Erminio, also known as “the perfect travel buddy”

“I love myself as a travel buddy and if I could I would pick myself for every journey”. This is just one of the many things he said with sincerity and conviction while walking through the orphanage courtyard. The good thing is that he is right, and he knows it, because Erminio is really amusing. But not just that. With Erminio you can have long chats, broken by jokes and laughs that at Daddy’s Home are therapeutic. Ugo and Erminio travel across the orphanage as a pair and come pick me up at the end of the day from the Babies Home when I am able to spend the whole afternoon there. And yet there are also moments of discomfort and discouragement that often fill the eyes of this Southern Italian “boy” with tears.

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 We were together when we went to see Frida at Mother Teresa’s orphanage, and together we cried when we left it. We were together also last night, the last one in Vijayawada, when we visited the “rich people” hospital. If we had followed our plans, without getting to the airport exactly 24 hours after our flight, we wouldn’t have made that visit. Instead, completely clueless that by that time we had to already be in Hyderabad, we thoughtless entered Rainbow Hospital where a room costs 150 euros per day. It’s a hospital for women and children, just like the one in which I went to pick Amanda up ( www.pattindia.wordpress.com “Amanda”). The only difference is that this one is private and looks a lot better than the one sustained by the government. Even though … it’s always the same story: hygiene, cleanness and order are not the first adjectives that come to your mind when you think about India. Not even when they pay 150 euros per night.

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 Prashanti was an apprentice that assisted Ugo and Erminio at the dental clinic and last year got a job at this hospital at the paediatric intensive care. She comes to welcome us, even though she didn’t know we were coming. She just noticed three strange visitors looking through the glass door. Thanks to her we get into intensive care, and this already says a lot regarding hygiene policies in India. Luckily she asks us to take off our flip-flops to wear some new ones, not that these ones are too clean but this is the procedure and we don’t argue. We wear our blue vests but there is no need to wear a mask. Every time we find ourselves in these situations I am the one that has to walk first and those two follow me like a shadow. Ugo says that mine is desire to be at the centre of attention, I simply justify this as my need to fill the gaps of silence. I can’t stand that embarrassment generated when somebody expects a little acknowledgement for what they are offering and what they get in return is bare silence. Nigel wanted to come to Rainbow Hospital with us to show us that his country can offer efficient and modern structures, maybe like ours, not only crumbling clinics and hospital that look like they had been bombed. He looks so proud in what he is doing for us and while showing us the different areas of the hospital he expects some signs of appreciation. For example, when he shows us the super deluxe room for 300 euros per night, my two shadows could at least make a sound rather than just staying in silence behind me. Not to mention the medical personnel that we are introduced to and that do everything they can to show us what they have. My two shadows that act a little snobby leave me to deal with PR work. That’s why even in intensive care I pretend to be interested and I follow Prashanti. She introduces the head nurse with the pride that here I often recognise among those people who want to involve us in their family and professional relations. The visit from these three Europeans, my two shadows and me is a reason of pride.

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 Just as Erminio says to lighten the atmosphere, if every day we don’t hit ourselves in the fingers with a hammer- actually he talks about another not properly feminine body part, the three of us are not happy. You spend a lovely day in which everything is fine and the stories of all these kids are not tormenting your mind, and then suddenly you get a punch in the stomach.

 The beds are occupied by little patients intubated and attached to machines making regular noises with screens showing curves, graphs and numbers that are always changing. All these little pipes that come out of the computers are attached to arms, fingers, noses and mouths of kids that are only a few years old. You can’t remain indifferent. Erminio and Ugo are even more behind me, I can feel their silence and their breathing. The head nurse tells me all the cases, one by one, just as if she was showing me paintings at an art gallery. This is a job for her and there is some professional pride in the way she clinically explains the wounds occurred to a three-year-old girl who fell off her father’s bike and ended under a car’s wheels. It’s a little mouth all cracked the one I see, I can see the little teeth, the rest of the face is al wrapped in bandages. She’s alone; there is nobody beside her, just the machines that make regular sounds. Who is not alone is the other girl in lying in the bed in front of her, with her head wrapped up and both eyes all bruised and swollen. A car hit her as well. Her mother is sitting next to her, lonely and extremely sad. We get closer to the bed to listen to the explanations of the case and she gets up looking at us as if we were bringing a miracle. There is no difference in the pain between an Indian and a European mother. Not in this moment. I can’t leave without going back to her and giving her a tight hug. I volunteer at a hospital in Italy and I’ve learned the importance of silent solidarity and a sincere hug for a desperate relative. We hold tight to each other and she bursts into desperate and dignified tears. I wish I could give her strength. We stay like that for a long moment and the knot in my throat is so painful that I can hardly breathe.

 Ugo and Erminio have their eyes full of tears and are begging me to get out.

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When I describe the chaotic traffic typical of the roads in India I tend to attribute it almost a comic image. In reality the amount of deaths and seriously injured because of car accidents in India represents an important cause of infant mortality. Nobody uses a helmet, overtaking can be done on both sides, U-turns are made in the middle of the highway, there is no such thing as a one-way road, people park everywhere and stop without warning, there is no priority rule, pedestrians are a nuisance, bicycles and motorbikes are loaded with everything, tuc tuc divers are often drunk, trucks travel at impressive speeds and overloaded. What else can I add to explain the danger that everyday millions of people experience out of their homes? Kids are always to most numerous and innocent victims.

 Dear Erminio I started talking about you and I find myself talking about one of the many problems that we often discuss, after a long day at work, sitting at Daddy’s Home kitchen table, exhausted. However, once I am back home, I miss these evenings that some times we don’t ever allow ourselves because we are too tired. I know you expected, sooner or later an article on my blog, I know you deserve it. Not that my blog is important, but I couldn’t not mention you Erminio.

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Knowing that you are Ugo’s friend give me tranquillity because when he’s with him I see him laugh. He is always so knotted and controlled, when he’s with you he explodes in noisy laughs even when he’s at home and he remembers your jokes. There are some anecdotes that I can’t tell but that I almost think about. You really are the ideal travel buddy and it’s good that you love yourself to the point of desiring someone like you for your travels. The deep and painful feelings that we live everytime we come to Daddy’s Home create a bond between us even if the distance between our homes lets months go by without us talking. You have a beautiful family that welcomes with sincere warmth and makes you a very lucky man. What makes it even better is the fact that you are aware and proud of it.

You help me when my mood is very low and the little jobs I do can’t be concluded. You make me laugh out loud when you make fun of me and describe me in such a comic and unfortunately true way. You made even Carol laugh so much to the point that last year, even though she was already sick, she would come every evening to visit us.

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What can I add dear Erminio? You can go back home serene and sure that in a small town near Venice you have two friends that love you and consider you their favourite travel buddy.

Thank you for not killing us when we missed our leaving date

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