see a piece of wood become a sign or stones turn into a decorative arch, and you know that you have contributed with your hands to make it happen, then building it that becomes a learning experience, knowledge sharing, teamwork and enhancement of their skills and abilities.

We have learned some techniques, some of the kids had already known the job and were happy to be able to compare and see enhanced their own know-how.

Subsequently there were the afternoons to discover the other small cities (Saint Emilion, Santes, La Rochelle and Bordeaux), including travelling altogether by train or a small coach, during whilst we played, we listened to music and recounted.

That’s just recount themselves, or even simply to communicate the simplest things, all these worlds together are also a multicolored linguistic universe; the communication languages ​​were English and French, but of course how do you resist the urge to learn even learn a word in Mandinka (language of the Gambia) or dance together to the tune of the last Russian Hit?!

And so that multiculturalism, cultural exchange or who knows what other big word simply condense into what was for us to have enjoyed this experience: a meeting and a piece of journey together, a journey within a journey. There are certainly some difficulties and responsibilities for the operation of all in the life of the community, but these are part of the growth; and then in the end the ‘enrichment in terms of new knowledge of people, places, work, and fun is what you take home. And they are the reasons why you are looking forward to leaving the suitcase ready for the next experience.

Lucia Pepe