When I boarded the plane from Seville to Palermo, I had two suitcases, 17 euros, the phone number of my host family in Marsala, Sicily, and a plan: take a bus from Palermo airport to Trapani (a coastal town close to Marsala) and meet the family, who would then drive me to their home. I did not, however, have a cellphone, because I lost my iPhone in Seville two months prior and my temporary Spanish flip phone could only make calls within Spain.
Unfortunately, my plan was knocked awry as soon as I stepped out of the airport and into the blinding Sicilian sun. I followed the signs to the bus ticket window where I was promptly informed by a friendly, English-speaking Italian girl, that no buses ran from Palermo airport to Trapani; however, I could take a bus to Palermo City Center and from there catch the bus to Trapani. With no other recourse, I paid 10 euros for the ticket, stowed my luggage and boarded the bus. We reached the center and I disembarked, wondering where in the world to buy my next ticket and wishing more than anything that I had a map.
After a short stint of aimless, hopeful wandering, I poked my head into a nearby gelato shop to ask the employees for directions. Even with our odd mixture of Spanish and Italian, a few words of English and a lot of gesturing, the conversation (if you could call it that) was futility itself. The blank look of incomprehension must have been comically obvious on my face because without another word, one of the gentlemen stepped out from behind the counter, smiled and gestured for me to follow him. He led me two blocks to the convenience store that sold the bus tickets and with a wave and a “ciao” was off.
At the counter, I asked for a one-way ticket to Trapani. Eight euros, I was told. Thinking of my 7 remaining euros, I grimaced and slowly cracked opened my wallet, hoping against hope that another euro would have magically materialized. I had no such luck and placed the 7 euros on the counter, held my hands out, palms up, in a universal gesture of supplication and explained in Spanish that I was 1 euro short. Luckily Spanish and Italian share a similar enough etymology that the storeowner understood. He nodded with a wry smile, told me not to worry and waved me off with a laugh.
I caught the bus to Trapani without incident and after a 40-minute ride with my face glued to the window, unable to tear my eyes away from the sapphire sea and rolling hills, we pulled into Trapani harbor. The family asked me to call them when I arrived, so I stopped at the first cafe I saw to ask a man standing out front where I could find a public telephone. After more gesturing, more broken Spanish and more wishing I had an Italian-English dictionary, he finally invited me in and bellowed to someone in the back of the restaurant. I understood the words “American,” “telephone” and “help,” and seconds later a mountain of a woman emerged, with an even bigger smile, offering me her cellphone. I returned her smile gratefully and punched in the number of my host mom, Claudia, with a murmur of thanks.
Claudia said she was delayed and she wouldn’t be able to get to Trapani for another hour and a half, information that I then relayed to the couple. I chatted (or rather, smiled a lot and nodded) with the couple for another 10 minutes and then moved to collect my suitcases, thinking I would pass the time sitting by the harbor. The man, with the slightly offended air of someone whose dinner guest ate only three helpings of a dish instead of four, told me, “here,” and gestured to a table where he brought me a bottle of Peroni, an Italian beer, for free.
When the family arrived I smiled and thanked the couple, who told me to come back another time and waved as we drove away.
Travelling with a smart phone is definitely easier, but in Siciliy at least, home to some of the kindest and most generous people in the world, I learned that sometimes it’s possible to get by with only 17 euros, a phone number and a smile.
Laura Wagner is a rising senior in the College and a former sports editor of The Hoya. The Au Pair Diaries appears every other Monday at thehoya.com.