The Puglia Diaries

The thrills and spills of a British Council Language Assistant in Molfetta, Italy

‘How on Earth is this happening to me?’

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In the past week in Puglia, I have been enjoying myself both inside and outside of the classroom. The ragazzi at the school are boisterous and loud, but essentially harmless. I have been getting my head around going from Jackie’s money problems to Wordsworth’s daffodils, from past continuous to first conditional.

What I love about being here in Molfetta is that the only fixed and certain part of my day is the set time that I need to be at school in the morning. With lessons finishing at 1pm, the rest of the day can be spent in a variety of different ways. I go with the flow, following my top principle of ‘Say yes to everything, as long as it’s not illegal or dangerous’. That should be the motto of every Year Abroader, wherever you are.

On Thursday, I accepted to invitation to witness the tasks that have to be done to sign up to university. I went with my friends to the post office and then to some financial advisor, then to have a coffee. While sipping my espressino, I was asked to use my fabulous imagination to devise situations for the Red Cross session that they were leading that night. I came up with a scene at a ski resort that was elaborated on with gusto, and went along to watch, only after they promised that I wouldn’t see any blood. That would give them a real fainting person to rescue.


It turns out that I was useful in another capacity: I played the part of an old English lady who was suffering from an angina attack after she saw her friend get bitten by a snake. It was quite fun being looked after by a trainee Red Cross volunteer, although I forgot to say the crucial word ‘angina’ to him (oops). I was then allowed to watch while the ski scene commenced.

All hell broke loose. Someone was pretending to be impaled on a tree. Someone else had their arm hidden in their sleeve, as if it had been torn off. Someone else was diligently giving mouth to mouth to a dummy representing a woman who had been buried in snow. People were shouting and writhing around in mock agony: it was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen. Especially since the Red Cross members who weren’t participating were stood around chatting and eating Nutella on bread, as if none of this was happening.

Afterwards, I went along with four boys to see Bling Ring at the cinema. At quarter to 11 at night, in Italian. To be honest, there wasn’t much dialogue to keep up with, mainly just ‘Oh mio Dio!’ and dubbed gleeful shouts as Emma Watson and co. ransacked Paris Hilton’s wardrobe. The boys were spectacularly underwhelmed by this ‘film di merda’, as they told me in the interval. The INTERVAL. This was by the far the biggest culture shock so far: why do Italians need a 5-minute half time in the cinema? After realising it wasn’t a technical fault, I did understand that it was a chance to share impressions of the film so far and to make conjectures about the second half. For the boys, it didn’t get any better. I secretly quite enjoyed it.


The third odd moment of the week was on Friday when I once again tagged along to a prize giving for one of the students of my school, who came top in her exams. I went along and listened to a long ramble on the job prospects of young Italians and expected to go home afterwards, but no. We went to another prize giving, this time for Molfetta’s sailing club. We had missed the prize giving but turned up just in time for the best mass-catered free food I have ever had. The vice head sat me down with plateful of foccaccia and went away ‘to get other stuff’. I sat alone quite contentedly among the crowds, eating aubergine while Gangnam Style blared out of the speakers. I was brought mini mozzarella, parmigiana, three types of frittata and this bean thing. It was one of those lovely, surreal moments when you take a mental step back and think: ‘How on earth is this happening to me?’ We had a slice of the massive cream cake and I went home full and happy.

I am busy every day and every time I am invited out, I meet yet more people. Last night I revealed the true lyrics to Dawson Creek’s theme song ‘I Don’t Want to Wait’ to eleven Italians. They were so far off with ‘wunnawunnaway’ that they cried with laughter.


Author: Elly Cooke

Recent graduate of English Literature and Italian from the University of Leeds. Book lover and part-time Italian speaker.

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