Sicily: A View from Africa

May 30, 2012

People often talk about how poor Sicily is. The New York Times just ran an article featuring Sicily and referred to its “scruffy charm.”

“It’s Africa!” Northern Italians will scoff.

But I’ve just returned from Africa, and to me “scruffy” old Sicily looks like the land of milk and honey.

Indeed, everything’s relative.

I saw such poverty in northernย Tanzania that I walked around dazed for two weeks, a perpetual lump in my throat. Homeless kids sleep in the middle of intersections because they’re the “safest” place to be. Rivers of sewage run through the marketplace, and flies swarm raw meat and fish. You have to hold your nose while you shop.

Homes without water.

Heat. Humidity.

Mosquitoes galore.





I worked with teachers and went into schools, where 150 kids cram into a classroom much smaller than the average U.S. classroom. Fewer than half the kids get a desk; the others sit in the dirt. There are no books. Teachers are heroic, and completely overwhelmed.

Primary school classroom in Tanzania

The children are beautiful, with a dignity and endurance that defies imagination.

They stole my heart and taught me more than any book ever could.

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39 comments to Sicily: A View from Africa

  • Pina Marra

    Beautiful pictures and touching comments…we should learn form people who are poorer than us, though never complain..thank you!

    • Jann

      Ciao Pina! Yes, it’s good to compare ourselves to those who are poorer rather than those who are richer than us (but I guess it’s human nature to do the latter)…

  • Jann, This is a fabulous post, as usual, AND I’d love to see/read more about your experiences in Africa, even if not directly related to Sicily! Grazie!

  • Jann, this post just moved me. What breathtaking photos! What beautiful children! Indeed we westerners take everything for granted and ironically, complain about everything. It’s not till you experience what true need is that you can value what you have. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of being grateful, lady.

    • Jann

      Bella, thank you. Yes, it’s easy to feel “poor” with the economic crisis in the Western world, but boy are we rich.

  • I admire your courage, to tour places that I would find daunting. Your photos are great, what beautiful people. We Americans and Brits got the short end of the stick on looks, purtroppo. As they say here, Tutt’ u munnu e’ paese. How can folks waste so much time trying to distinguish the factions according to territoriality? Sheesh.

    • Jann

      Thanks for your comment, Sandra. I love that you speak your local lingo! With all those “u”s, it looks like Sicilian.

  • Anitre

    After travelling through Africa, India and Asia, I can agree that Sicily is the land of milk and honey. Anyone who who says otherwise is just plain narrow minded and rather ignorant. Forza Sicilia!

    • Jann

      Anitre, you’re so right–traveling to those places makes your really appreciate what you have. Forza Sicilia!

  • Linda

    Incredible photos. As always.

    Gianfranco wrote-

    Shhh!! Let them still believe Sicily is Africa: valuable jewels are usually hidden and I prefer only few trustable persons can enjoy them!


  • Andrea

    Wow. Puts it into perspective. Sometimes I complain about lack of supplies and out-dated technology in my classroom. Sometimes I complain about having 34 students in some of my classes… makes you appreciate what you have. Grazie.

    • Jann

      Andrea, in my opinion teachers have the most important, difficult, and under-valued job in the world. But in Africa they’re even more stressed.

  • Gian Banchero

    I’m both northern Italian and Western Sicilian, “the Arab side of the island”, and am very proud of this North African-Arab heritage, As I was telling a Spanish friend today that one of the reasons I love Sicily so much is that it hasn’t been gentrified and absorbed into the Anglo pan-European mindset that is destroying unique European national characters throughout Europe in wholesale fashion. Once one enters Sicily it’s obvious that there’s a disconnect from Europe proper and one has entered an enchanted land of wonderful scents, music, non-industrial convenience food (sorry northern Italy, you’re leaning that way), and along with the many attributes a land where there’s grand street theater, the best outdoor markets (see Palermo), affordable street food, an authentic kitchen, and as many people are finding out some of the kindest people in Europe… Let the north have its hip high-fashion, fast sporty cars, over rated wine and cheese tours (yawn), I’ll always be happy to be on one of Sicily’s miles and miles of empty fine-sand beaches (which are nothing like the crowded pebbled ones up north) enjoying the site of the magical scirocco coming in from Africa (one of the visual wonders of the universe)… And yes there are also dark Sicilians Charlie (see above), dark from our Arab ancestors, and blonds and redheads from our Norman (Norway via France) heritage… Also La Sicilia is THREE miles off the coast of Calabria, not one. And Sicily IS NOT a long way from Africa, it’s less than ninety miles. Oh, in the east it’s more Greek where found are the beautiful Sicilian Greek temples, for some of these magnificent buildings one must visit Agrigento’s vally of the Temples.

    • Jann

      Gian, great comment!! Thanks so much.

    • CalCat52

      I do hope Sicily continues to have what we in the US call “Mom & Pop” stores instead of large supermarkets and other large stores. I want to be able to go to the neighborhood bread store, the neighborhood pastry shop, the neighborhood butcher, etc…

    • Jann

      Callie–I soooooo agree with you, but in the last 5 years I’ve seen many big stores open. Booooo hoooo!

  • **They stole my heart and taught me more than any book ever could.**

    That sentence pretty much says it all, Jann. WOW, what an amazing, heartbreaking, unimaginable experience.

    Africa is my dream trip. My pen pal lives in Kisumu & we communicate every day…She is also an AMAZING writer.

    Anyhow, I’ve read some of your travel stories….One in particular about your time w/ the MONKS.

    Oooo, Jann, It blew my tights off. You are brilliantly gifted. Have I ever told you that I LOVE MONKS? I find them oh-so beautiful and magical and Godly. Xxxxx Kisses from MN.

    • Jann

      ๐Ÿ™‚ Kim, you’re troppo buona, as they say here, too sweet. I’m not sure where you dug up that monk story, but thank you so much for reading it! So glad you liked it :)!! xxxxxxxx

  • Larry May

    The polentoni always say bad things about il mezzogiorno.They are envious.

  • Gianfranco

    Shhh!! Let them still believe Sicily is Africa: valuable jewels are usually hidden and I prefer only few trustable persons can enjoy them! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Jann

      ๐Ÿ™‚ OK! Shh… And we’re beginning a jewel of a festa di San Giorgio now, Gianfranco.

  • Charlie

    Sicily is only about a mile off the coast of mainland Italy. This African myth does not seem to ever stop. My parents are first generation Sicilians. My dad was a blond and has the bluest of blue eyes and fair skinned. Same with my mother except she has green eyes. When I grew up, we had neighbors who were Neapolitan and were dark as dark, yet they referred to Sicilians with a very negative word for Africans. I wish people realized that all of humanity is connected and that we share a common ancestry. How do you say “Grow Up” in Sicilian Jann???

    • Jann

      Thanks for your comment, Charlie. I don’t know how to say “grow up” yet in Sicilian, Charlie, but I am learning a few choice expressions!

  • People always say that Naples, Italy is the beginning of “Africa”.

    Perhaps we should start to take that as a compliment…

  • CalCat52

    When I lived in Sicily I remember the sirocco piling red sand on the balcony and under the door. It would ruin the tomatoes drying on racks next door, but the salt peddler’s burro would roll in it to smother her fleas!! Sicily really isn’t that far from Africa, in many ways.

    • Jann

      The influence of so many cultures and places is what makes Sicily so special. I can’t say I love the Saharan sands that come up our way, though!!

  • liz

    Beautifully said…thank you for sharing…It is sad that people often speak before they think about what they are about to say…

  • Jann, that is heart wrenching……..a photo does say a 1000 words, and yes, what a stunning and wonderful place we have chosen to live. No regrets whatsoever…..

  • Such a beautiful post and a beautiful message Jann. Grazie. Sicily is a long long way from Africa. Jxx

  • My heart hurts. The young lady in the last photo is beyond beautiful. I would love to see a light in her eyes. Perspective is a gift – thank you for sharing.

  • Nina

    As my Husband always says, “There’s an Ass for every seat..No one should ever be offended by the opinions of others. It is just that,
    an opinion.Others view Sicily as the Best Place they’ve ever visited. Beauty, History,Culture,and Food.Sicily offers everything a Traveler could want. That’s just my Opinion….. Love your photos.

    • Jann

      ๐Ÿ™‚ Your husband doesn’t mince words, Nina!! Ha ha. Thanks for weighing in! Grazie mille.

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