I took this picture to illustrate that things are not displayed in stalls, but in an open market.
What's the difference between what you can buy at this market and Porta Palazzo?
The food isn't different but most of the other things that you buy at Porta Palazzo are new or are what they call factory rejected goods. So you get factory rejected goods at Porta Palazzo. They are new, they are not second hand. They are cheap too. They're usually more expensive than the used things. An average African or black man believes that, even though it's used, the quality is still better than the factory rejected goods. For example, if you buy some clothes in Porta Palazzo, maybe after you wear it two or three times, it's gone, you know. So at Madama Christina market even though some goods are quite old, they still last longer.
This is an area in Porta Nuova where we have a lot of immigrants, blacks, Africans and one significant thing about Madama Christina, where they have the Piazza, is the market. At this market, you get cheaper things to buy. It's where immigrants, poor people can always reach out to buy a few things that they have here. That is the essential part of the Piazza, the market. In this market, you buy food and second hand goods, second hand clothes, second hand shoes, almost everything is second hand, used things and they are cheaper. Both immigrants and even Italians purchase things from this place. So it's significant. Even in Italy which is in Europe too, you can find some Italians purchasing second hand things. So it's significant that here you can even see a white man buying used things.
There's not only Africans in this area. There's mostly immigrants but you see Italians too. You see a lot of Moroccans, Algerians, people from the Arab region. Chinese, in fact, I'm telling you see alot of immigrants here, a lot of foreigners and in this street, Via Berthollet, most of them have their stores. So you see Chinese stores, Philipino stores, Pakistani restaurants, Moroccan telephone or business houses, so a lot of foreigners present.
What's the feeling like for you between all these different nationalities?
Yes, it's alright because everybody has the same thing in mind, that we're all in a foreign land and we try to treat each other well. Apart from the Moroccans, I wouldn't say they misbehave, I wouldn't know, maybe that is their tradition there, their culture. They tend to be in big groups in the street and drink a lot and do so many horrible things.
This is this Via Berthollet. I took this picture because it is within my range where I visit and spend time with my African friends. The concentration of Africans is so strong around this area, they have stores so they can make some money. You have a lot of business centres where you can make phone calls and where you can use a computer for internet. So, it's significant in the life of Africans. My friends really, stay here. They have their stores and shops and houses around here. The houses here are not costly.
I live by my friends here. If I don't have credit on my phone, I can ask, for example, a Nigerian if I can use his phone and he'll allow me to do that. They help if they can. Not all of them can. Life is hard for the average black man in Torino. The lucky ones who have stayed longer and who are able to open a store or work in a factory are there to help. Maybe others who don't have money can come to eat at their house. They make food for you. Yeah, you can go to this restaurant if you have money. There are a lot of restaurants here. European restaurants, African restaurants, Asian restaurants, a Pakistani one is here, and African one is there. We have another Moroccan one here. They are everywhere. Just, we usually eat in our friends house. I don't have money so I can't do anything else. To tell you the truth.
Do you get any food tickets from the foreigners office?
No, no, no I don't get any food tickets.
So you're living on virtually no money?
On friends, I'm living on my friends. I get a bus ticket from La Tenda. I get a one week bus pass. After some time they have a program called hopeland which when you pass through, you get free food tickets. I haven't got to that stage yet. When I asked them, they told me that the organisation that takes care of the Hopeland, they're trying to close the program now. So that is that. I eat in different friends places.
This is the Sermig building. There are so many things here. There are dormitories for men, there are dormitories at the back for women, there is a dormitory for underage children. Apart from dormitories, they have a lot of other things which I don't know much about, but every day I see a lot of people inside the Sermig. You can buy books, magazines, T-shirts. It's a unique place.
This is Sermig gate. This is where I sleep. It's really only a dormitory. You have to come back between 8.30 and 9.30pm. because the place is locked at 10pm. You have to get a letter from the foreign office to get a place at the Sermig. You can't just go there and get in. The problem is that at the Sermig, you can only stay for 30 days. At 'Casa Del Mondo', you can stay longer. You can stay as long as one year. If you want to stay longer, you have to reapply.
This is inside my Sermig. As an immigrant, this is the place they gave to me. One funny thing. One fantastic thing is that even people from the Eastern Bloc, people from Russia, Romania, Albania, so many people, you know, and some oriental people too, you can see them all together in the same room having a coffee, interacting together, discussing life. The really common factor that every one of us have - is why did we leave our country to live here? - we have that factor. We talk about politics in our different places. So it's a very good thing. Do you feel like you have a different perspective on the world since you came to Europe? Yeah, yeah. The perspective is this; what is happening in Africa is going on in other places too like Eastern Europe for example and I believe that, that is what is happening in Russia. I've really talked with a lot of them from the Eastern Bloc in the Sermig, and I don't think they are happy that there are no jobs in their country but they tell you that communism is dead. They tell you, 'Communism - kaput!', which means that it's dead. So that is one joy in their minds and they hope for a better tomorrow in their country. And in Africa too, we hope for a better tomorrow in our continent. We hope for a new future in which things will take shape in Africa, and then we would all love to go back there because I believe that home is home. That is it. I miss Africa, I miss the African food. I miss the African culture and traditions, I miss everything. There's diversity in our culture. There's diversity in our traditions. Like in my place in Sierre Leone, there is always the way to talk to an elderly person which in Europe I don't find. I've seen most European youths talking to their parents the way they want. In Africa, we don't do things like that. We don't rub shoulders with our parents. You have to show respect. It's everywhere in the African community. So that is the difference. I witnessed a small Italian boy telling an elder 'va a fanculo' which means 'fuck you!', but you can't do that in Africa. So you see the different culture and tradition.
This is my friend's store. I come here regularly. It's where I relax and wile away my time. I come here and sit down and just talk. Talk about Africa about Europe about people, discuss about the future, you know. People come here to buy or rent African videos. Apart from that you can send goods to Africa from here. Small things or large things. You can also send money from here and someone can collect it in Africa. It works like the Western Union but it's cheaper. The Western Union charge too much commission. Anyway, If I don't have anything else to do, I come here, just to meet my friend. Maybe I just meet some of his friends, many I don't know but we just talk, talk, talk. We exchange ideas, I know much about Nigeria now. Just like that. There are a lot of them here. A lot of Nigerians present in Torino here. You know, African countries are generally troublesome places. The continent is always in one mess or another. They have political problems in Nigeria, often and often but it doesn't lead to war. Civil disturbances, religious disturbances between Muslims and Christians, ethnic disturbances. They have it often and often in Nigeria.
Is there any problems here between Muslims and Christians or between people from the different parts of Africa?
No, no, no we put all those sentiments behind us because a muslim practicing in Africa, here you don't really see him going to a mosque. No, even with the language problem, we are brothers. Every black man on the street here will tell you that they are brothers regardless of where they come from.
Do you feel any kind of bond with the other nationalities that are seeking asylum or waiting to be accepted to stay in Italy?
Yes, but the solidarity is much more amongst the Africans. I am free here. I can go to a Nigerian for example and say I need a place to relax and he can let me sleep at his home for some time. That is solidarity.
This is my church. This is where I worship. It doesn't look like a church, but my Jehovas Witness church is in this building. You can see the sign here. When I came to Italy, I was a Methodist. I was a Methodist by birth. My Father was a priest in Sierre Leone. When I came here, there was no Methodist church. There are plenty of Catholic and Protestant churches but not Methodist. So I decided to hook up with the Jehovas Witness.
So it's only since you came to Italy that you joined them?
I'm very active with them. That is me for you, anything that I'm involved in I like to be active. I like to learn.
Would you say that religion is very important to you?
Yes, in my life I need God. This is the way I feel. I look up to something. This is what I worship. People look for many ways. I've studied and when I was growing up at the university, I was into so many different spiritual things. When you go to India and they tell you that 'I'm a Bhuddist' or 'I'm a Hindu'. They might have a different conception about religion but the one common factor is that there is God. They say, it's this or that, but that thing whatever it may be, whether it's a holy calf or whether it's a flower, the one common factor is that there is God - just people look at it differently.
This is the tram 18. I take it frequently. When I leave Porta Nuova, I go from Madama Christina to my Sermig. When I arrive at my Sermig, on a Sunday, I can use the same 18 to go to my church. So I do everything in the same circle. I get a free travel pass every month from 'La Tenda' on Via Bottero.
If I can't take the 18, then I can go behind Porta Nuova station and take the no.12 bus to Porta Palazzo. I can also use it to go to my church. I use the number 12 frequently.
This is a picture of Piazza Castello, taken from the tram 18.
This is the foreign office. This is where I do most of my things as a foreigner like getting the permission to stay. Every kind of advice for the immigrant is given in the foreign office. They are trying. They complain about how the present government is not giving them enough money, generally though they are taking good care of immigrants. They have been very, very helpful. But, their hands are tied, otherwise I think they would like to do better for us.
Do you think that life will be much easier for you when you get your political asylum?
It's hard because even if you have the documents to stay, the jobs don't pay well. This Mr.A works in a factory and works he's not even an average person. So you can say he's struggling even when he's working to make ends meet. What I'm trying to say is that the pay is really not too good for foreigners. If an Italian and an African - a Senegalese or a Nigerian or someone from Sierre Leone - work in the same factory, doing the same work, they'll not get paid the same wages. Not only African, maybe other nationalities like Phillipinos, Albanians: a lot of Romanians for example do labouring, physical work, construction work for cheaper wages than Italian would work for. There are so many in the Sermig, where I stay. They are struggling to integrate. I was asking them, “why are you in Italy?”, because I know Albania and Romania are in Europe. So they tell me there are economic problems in Albania and Romania too.
I think it's still not as extreme as in African countries.
I think so, because there is really poverty in Africa. We are rich in natural resources; we have petroleum, we have gas, we have wood, we have diamonds, but because of corrupt leaders, it's a very poor place. But in fact, corruption is a global issue. It's a collaboration. If you don't collaborate, that is the Americans, the British, the Europeans don't collaborate to help our leaders, they won't collaborate with you. There's corruption on both sides there, you know.
This is Porta Palazzo. I pass through Porta Palazzo when I go from Porta Nuova to my Sermig. It's a central point for almost everything in Torino. It's a busy place. You find Italians, Moroccans, Nigerians, Sierre Leoneans, all immigrants are here, they have their stalls, sell their goods. It's like a business centre or a trade centre from maybe 7am to 2pm during the week and later on Saturdays. This is the central area for business. All people come here to buy their vegetables, buy their fruit, buy their clothing.
In Germany, if you seek asylum, they give some special work, but they don't do it here. They give you nice accommodation and they feed you. You're entitled to a little bit of money. One good thing about Italy is that it's a little bit free. The police don't disturb you much unless you're a criminal. If you are not a criminal, even if you don't have your documents with you, you can still stay, as long as you don't commit a crime. So in that way they are good. If the government could find some social work for immigrants, there would be much less on the streets, you understand?
It must be frustrating if you're not allowed to look for work.
There's nothing to do.
This is Porta Nuova, the biggest train station in Torino. There's another one at Porta Susa but it's smaller. It's where I arrived in Torino.
Has Italy lived up to your expectations?
I used to have high expectations. When I see a white man on the street in Africa, I respect them a lot. So, I try to imagine how that country would be. So, when I came here, I was shocked. I thought, 'is this the same Italy that I've read a lot about?' I was disapponited.
Where did you get your impressions of Italy? From films, television or..?
I watch films but I read more novels. So I imagined more beautiful buildings and skyscrapers. You see more skyscrapers in America than in Europe. Maybe in New York. Somebody told me that New York is dirty! Somebody that I met here. Somebody that has been to America, cos I was telling him that if I had the opportunity, I'd go to America. He told me that even life in America is worse! Somebody said it. Somebody told me. If our leaders, our African leaders had utilised the wealth given to them by God, I don't think any place would have been like Africa. If all the petroleum in Africa had been utilised with all the money and been utilised to develop Africa, I don't think any place would have been like Africa. We more foods. We have a varieties of food to eat in my place. Good food. All these bananas, oranges, tangerines. We have more foods, but our leaders...
Do you feel that old colonialism is responsible for a lot of these problems?
Yes, the British colonisers. Also we expected them to help, before the war got out of hand, to come and quickly dialogue with the factions concerned and bring things back to normal but no, they were not looking until things got out of hand. They went to make a United Nations lobby to send peace keeping forces and when they came, the people of Sierre Leone, they were bitter towards their former colonial masters and they siezed them. This is only British because we were bitter that you leave us so long to suffer. Now you are coming. In the negociations they released them and when they released them, they just pulled out quickly. You see, they want to be masters only as long as it benefits them.
Are there things here that remind you of Freetown?
Trees. A lot of things remind me. Traffic lights, because we have the same traffic lights. Just the same. The train station too, there's not much difference.
Do you miss Freetown?
Of course. I love it. I miss it every day, every day. Like now. If I were in my country I would have eaten maybe two or three times, but so far I have not eaten any food today. I have not even had a shower. I have not even washed my face. You can see me. I miss all those things. Also, in my place you will not see so many policeman running around. It's not possible. So I miss all those things. Freedom. Although there is freedom here I'm only a little bit free. When I first came, I didn't have any papers to be moving but now, they gave a small space to breathe in. But when I first came to Torino, no, I was afraid. For example, if you came to Sierre Leone, no policeman would ask you 'hey, white man, where's your papers?' but here they do it. 'Documents, documents' they embarass you a lot. They don't do it in my country and in most African countries they don't do it. I have free movement. We try to compare African countries to the United States. In Africa, it's very, very free. Anybody, irrespective of where he comes from can come to Africa and stay as long as they want. You can go there and build your house there. Nobody gives a damn. There are a lot of white people, for example in Nigeria who have houses, who are living there permanently. They are bringing up their children in Nigeria and they are doing well. Living from oil payments, petroleum payments. So that is Africa for you.
Does it make you feel resentful that Europeans are free to travel and live wherever they want in Africa but Africans have a lot of trouble to come here?
Yeah, you see the difference that it's not free. There is not much freedom. And when God created the earth, there was no demarcation and everywhere it was open borders.
This is inside the train station. You can see travellers. I pass through here often on my way. Often it's cheaper if I buy cigarettes here than in other places. All kinds of people pass through here - arriving and leaving.
If you were to leave Torino, what would you miss?
I'd miss the Italian people. They are strange but I learn a lot of things from them.
What do you mean, they're strange?
Yeah, I can't imagine that I speak English to them and they don't understand me - so to me that's strange. When you speak English to some of them, they want to help. You see it, these people, they want to help. They're interested. But some are indifferent, they don't give a damn. Generally though, I appreciate the character of the Catholic people here, especially those at the foreigner's office who have taken care of the asylum seekers. So, I'd maybe miss those nice people if I had to leave Italy. But about the city, no, I wouldn't miss anything. They were known for architectural design, but when I came I didn't see those things. Most big name architects are Italians. They're very good at design. In Britain and all over Europe, you see the influence of Italian architecture. But Torino is really not spectacular. I've not been to Rome, Florence or Venice but I hear that they're worth visiting. When you read 'Romeo and Juliet', they talk about Venice a lot, so you know something about the beauty of Venice from that book. No, I wouldn't miss much about Torino. But maybe if I had gone to another city I would miss something. They say that Rome was not built in a day which means that there are spectacular things. I think so.