“To be honest, I knew nothing about Naples…that’s why I came.”
Where I Started
I cannot say I dreamed about coming here or knew about what to see, eat or do. The truth is I knew nothing more than a few Wikipedia pages and pictures coupled with restaurant reviews and google maps. I had traveled abroad before and had loved every second of it, but Naples, Italy was completely unknown to me.
A Little Back Story
My name is Aishwarya, Aishu or Aisha for short. I grew up in the United States in a somewhat small town right outside of Detroit. My parents immigrated from India in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s while much of my close family stayed back whom we have visited at least every other year since the day I was born. My childhood was a mix of 4th of July barbeques and ballet classes alongside Indian cultural shows and attending temple on the weekends. I grew up loving Bob Marley, the Beatles, and all things Disney as well as Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I loved every movie with Jane Powell, Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock just as much as I loved every movie with Jaya Bhaduri, Rajesh Khanna, M.G.R, Shahrukh Khan, and Tabu. My parents would speak to me and my brother in Malayalam mixed with English, we would speak to them in English mixed with Malayalam, and we would all sit down at night to watch Hindi and Tamil movies. All of that made me, me. Growing up in my neighborhood with very Indian parents was the strangest balancing game ever, but when I found that balance I saw it all as a wonderful gift. To be the child of immigrants, to hear about their struggles, accomplishments and selflessness was and still is a continuous learning experience.
Growing up in my neighborhood with very Indian parents was the strangest balancing game ever, but when I found that balance I saw it all as a wonderful gift.
Reflecting on My First Day
In just my first day here I saw diversity in Naples I had never expected to see. I walked down to the market by my house and heard the owners of the store speak a mix of Urdu and Punjabi. I asked nervously in my broken Hindi and Italian, “Ciao, app kaise hai (Hi, how are you)?”
I think about all the people that have left their homes and come to Naples for all kinds of reasons. Their journeys all different and stories personal to themselves. For so many people, they have come here to make a new life, create a home and raise their children. In just my first day here I saw diversity in Naples I had never expected to see. I walked down to the market by my house and heard the owners of the store speak a mix of Urdu and Punjabi. I asked nervously in my broken Hindi and Italian, “Ciao, app kaise hai (Hi, how are you)?” They smiled and responded happily, while easily switching to Italian to help new customers walking in and speaking in English to my fellow volunteers. I cannot explain how happy that made me. To see people interact, breaking down walls and living normal everyday lives, without defining themselves as too different to mingle with each other.
All the streets, shops and weekend trips gradually immersed me into the local lifestyle. Heaven knows there is still so much I have yet to do and so much I have yet to know. If there is one aspect to this trip that I find unique to any other one it was the opportunity to volunteer at Dialogue and assist in projects with Project Ahead, Sagapo, Impact Network and so on. I fell into a routine, like I would have back home, walking to work every morning and smelling curries and kootans being made through the allies of the Spanish Quarters, eating lunch and drinking espresso with my coworkers, and stopping at a café at the end of the day to sip on a cappuccino. I loved the feeling of belonging here, even if there was so much that was still so new to me.
Why I am Here
I had spent much of my adult life as an intern working in organizations with a focus on diversity and inclusion, whether it was Services for Older Citizens, Henry Ford Health System, or the Center for Language Teaching Advancement. Sometimes working in an office and the stresses of getting things done or planning an event overshadows the reason why we do it all, which is to have conversations and learn from each other with hopes of furthering constructive change positively benefiting the community. In what I have seen these last six weeks of volunteering at Dialogue through International Volunteer Head Quarters (IVHQ) and International Napoli Network, (INN), I have so much hope for the increase of inclusivity in Naples. We are witnessing populations shifting and changing, and it is all about how we move forward together. Being able to value differences and recognize similarities, to balance one’s own unfamiliarity with a desire to learn, is a powerful ability that I have seen here and one that much of the world can learn from. I came here not even knowing that Naples was a diverse place. Naples and working with the team here at Dialogue created a welcoming place that allowed me to recognize my ignorance and see so much more. Like any place, Naples is more than online reviews and stereotypes. If one truly sees themselves as a traveler I ask them to see all of Naples rather than pass over it because they believe they know the place already. Take your time to feel like you really belong, because that is when you see what makes this place home for so many.
Being able to value differences and recognize similarities, to balance one’s own unfamiliarity with a desire to learn, is a powerful ability that I have seen here and one that much of the world can learn from.
Thank you to everyone at IVHQ, INN, Project Ahead and all the other organizations at Dialogue for all the insight and doors you have opened, plus the multiple espresso shots and laughs along the way. And thank you to Naples, because these last six weeks through everything I have experienced, I cannot even begin to think about having never come and never gotten the chance to be in this remarkable city.
Again, we’ll meet