How to go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?

Rebecca Solnit, A fieldguide to getting lost

‘Where are we actually going?’ asked the squirrel.
‘To the distance,’ said the ant.
‘Oh,’ said the squirrel.
It was a beautiful day and they were walking out of the forest, into the distance.
‘The world is so big, squirrel...’ said the ant.
‘Yes’, said the squirrel.
And the further you walk the bigger it gets,’ said the ant.
The squirrel said nothing.
‘So actually,’ the ant continued, ’if you walk forever it is infinitely big.’
The squirrel nodded, but he didn’t know what infinite was (...) He thought as deep as he could. If I sit down, he thought, would the world become smaller again? And what if I would be sitting down forever?

‘ Waar gaan we eigenlijk heen?’ vroeg de eekhoorn.
‘ Naar de verte,’ zie de mier.
‘ O,’ zei de eekhoorn.
Het was een mooie dag en ze liepen het bos uit, de verte in.
‘ De wereld is zo groot, eekhoorn...’ zei de mier.
‘ Ja,’ zei de eekhoorn.
‘ En hoe verder je loopt hoe groter hij wordt,’ zei de mier.
De eekhoorn zweeg.
‘ Dus eigenlijk,’ ging de mier verder, ‘ als je maar altijd doorloopt is hij oneindig groot.’
De eekhoorn knikte, maar hij wist niet wat oneindig was (...) Hij dacht zo diep mogelijk na.
Als ik ga zitten, dacht hij, zou de wereld dan weer kleiner worden? En als ik dan altijd blijf zitten?

Toon Tellegen, Misschien wisten zij alles

All texts placed in quotation marks are direct quotes and provided in the original language. Unless stated otherwise, all photos, videos and audio, are made by Shirley van der Maarel. For privacy reasons or at the request of participants, some names are invented.

Arbitrary accoglienza Italian refugee facilities are provided by organisations who respond to and win ‘calls’ set out by either the council (for the SPRAR) or the prefettura (for the CAS). Though these organisations are regulated, the services they offer are radically different so that two people living in the same area, could have completely different ‘rights’ and opportunities. This page represents those differences. Given the fast changing political environment, practices and regulations might change. Statements are correct at the time of research.

Day in the life... Participants were asked to describe a typical day. The day represented here is a weekday, weekend days were slightly different. Fatima coloured the different moments she felt good during the day. Yacouba has been making the drawings and text for both him and Yusuf. All three live in apartments managed by the SPRAR. People who live in a CAS generally have less structure and less opportunities.

Documents It can take more than two years before someone is called to go to ‘commission’ where they tell their story and need to provide evidence for it. The majority is (wrongfully) rejected. Almost all people appeal a negative decision. The top photo consists of the documents belonging to people still in their asylum procedure. The bottom photo are the documents of someone with an asylum status.

Favourite place People attach their own meaning to places. During a one day tour we visited the depicted favourite places. Silvia di Passio made the photos, assisted by Koné and Moro.

Football The African men in Valle di Comino play football, watch football and bet on football - everyday. Their favourite teams are generally European. To represent this, a group of people was asked to make drawings of their favourite team. They chose to draw the emblems, and spent a few hours to capture the exact details of the emblem.

Immi / emigration Valle di Comino is proud of its recent and long history of emigration. Emigration, low fertility numbers, and an aging population, have led to depopulation. The map was provided by Luciano Caira, from the Atina Library, it comes from the book ‘La Rinascita del Cassinate’, edited by E.Ri.Cas, published in 1953.

Languages There are 103 African refugees living in Valle di Comino, and another 16 non-African refugees. The language exercise was only conducted with African refugees. The image therefore does not include the languages spoken by non-Africans. There are throusands of languages and dialects spoken across Africa. This list is based on the languages participants distinguished. It may include dialects, and it does not necessarily correspond with conventions within the study of African languages.


La terra This page is based on several tours given by Luigi Ricciardi across Valle di Comino. The photos are taken in Vicalvi. The focus of this page is on remnants of human activity in this region, rather than the history of the earth in general.

Life of hair The women photographed are Mado (top) and Binta (bottom). The bits of hair on the left page are owned by Binta and Angela and they are used for extensions or to make wigs with. Some hair can be bought at the Chinese shop in Atina Ponte Melfa, other hair is imported. Real hair can cost hundreds of euros. Women often do each other’s hair, and also men shave or dye each other’s hair.

Mountains As a valley, Valle di Comino exists only because of the mountains that surround it, which influence how people experience living here. Mountains are also a metaphor for the many obstacles that people face when they request asylum.

Phone People spend a lot of time on their phones. It offers access to a world far beyond Valle di Comino. The phones are meant to give an idea about the kind of apps people use. Neither of the phones belong to a specific person.

Prayer Practising religion gives a structure to daily life and plays an important role in offering a sense of security in an otherwise uncertain life. This page aims to show how faith is lived in daily human life, rather than how it may be politicised in public life.

Shared living The maps are drawn by Richard and Omar. The images are based on different houses and texts are compilations of different conversations and observations to show what it means be managed by and share a house with others.

The journey Graphs are often used in news articles to show where refugees come from. Those lines do not show what it means to be a person on that journey. This page combines the graphic representation of journeys, with the emotional baggage that people accumulate during that journey. The images used in the legend are from the Moroccan Sahara, and the Mediterranean Sea along the coast of Italy.

Transport It is hard to imagine the effect that not having a car has on one’s sense of freedom. This page aims to show that those without a car navigate space and time differently. The map used is adapted from a map that dates back to 1995 and that was provided by Luciano Caira from the Atina Public Library.

Waste It is not the intention to compare humans to waste, but rather to point to the wasted human capacity. A situation which, in this region, often extends to Italian youth as well as to refugee newcomers. Managing waste more generally is a problem in Italy.

What I wanted to ask... Refugee newcomers have very little interaction with the Italian residents. As a consequence, they have many unanswered questions or stereotypes that remain unresolved. Texts are direct quotes, extrapolated from conversations or directly asked for in interviews.

What they buy, what we eat In a CAS, the type of food people eat is highly regulated. The prefettura defines the quantities of what people are allowed to consume, house managers do the groceries and in a house with more than 10 people, there needs to be a cook that further decides what and when people eat. With flavours being one of the few things they can bring from their home country, and with bodies that simply stop digesting when eating too much Italian food, they go to a small shop in Sora or Frosinone to buy other food from their pocket money. Photos on the left are taken of food in the house, photos on the right are taken from the internet.

Work Refugees are allowed to work, even if they are still waiting for their asylum. There are 115 refugees of working age in Valle di Comino - there are the samev number of boxes on this page. This page is meant to show both the stress that comes from not working, as well as the wasted potential.

CAS Centro di Accoglienza Straordinari, initially meant as emergency support for the SPRAR, but now the most common type of refugee facility in Italy. It offers minimum support, and no opportunities for integration.

Emigrants and immigrants Emigrants are people moving away from a country. When they arrive in a new country they are immigrants to that country. Italians were emigrating for decades, as they were immigrating in countries like the US and the UK.

Migrant A term that avoids making the distinction between immigrant or emigrant. It reflects the idea that people (also many animals) move from one place to the other, and we can talk about this movement without talking about countries or borders.

Refugee Unlike the official legal definition, refugee in this research refers to any person who is seeking a place of refuge, of safety from whatever kind of hardship; economic, political, environmental or other.

SPRAR Sistema di Protezione per Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati, set up in collaboration with the local council and focused on integration in the local community.


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