Two days ago was International Women’s Day.

My eldest daughter’s school was closed due to a strike. However, the fact that it was on IWD was pure coincidence. It is basically strike season here for the school, and these strikes take on various mutations depending on something, that no one has yet to correctly identify. This time it was the door keeper’s strike, so the teachers were there, but they could not let the children in the building, because the door people were not. Next week there is another strike, its someone else’s turn…

Anyway, my youngest went to school, while Cassi joined me in a trip to downtown Firenze, where we grabbed some breakfast at La Ménagère and succeeded in purchasing a recorder she needed for school. It was a sunny day and we were feeling positive. We made our way back to the car and were planning what we might want to eat for lunch and how to pass the remaining of the afternoon.
We put on some classical music (themes from studio Ghibli) and I took the usual route home.  As we wound through the narrow lanes, I suddenly heard a bang to my right where the parked cars were lining the ancient wall. I am currently driving a new car. When I say new, I just mean new to me. Its an old car. My mirror was intact, and I was fairly sure I was a good safe distance from the cars, but the bang had startled me and before I knew it, a car had appeared out of nowhere and was following me, flashing its lights.  So many things flashed through my mind; “did I hit a car?”, “who is this  guy?”, “Is it an undercover cop, who wants to arrest me?”, “Is my car broken and he is alerting me, that my bumper has fallen off?”, “Do I have the right papers for my new car?”, “WTF is going on?”.
We drove up until I reached a safe place to pull over, which happened to be in a village.
The guy showed me his broken mirror, and I felt terrible. My mind: “Oh my god, I’m such a terrible person, I drove off after hitting someone’s car” “OMG, I am a terrible driver” “OMG, I should die”… stuff like that… the usual internal monologue of a grown woman.

Anyway this guy was so relaxed and friendly and I was relieved he wasn’t angry… But then that was kinda weird too? I mean if someone had just smashed my mirror and drove off – I might be a bit annoyed, and I might show my feelings to that person.  But then I am in Italy, which, evidently is still a very foreign place to me.  I’ve never been in this situation, in this country. I am not sure what the protocol is, and I am feeling shaky.  I am also incapable of really discussing the situation as my vocabulary is limited.  Still, Cassi can speak pretty good Italian so she’s helping me. The guy wants €128 to fix his broken mirror.
Strange how he knew the exact amount without even checking….

It all becomes pretty clear that is, of course, a sting.  I am totally aware of what is going on even though I cannot fully understand the language. My gut is telling me and I am feeling foolish and trapped. I decide to call Angelo and he talks to the guy, and its pretty clear we all know whats going on.
However, it doesn’t change much. The message I am getting loud and clear in my head is: “pay the guy and get the F*** out”.  He was being friendly and all, but I felt threatened all the same. I felt threatened mainly by own total lack of being able to explain myself out, or ask the right questions and read the situation in a way that made me feel sure of what I was doing. While I knew it was a sting – it is still difficult to prove.  It would be even harder for me to explain to someone else, what I am going through, – should I try to go into a shop and take refuge there? Wait until he has gone?
None of these options seem viable – He followed me here, I don’t want him following me home.  I don’t want him scaring Cassi.  The game is up.  He caught me in this cat and mouse scenario.

I suck it up and give him the money, all the while Cassi has concluded the same as everyone else and is getting irate on my behalf.  She is holding the frustration and anger.  While I hold the shame.
Had we been in the UK or even France, it would have been a different situation.  Only because I could have read the signals with clear confidence and been able to call on my cultural knowledge.  I might have chosen to call him on his con or I could have decided the best thing would be to call the cops for help; I might even, if it were the case, just handed over the money in the exact same way.  But I would have known in myself what to do.  Here in Italy, I really don’t know.  And that is the crux of it, and probably what hurt the most, was my own ignorance in the face of this threat.  Despite having been here for over a year.  There are so many tales of corruption I felt overwhelmed with confusion and I felt the answer was to stay safe rather than fight over money.  I even felt shame in my privilege of actually having the money to give!  It all felt so icky and I just wanted to run away and pretend it never happened.

I tell this story because it is a real ‘Expat Experience’. I was targeted because of my foreign plates… And of course, because I am a woman on my own with a kid. Being foreign meant he knew what I knew; ie: I would be unsure of my rights and my safety, a fish out of water.  Being a woman only amplifies that 10 fold… Having a kid, 100 fold.

Kinda highlights the importance of International Women’s Day – doesn’t it?

I brush it off, because, despite it being a shitty situation, I’ve been through much worse. And despite not being able to defend myself the way I wanted to, I still knew what was going on and I was still able to walk away unharmed, albeit much poorer.
I am still digesting it all, as lots of issues have come up for me around it, some regarding privilege and lots regarding shame.  I woke up with shame hangovers the last two days.  And it makes me question the purpose of shame when it is usually always felt by the victim and rarely the perpetrator? What does shame help us with? Where does it even come from?

Anyway… So that was kinda shit. But do not be discouraged!  The magic of IWD lasts until midnight, and it aint over until the fat lady sings!
So later, after picking up Ara from school and making it home without another fun event, I did my usual ritual of unwind by surfing Facebook.
Reading through all my friends from across the world, posting statements about feminism and generally being proactive and cool, I came across the short promotional video advertising the book “Goodnight Stories for Rebels Girls”.
So we looked at it on amazon and we were able to browse… We read about Malala (my voice broke several times, as I fought back tears reading her story aloud) and we read about Jane Goodall.
Jane Goodall is a scientist and she worked with animals (does it get any better??). So naturally, we then looked up Jane Goodall on Google and found some cool pics… and we found her TED TALK. (please click).

More tears came, and Cassi had to take a break because everything in the world is just too heartbreaking, and it was time for dinner. But when dinner was over, and Cassie felt strong enough she pressed me to click continue. Her words: “I know its going to be sad, but I really want to watch the rest”.

And we are so glad we did!  Jane continues her talk with such eloquence and sensitivity and offers us the best thing ever, the thing we’ve been waiting for all day, all my life! A frickin’ solution to this crap. Jane has set up this awesome programme ‘Roots and Shoots’ aimed and children and helping them be proactive in developing the world in a way that they want it to be.  It is primarily an environmental action group, but it is sophisticated and it empowers children. Children are naturally passionate about life on earth but have so little leverage when it comes to shaping it.  Jane has understood this problem and had the innovation and insight to find an actual practical solution.  An inter-connected programme that children all over the globe can share. A place where they can encourage each other and learn from each other’s successes and failures and continue to make progress.
I am so happy we found this. I’ve literally been looking for this all my life, without knowing it. It’s here and it’s developed by a woman and my girls are taking part, and by this means, taking charge of their future here and now.

International Women’s Day – a day reflecting both our vulnerabilities and our strengths.

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