Modica. The Sad Tale of Abdoullai, Chocolatier Without Asylum

Taken from – You need to see him while he carefully stirs the Modica chocolate, quickly and meticulously. Abdoullai Sow, a 28-year-old gentle giant, works in the old sweet-shop in Bonajuto.

Abdoullai Sow, in the kitchen at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Modica.

He’s always the first to arrive in the kitchen and the last to leave, never a minute late. But now he risks losing everything and being chased out of Italy because he doesn’t have asylum. “I want to stay here, I love making chocolate” days the young Senegalese man in good Italian and a small white hat on his head.

Abdoullai arrived in Pozzallo on July 1st, 2014, after having crossed Africa and the Mediterranean. Taken into a hostel in the Modica countryside, he collected some money together helping people at the local supermarket. “I met Signora Nunzia, and she brought me to the chocolate shop”. In Senegal he was a builder.

He had a bicycle to get around and a huge desire to roll up his sleeves. “He learnt how to make chocolate very quickly, he put his energy and passion into it. He’s a step ahead” says Pierpaolo Ruta of Bonajuto. Abdoullai is part of society and autonomous: he passed his middle school exams, studied Italian and then passed his driving exam and even has a car, as well as paying rent. “I’ve seen a journey of growing up, and he sweated for every little step forward. I won’t hide the fact that seeing him arrive in his car makes me emotional. He’s completely integrated, but thanks to bureaucracy he can’t stay here. It’s absurd” says Ruta, who will do whatever it takes not to lose him.

When he landed in Italy, Abdoullai asked for international protection, but the commission did not recognise him with the status because he is an “economic” migrant. “We did two appeals, but with negative results. We’re now appealing to the chief of police to concede a special permit to stay, given that he’s perfectly integrated in the local area and had learnt an old Modica craft” says his lawyer, Piero Sabellini. Abdoullai remained in Italy thanks to a permit to stay given to him while waiting for a decision on his status, but now that his administrative journey is over, he needs to leave the country.

Adboullai knows every last detail of the process for producing cold chocolate, the ingredients and timings. In the kitchen, Signora Nunzia Cantice, the expert technician, treats him as part of the family. “He comes to ours to eat at the holidays, and my husband leaves him they keys when we go away. He’s a serious and responsible young man, what’s the point in making him leave?” He doesn’t stop smiling and mixing the chocolate to give it form. “I’m very lucky and I thank God for having given me this chance” he says. An he says over and again: “Let me stay here, all I want to do is be a chocolatier.”

Giorgio Ruta

Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation by Richard Braude