Usually when someone tells you about their favorite trip or travel memory it involves a bucket list location, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure or hands-down the best meal they’ve ever had. Not me.
In college I spent a semester in Florence eating gelato, fan-girling over Jovanotti and taking as many art history classes as I could without jeopardizing my potential for a communications degree.
During my Italian escapades I found myself on a school trip to the small town of Corleone, Sicily. Does that name sound familiar? It should. Corleone is the hometown—and surname—of the infamous mafia Don in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. It also happens to be the real-life home of many organized crime bosses throughout history.
Today in Corleone you’ll find cobblestone everything, idyllic churches, cafes with Godfather movie posters proudly displayed and miles of rural farmlands.
As part of my trip to Corleone I had the opportunity to volunteer with a group of local farmers who were revitalizing lands that were seized from the mafia. Together we forked, shoveled and raked the land. Before long, I was aboard a tractor with one of the local farmers looking off into the distant hills thinking that this was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.
Then suddenly that all changed.
I put my hand somewhere it didn’t belong and all of a sudden I needed to get to a hospital—immediately. I remember registering what happened. I remember the feeling of shock that masked itself as calm. And most of all I remember the eye contact that I made with the farmer next to me. We were in the middle of a gigantic field alone. He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak (much) Italian, but he immediately understood that I was in pain and I knew he was going to make sure I was okay.
The following hours could have been filled with fear and panic, but they weren’t. I met a revolving door of strangers who showed me a compassion, care and love that crossed any sort of language barrier.
There was the nurse who sat with me and taught me the only Italian word I’ll never forget—dolore (pain). There was the doctor who promptly presented me with a box of his favorite pastries as soon as I was stitched up (this is Italy after all…). And then there was the farmer who was so happy to see me in higher spirits when we finally reunited. He even brought me a cake! Like I said, this is Italy after all.
I was bandaged up and surrounded by baked goods when I learned that humans are inherently connected and kind to one another—no matter what language we speak or how much we know about proper tractor safety protocols.