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I wait with them…the mass of humanity standing in line to achieve permission. 

Permission to legally live in Italy. 

Officially our permit is called a Permesso di Soggiorno. We are united in our morning haziness, under the first streaks of daylight, as it’s not yet 7:00 a.m.

Together we wait outside the red brick building to secure our place in line. A line that will ultimately move forward and give us a number, which will then direct us to a window, where someone behind that window will determine whether or not we have sufficiently met all the requirements for permission. We have secured a Visa from our home country, but now we ask our new country for it’s permission.

To me, the entire process feels more like “stand up, sit down, jump here, turn around, now sit down again”. But what do I know?

The line begins to move, thankfully, as it’s warmer inside the corridor. We are each given a number, and are directed to two different lines. The men that work here speak only Italian, and I try to process what I’m told.

“Here’s your number, and after 8:00,” is about all I comprehend from the officer’s Italian. Unsure as to where to go, I turn back to ask. Too late, someone else has already moved up, and there is no time for questions.

I see another long line, and dutifully take my place in it. An officer comes by, taps me on the shoulder, and says something to me in rapid Italian. Seriously, does he think I’ve had enough coffee or Italian to understand that?

The wheels slowly start to turn…something about “non la sua linea”. Got it! I’m in the wrong line, I’m supposed to go inside instead and find a seat.

I have worked so hard to be here. Each person I see has probably done the same. Each one of us arriving on our appointed day, ticket in hand, has a personal story of desire. 

The desire to make our life in a country in which we were not born.

A woman approaches the seat next to me and begins to vigorously wipe it down with sanitizer. Apparently she knows something I do not. I just plopped myself right down.

A beautiful woman from the Middle East, her head wrapped in a scarf, sits down across from me with her young daughters. I wonder how early they awakened today to all be here before 7:00. The baby calls out from her stroller, and immediately the mother looks up.

Mothers. The world over, we instinctively respond to our baby’s voice.

My thoughts drift to my own ancestors who immigrated to the United States from Denmark. They had embraced a new religion, and wanted to join with other members in the West.

My Great-Great Grandmother would make the arduous trip across the ocean, and then across the plains of the United States, but she would never embrace a doctrine of no coffee. Coffee and her morning paper were a constant no matter where she lived, or which religion she joined.

“One can only make so many sacrifices,” she would say in her defense.

I’m thinking I could use another cup of coffee about now.

“You are from a long line of strong women, Lisa,” my Grandmother, would often tell me. I hadn’t given it much thought until the last decade. Now I depend on it.

Nearing 8:00, the waiting area fills. It’s utilitarian and cold. I listen to the conversation of two men from Africa behind me. The sounds and clicking noises are exotic and so foreign to my ears. How is it those sounds make up a language?

How small is my circle of knowledge.

The mother across from me now discretely breastfeeds her baby. A tiny hand reaches up out of a pink sweater to hold her mother’s. Such a moment of beauty. I remember.

My mind drifts to my babies, now 32 and 29 years old. Are they sound asleep, half the world away? I wish I could peek at their faces.  What lessons will they learn from me and pass down to their children? Will the family’s stories recall crazy Grandma Lisa who took off for Italy and never came back?

I look in the eyes of people of every color. We all have a story which has brought us  to a point this morning where our lives intersect for a minute. Everyone looks a little hesitant, a little worried. There is a lot on the line.

I have heard the other ex-Pat’s experiences of their day here. I had to apply twice to get my Visa, so I am a little nervous. Did I think of absolutely every document they may ask to see?

My number is announced and I approach the appropriate window. After brief greetings, and the exchange of my passport, the woman starts having me sign papers. I don’t question. I sign. She gets up and goes behind a partition. Returning she hands me a sheet of paper and explains that I need to attend a Culture Class on December 6. Failure to do so results in diminished points. 


“You will be notified when your card is ready for pick up,” she says. It’s all in Italian. Am I missing something?

“Si,” I reply.

We stare at each other. I’m trying to determine what is happening.

“Ho finito?” (Have I finished?) I ask.

“Si,” she answers.

“Veremente?” (Really?) I ask.

“Si,” and she smiles a little.

Hey, who am I to argue? I gather the thick file of documents I have brought with me and head towards the door.

I did it! I have been granted a Permesso di Soggiorno. Permission. Just as my ancestors before me, I set out on a journey to live in a new land, and I have just crossed the equivalent of Ellis Island!

Once outside, I can’t contain myself any longer. I break into a skip!

This article is part of a series by Lisa Condie. The first article in this series can be found here: The Decision.

If Italy is calling to you, think about joining one of the tours with Sarah and Lisa through A Better Way to Italy. Click here for details for details and to register a spot!

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