Moving to a new country isn't easy, especially if you're fifteen years old and leaving all your friends behind and moving to a place where you can't speak the language. My plan was to get the Daughter enrolled in some local activities the moment we arrived in Rimini. Helping her make friends and preventing her from turning into a despairing wreck. My friend and fellow South African, Chris, had recommended a place for veritable vagabonds such as ourselves. Arcobaleno–Rainbow Association is a voluntary association run by Italians and immigrants, which encourages cross-cultural initiatives and offers Italian lessons.
Arcobaleno offers sessions for young people twice a week, and on her first evening there, Courtney made a new friend, a girl from Moldova––who speaks Romanian, English, Italian and a little Turkish.
Next, we decided to try dance classes; the Daughter had her mind set on acrobatic aerial silk class. But first, I needed to check our insurance cover. She broke an arm at five, was bitten by a snake at ten, fractured a finger at fourteen, and I had visions of her breaking her neck at fifteen. We took a bus in the pouring rain to an industrial area outside Rimini.
'Dad, are you sure we have the right place,' she said. 'The all-knowing Google says it is here, it must be here,' I said, wondering if we had accidently wandered into a chop shop.
The dance studio was situated above a workshop. The pink walls leading up to the studio a stark contrast to the grimy concrete garage where grease monkeys operated on jalopies. Fortunately, for me and our medical insurance, the aerial acrobats were preparing for an end of year performance and suggested we return in September, at the start of the new school year -- the Daughter would see the summer without a neck brace.
Just as we were about to start advertising her as a language partner on street poles around Rimini, her Moldovian mate told us that she has an osservatore (the watcher) in her class. Theosservatore isa student who attends school to make friends and slowly learn Italian, without having to write any tests.
'Dad, I can go to school!' she exclaimed. 'And I don't have to write any tests.' 'Yes, but you still need to keep up with your homeschooling,' I said. 'I don't care,' she said. 'I want friends.' 'But you have so many virtual friends, why would you want any real friends? Besides you have me to hang out with every day.' 'That's not funny Dad,' she said, pulling a squishy face. 'I need friends!'
The next morning we went to the school and presented our case. I thought I was speaking Italian, the receptionist thought I was speaking Spanish and Courtney had no clue what anyone was saying. Through a combination of Itanglish, wild gesticulations and poking at pictures, we establish that the school might be too scientific for Courtney. Not to mention the burden of adding Latin to her language learning load. Besides, it was too close to the end of the school year, pointed out the receptionist, we should enrol for September. We protested that September was six months away and the Daughter needed to make friends for the summer, people who would help her learn Italian, people who would show her the best gelaterias, people who would help her work on her tan. Like most things in Italy, and Africa, we'd need a connection on the inside.
Fortunately, since moving back to Rimini, I'd broadened my circle of friends beyond gin guzzling photographers. We'd found Rosa who opened us to a new circle of friends, regular people who turn hikes in the woods into near death experiences. One Sunday evening – after a particularly treacherous hike through the Italian countryside – while devouring burgers and beers she introduced us to her friend Sara. It turns out Sara is not only an aerial acrobatic but is also a teacher at Liceo Statale Alessandro Serpieri. With her help, we managed to arrange an interview with the vice-principal, and the day after the interview, the Daughter was attending school as an osservatore.
Her first day went well, and the kids were impressed with her limited Italian vocabulary. 'La Madonna!' she exclaimed when startled –– sending classmates in hysterics. We have dinner times to thank for her evolving vocabulary, every time she eats something she sends Chico in a state of shock, 'La Madonna! Courtney, but how can you put ketchup on your pasta.' or 'La Madonna! Courtney, how can you eat salad without olive oil.'
On her second day of school, a Saturday, (she was not impressed that Italians go to school six days a week) I put her on the wrong bus. Sending her to Santarcangelo, a town about 10 km from her school. Being a resourceful daughter, she called a friend to her aid.
'Chicca, help, my father has sent me to Santarcangelo!' said the Daughter. 'Do you want me to drive you to school Courtney?' said Francesca. 'No, I want you to take me for coffee,' said Courtney.
And so the two of them skipped school on her second day, got caffeinated in Santarcangelo and took a walk on the beach.
In her second week, we made sure to master the bus system. Leaving home extra early, just in case we found ourselves on the wrong bus. Her school adventure was off to a good start and she was learning new things about British people. The English teacher had announced that a teacher from Wales would soon be visiting and that the class shouldn't ask to connect with him on Facebook because the British are a very private people. Instead, she suggested they ask him if he'd like to go out for a pizza.
'Dad, Italian kids go out for pizza with their students,' she told that afternoon. 'Oh, and the British are very private people.' 'And this surprises you?' 'Yeah, we don't go out for pizza with teachers in South Africa! I suppose the British thing doesn't, people aren't very friendly in London.'
When the teacher from Wales arrived and gave his first English lessons, one of the Daughters classmates – who speaks English rather well – leant over to her and said, 'I'm not sure I understand what he is saying, can you translate?' Courtney turned to her and said: 'I'm not even certain he's talking English, for all I know he's speaking Arabic.' The Daughter had dodged Latin only to be confronted with a Welsh accent.
This Saturday she made it to school without incident and I suspect it won't be long before she's teaching her classmate to sing Happy Birthday in Afrikaans, exposing them to delinquent South African rock bands and exposing them all to her Snapchat addiction.
Rosa e Sara, grazie per tutto il vostro aiuto!