Friday, July 22, 2011

Adventures in Sicily

Have you ever watched the movie Under The Tuscan Sun? It's a good movie, but the reason I ask is because there is a scene in the movie in which the main character, Frances is with a handsome Italian man who has offered to help her find pieces to a chandelier that she needs. They are driving in the car to Positano and he's driving rather quickly and races through a red light. She asks flippantly, "Do traffic signals mean anything here?" He explains to her Green means go, Yellow means drive faster, and Red lights are just a suggestion. She laughs, but in reality I've heard other Italian and Sicilians say that. Pastor Gianni was one of them, to which I just gripped the handle I had an iron grip even harder.

March 1999 I learned a small lesson in Sicilian driving. We had just finished up church and we were having a special Sunday evening gathering where we would go to other peoples homes and eat different things they offered and fellowship together with other families from the church in Catania. I had only been in Catania a short while, so my Italian was very rudimentary. I had yet to learn how to conjugate a verb and I was informed I'd be riding with Graciela and Antonietta her great aunt (at least I think that was their relation to each other) and Mariella's mom. I was still learning a lot about them and about life in Sicily when I got into the car.

I suppose my first clue that something might not go well is when Graciela began grinding the gears on her car and as luck would have it, I was sitting in the front seat. Thankfully there was a handle above the window so I had something to hold onto. I sit stone still as she started out in front of other cars, and they all magically stopped, she wove her way through the streets of Catania and the entire time I was sitting in the car all I could think of was to pray. Dear Lord, Please don't let this be the way I die. She would grind the gears and go. I think I may have actually looked out the back of the car at one point looking for her clutch to fall off and be left behind. Then we got into an area with more hills and mountains in them. Oh and I forgot to mention they were all having a rather robust conversation. At the time though, still being new to the mission field and already having a fear of dying in a car wreck (my family was in a terrible accident in 1996 and I've been a little skittish since then) it sounded like arguing to me. I was okay and trying to listen politely when she started talking with her hands WHILE SHE WAS DRIVING!!!!!!

At that point in time I had a million things flash through my mind. I could see the headlines now, "American Volunteer Missionary is Killed by Insane Sicilian Woman Driver" Details to come. I imagined them explaining how I died to my mom - not because I was feeding the homeless or helping a small child or a family in need. I was going to die because I was overweight and it was tough to fit me into the already small Sicilian cars!!! I just stared at the mountains and thought, Look at the mountains, Maureen. If you're looking at the mountains you won't see your impending death as it comes crashing up on you! Maybe it will make it less painful as you die.
So when she took her hands off the wheel, I frantically began to search my brain for any word to convey that I would like them to stop fighting now. I finally came up one word Battersi! It meant to fight and remember I hadn't learned how to conjugate yet, so all I could ask in a voice that I'm sure sounded terrified, "Per favor, non battersi?"

Graziella took her hand on the wheel and said, "Va bene". That didn't help me at the time. I didn't know yet that Va bene meant "It's okay". By the time we reached the Bellisima house, I was white as a sheet and if I'd been drinking woman I would have asked for a good strong drink then and there. As misfortune would have it I hate the taste of booze and the Nazarene church doesn't allow drinking. So I had to go into the bathroom and try to regain my color. It sort of worked, although my flatmate looked at me and asked if I was okay. I told her I never wanted to ride with Graziella again.

Looking back on that little adventure now I realize that she probably wasn't really driving all that crazy. She was driving like a Sicilian and as our friend Angelo explained, "In Sicily they drive psychologically." I still don't know exactly what that means, but it sort of helped. I learned how to not cringe when I got in the car with my friends. I learned how to hold up my hand and just walk across the street. And yes, I even learned how to conjugate verbs to a point by the time I left. But I also learned how to take things in stride and just laugh at the little things. I would absolutely love to back to Sicily. In part to see old friends, but also to say, "Thank you." I went there to serve, but the lessons I came back with were priceless.

I hope you have a good weekend.

Love in Christ,

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