One year in Belgium.

 there are stories that change your life forever.

one day, at the age of 23, I said to my mother: I want to go away for a while, abroad.

my first trip, the first solitary experience, the first courageous choice to go beyond my fears and my limits.

I was depressed, lonely, angry, felt inadequate.

my mother put me in contact with an association, I wanted to go to England or Ireland for a few months but at that moment they only had Belgium, and I would have had to leave 9 days later, to stay there for 1 year.

I thought about it for a few seconds, ok I accept.

I remember looking at life out the window of a train as if I was seeing it for the first time.

I arrived in Brussels scared and shy, unable to communicate in English.

after a few days I found myself washing the dishes with people from distant places and cultures, different languages, fascinating worlds who raised my eyes to wake me up from a more than 20-year long sleep.

india, ghana, colombia, bolivia, mexico, costarica, italy, belgium, germany, finland.. a thousand intertwined worlds that find themselves sleeping and eating together, playing and dancing, improvising, creating, exchanging, telling, knowing.

I was shocked, displaced, full of an energy I didn't know I possessed, life entered my life and its effect was so powerful that it left me disoriented and excited, impatient to explore the world and existence second by second.

The organization was a mother who coordinated her kids ferrying our lives into the world of adults.

The music, the cuisine, the first acquaintances, I was enveloped in this atmosphere of celebration and joy, it seemed to me that I was dreaming.

The first friendships, the Italian boys cristian mario and manuel, pixie, a sweet indian girl who was intrigued by my always keeping quiet.

Then Mariano the Costa Rican, Priscilla from Mexico, Lucy from Colombia.

life with the family was a nice immersion in the reality of a small Belgian country, their openness and independence was a blow to my family culture, where the son remains attached to his mother until he gets married, and does nothing "because mom does it so much."

A beautiful relationship is established with Mark, her son Gunther, Linda feels that I have not integrated as she would have liked, that I am often absent, around and not very present. I still have to work a lot on my maturity, used to always being on the road with friends.

I go to see volleyball matches with mark, who coaches a team, at the pub he introduces me to his friends and explore the amazing world of beer !!

I work in a youth center, Jeugdhuis, where some manage a center to help disadvantaged children and create social activities and initiatives, concerts, parties. I go every day with my moped, 20 km in the cold and rain, but happy to finally live.

I am constantly in contact with myself, I grow more and more every day, quickly, as fast as the white moped that whizzes from diest to koersel. At first I feel the distance of those I don't know, over time I realize their beauty, franz becomes like a father, he helps me with manual work, teaches me to work hard, introduces me to his wife, the simplicity of a simple life and genuine in the province of Limburg.

I leave the family due to misunderstandings with linda, I go back to Italy for Christmas.

beautiful days spent with my loved ones but im impatient to go back to belgium.

As soon as I find the new family, I leave.

Here the family is different, Marleen and her husband are separated in the house, her son is a clean-shaven techno fan in a black bomber jacket who screams from her bedroom to the beat of the bass.

marleen is in charge of a cultural center in hasselt, she introduces me to artists, cinema, art exhibitions, she gives me the first solo trip of my life, Barcelona.

she is an extraordinary woman, friend and companion, a soul that shone with light, whose love was first taken away and then her life. She will always be a reference in my life.

We travel to Belgium, Holland, Germany, her strength is the beauty of how she looks at life.

We bond so much with Mario, she confides in me her world and her love for Priscilla.

Manuel, Mariano and Pixie are my brothers. We become inseparable, travel together, spend unforgettable weekends at Kris's house, an uplifting, sarcastic, funny, loving soul.

Pixie is more than a friend, it is a form of love that I had never known, we are still as close today as we were 24 years ago, sometimes just hearing her voice brings me back to what I felt in those months by her side, a comfort that is difficult to explain, a feeling of safe haven, understanding each other without speaking, feeling united as if we had always been.

Every time she called to invite me to Geel, I could never say no, even though marleen had suggested other things for me to do together, she was a magnet that pulled me in and I and I could not resist. Marleen reminded me one day:

you always do what she says, you always go to her and you never say no.

On the road that leads to Koersel I met a girl older than me, in the travel agency where I asked for information about London.

One day she comes to Diest, she enters the courtyard inhabited by a few families, within a few hours everyone knows that I had guests in the house.

I fall madly in love, but she has been living together for 10 years and is 10 years older than me. one day she tells me that the story must end: one day you return to Italy, I have my life here, I can't leave everything.

The first big disappointment, I enter the world of adults and I feel the consequences.

I know my contact person, Sophie, a lovely girl who loves to have fun.

With manuel and marleen we travel several times in holland, we spend days together and we create a wonderful company.

Manuel is a golden boy, we become close friends, we talk hours about our lives, I will never forget his hug when he got married, in Poland.

Mariano is another precious soul who crossed my path, we spent happy and carefree evenings with him, playing football or drinking beer, talking to each other, forging a deep relationship between Latin souls.

The year continues between international meetings and parties, we all get to know each other more and more, we become a close-knit and united group, everyone talks about their experiences in the family and at work, a precious cultural and human exchange is born.

  we work as volunteers in a center painting and arranging, playing foosball, rejoicing in this fantastic group that has come together, each with its own personal story, its culture, its world.

I left full of prejudices, I came back full of love. The encounter with the other taught me to go beyond my pride and my narrow point of view, a year that completely transformed me, I got to know myself through the exchange of humanity that a volunteer gave me every day, a event, an encounter, through my solitude which became strength when transformed into company.

In the evening I took a course in Flemish, everyone was Turkish except me, the only person who spoke to me was a kind Turkish girl, the only woman present.

I have memories that will hardly go away: my party among all the volunteers in a street lit by the sun and our smiles; pixie's handshake before arriving at the airport, tears with Mariano, Priscilla's smile, dinners with Marleen, Mark's stories, travels with Manuel, drinks with Mario.. the endless evenings you don't want never going to sleep, late night chats with pixie and mariano, days and laughter with lucy, parties, dances, songs, games, Duval beer.. everything is still intact in my eyes, I sincerely thank everyone the volunteers who made all this possible, life and roommates, the coordinators like Anne, Odile, Daniela Annemarie shue Mariel kristopher Ronny Julian Dhaval Sabine Elise ..

I remember one day, on the Ostende beach, we made a promise: In 10 years, let's all meet again here in Belgium.

24 years have passed, I've been to India to see Pixie get married, to Poland for Manuel's wedding, I went back to see Marleen and wherever I went I sent her a postcard from my travels. Today she is gone, but she has left an indelible mark, she has given me the love for travel and for life.

I miss all the friends of that year-long journey, an unforgettable, unique journey, a story that changed my life, opened my heart and mind, made me see the world from another angle and admire its extraordinary beauty, she taught me the importance of helping others, of loving each other, of being together, of sharing.

I will never stop thanking all the meetings and people I met.

I also miss the Altijd Regen, the soups, the sky, the low houses, antwerpen, the center of brussels, the flemish, the jokes and arm wrestling challenges with Pixie.

Back from Belgium I started travelling, enjoying affection, establishing healthy and lasting relationships, one year more important than any training course.

See each other and the world with different eyes. This is what Belgium was for me.

  crying at the end of the year, between me manuel pixie and mariano... is the lake of love that made us all bathe together in the same life, despite coming from distant worlds. This remains the greatest teaching of this story.

Pixie's hand holding mine under the seat is a thread that binds us forever.


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