My name is Tina. I’m Italian and I had the incredible fortune to live 3 wonderful years in your country. As soon as I moved there I felt home and my special dream is to come back and make South Africa my home.
Because I had to be back in Italy, but I wanted desperately share my passion for the spirit of South Africa, the Ubuntu philosophy, I decided to open a show room called Ubuntu Project where South African art and craft are promoted. I love to bring every season new creations and new ideas from SA and each of them has a story to tell. What I’m doing since the beginning is also to organize events where I host a new artist, a new story, a new project from South Africa.
When I read your story I was incredibly fascinated and immediately I had this image in my eyes of you sitting in my shop and telling your story to an interested audience.
I decided to write you because I can see from your spirit that you may be a woman that will accept a new challenge: I will love to show to Italian people that the spirit of UBUNTU is real and we should learn from it.
I can offer you accommodation for free. If you want more information about my shop, please have a look on Facebook: my name is Tina Cimmino and the page of the shop is Ubuntu Project where South Africa meets Italy”
And if that was not compelling enough, we bumped into one another, by chance at Bryanston Organic Market when Tina was in South Africa for a visit a year later. Tina’s dream of the UBUNTU girl talking about UBUNTU in the UBUNTU Project Store, became my dream. So when IFS ~ (Internationale Film Schule) in Cologne invited and sponsored me to present UBUNTU stories in Germany in Sept 2012, I added Italy on the agenda.
I was waiting outside the train station in Ferrara for Tina to pick me up. I knew which car was hers before I could make out her face. Words to describe how I knew this, escapes me. We embraced one another in a reunion hug.
Tina whisked me off to meet her family and have lunch with friends. Enzo, Tina’s husband and I almost immediately fell into an easy banter of teasing, under which I sensed his love for South Africa. Their eldest daughter, Marguerite was actually in South Africa for a visit, due to arrive back in a couple of days. They were all, not so secretly, envious of her. It was difficult to believe that their youngest, Chiara, was only 12 years old. There is a streak of maturity blended in with youthful stubbornness and rare beauty. She is here to leave a mark.
Tina also introduced me to Giuliana and Massimo. Two of the gentlest, most amused-with-life people. Giuliana is ageless, wisdom seeping from her. She is as soft as the figs we picked together and as firm as the ground we walked barefoot on. Their farmhouse on the outskirts of Ferrara, tucked into another era. We sat under the Italian sun on, what seemed to be a magic carpet, dancing above their lawn. I could speak no Italian and Giuliana could speak no English. We had the most fruitful and enlightening conversations that way. Chiara translated for us, though the essence of what the stories carried with them did not need it. It was such a safe space for sharing. We laughed and we cried. We spoke of lost ancient knowledge and gained perspective.
Giuliana started the ‘Save the Words Campaign’. Her aim is to save the meaning of words, the philosophy behind them, the magic inside them. There are words that have been hijacked by certain people, for their own personal gain. Words like LOVE. I agreed with Giuliana.
“Yes, the word Ubuntu is being abused by politicians and marketers in South Africa. Are there words here in Italy that you think has also lost its meaning this way?”
She nodded and her one-word answer made me unbearably sad:
Giuliana had a gift for me. A scarf. It had all the colours one could imagine and colours one couldn’t. One colour bled into another, without as much as a seem or a hassle. Contrasting colours; complimentary colours all came together in this textured wrap around.
“This is for you, because it embraces everything. It has the blue of the sky and the colours of the earth. It has everything in between. This is an UBUNTU scarf”
We shared the stage later that week, in the UBUNTU Project Store because Giuliana declared that Ubuntu will be the first word that she wanted to save in her campaign! Before that happened, however, I had to experience a little bit of Italy first. I was spoilt by Tina and her family as they gave up their living room to a massive king size blow up mattress…and me! I also had full use of the collection of family bicycles and was hugely grateful that Ferrara is flat, flat, flat. I even went on a 55km cycle excursion, admiring the Italian countryside and cycle routes. I ate Mozzarella, fresh out of bag; ate Gelato EVERY DAY; ate pizzas; drank wine; learnt to order Café Macchiato (translated, means an espresso ‘stained’ by milk); was scowled at: vi! vi! by some of the elderly cyclists, who were obviously too busy, (doing what???) to diddle daddle behind some woman with a funny looking hat – I yelled straight back: “Tourist! Tourist!” Oh, and Marguerita came home! Now I was truly a part of the family. I became known as the ‘Other One’
The night of the presentation, Chiara was more nervous than I was. We decided to put together a little play. We practiced for about two days. It was only a 2 minute introduction of what it was like to be the Ubuntu Girl. A knock knock scenario. The daunting thing for us both was that Chiara was going to speak in Zulu and I was going to speak Italian! (with crib notes for me!) It had the desired effect, because we had the audience in the palms of our hands. They were ready for the more serious stuff that followed. Giuliana explained her Save the Words Campaign. I was in total awe of this woman and hanging on each Italian word.
This was the first time that I had a translator. Tina was amazing. We fell into a rhythm and understood when the pauses were necessary. It was great to experience the audience responses in two waves, two languages. With every presentation there is a point at which a third presence enters the room. It can be best explained as an amalgamation of the story, the teller and the audience. The story is the maestro and we lean in, lean out to allow for its flow. It’s a song that sings from one heart to the next. WOW, we did not expect such a positive response! We had the most phenomenally open heart conversations afterwards. A woman came up to me and said that she did something similar in Europe! She wanted to know whether language was a barrier for me. The answer was there between us, unspoken. We just looked at one another and smiled.
Ciao! Tina and I cried as I climbed onto the bus. There was a gentle breeze that playfully snaked my Ubuntu scarf around me one more time. Yes, it was hard to leave. It would have been harder not to come.
Thank you for reading,
+27 72 308 8116