Chapter V - Emigration
Finally, everything had been taken care of. The house and land were rented, the harvest sold, and the furnishings disposed of. The passport was ready and the passage assured. We were ready to leave for the land that was to become my home.
On the second day of November, a beautiful morning, sunny and mild, I awoke to the certainty of leaving my nightmare and unhappiness behind. I was looking forward to a happy future. My brother urged us to hurry so we would not miss the train. My stepmother was the only one seeing us off. She was carrying a bundle of our belongings on her head. She was carrying on a nervous conversation telling my sister and myself to be good and not to forget to write. The train arrived on time and we said good-by, good-by to all I had ever known. My stepmother slipped a little money in my hand and told me to spend it in Naples. Then she left. I started to cry. I could not stop - I was like a child being pulled out of her mother's arms. All I had known was there - good and bad - and now it was no more. My tears kept coming during the train ride. When I got off the train my eyes were red and blurred.
I had looked forward so much to seeing the city of Naples. Instead I was reviewing the life that I was leaving behind. As we descended the train we were surrounded by the caribinieri (police) asking us about our destination. We said, "America." They set us aside from some of the others and took us to an army camp. We were told we had to be quarantined because cases of cholera had broken out in the city. I was very disappointed because the city of Naples had been my dream city for a long time.
That night we slept in clean army beds, and we had plenty of good food there. I should have appreciated it, but I didn't. I wanted to leave for America!
While there, I was bitten by a mosquito on the eyelid. That was the very first time I had ever been bitten. My eye became swollen and I was worried, very worried, that I would not pass the medical examination at the point of embarkation and that I would be left behind.
The ship was not allowed to enter port as a precautionary measure against contamination by cholera so the passengers had to embark by different means. The ship anchored three miles away from the city and I went on a rowboat and had to ascend the ship by means of a ladder.
Once I was on board, I felt I was on my way to a new life. Supper was our first meal. I was glad to approach the window dispensing the food. The food was placed in the container furnished us when we came aboard. The container and utensils had to serve us for the whole voyage and we had to wash and care for them. Usually the food consisted of a one-dish meal. I was hungry and ate very heartily.
After eating I proceeded to get acquainted with the ship by walking around it. I sat at the table on deck, which was designed to serve as dining table, reading table, and whatever one chose to do at it. When it rained you had to amuse yourself as best as you could.
We were sent to our berths early. I wanted to stay up to observe when the ship started to move. I was told by my brother to take the upper berth because it was better. I climbed and stretched my legs. It had been an exhausting day and I was soon fast asleep.
During the night the girl sleeping on the berth next to mine woke up. She said, "Maria, please come to the women's room. I feel sick."
I rubbed my eyes to acquaint myself with the surroundings and began to descend. The lady on the lower berth was vomiting. That stirred my stomach. After going with the girl I came back to my berth. After seeing so many people sick, I felt sick too. In the morning no one could partake of breakfast. The people were told to leave. The dormitory and go on deck because the room had to be cleaned and disinfected. Everyone lay on the deck moaning and exhausted. Suddenly our stomachs calmed and many heads went up. A change had taken place. The seasickness had come to a halt. People stood up and looked around.
The most magnificent panorama spread before our eyes. The city of Palermo, capital of Sicily, lay in the full splendor of the sun bathed in the blue water of the Mediterranean Sea. It beckoned to us in a friendly way but we were not allowed to enter the magnificent city, because of the possibility of contamination by us. Palermo did not have cases of cholera. The reason we had come here was to pick up some cargo and more passengers. Our short stay consisted of loading food supplies for the voyage.
The new passengers stared at our group. We were also looking them over. They were strangers to us and we were strangers to them. Their dialect was different from ours. At suppertime these newcomers went to the window for their rations in order to satisfy their appetites, just as we had done the previous day. Since we knew what could happen we partook of the food sparingly.
When I got up the next morning all of the new passengers lay on the deck moaning. Poor people! They too had to pay the price of the first day at sea. When the ship entered the high seas everyone was well again.
We who embarked in Naples never mixed with the passengers from Sicily. Their dialect and clothing made them different. The important thing was that we did not know them and they did not know us. We came from Naples and were Napolitanos and they came from Sicily. They were Sicilians. The feeling aboard was that we were two people instead of one.
The voyage was quite interesting for a young girl. I was only fourteen. What really amused me most of all was a passenger who was sort of a clown because he entertained the people with his antics. He was called "barbut" because he had a very thick beard.
On board I discovered the library. I became interested in novels and fairy tales. I was so fascinated with them that I read every fairy tale that was on board.
Another one of my pastimes was to watch the men play cards. Also, I liked to run around the ship from bow to stern and back again.
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