The six-hour flight from JFK airport to my layover in Germany was not nearly as bad as I remembered. It had been almost 10 years since I was stationed in Germany with the US Army, and now I was heading back. However, this time my stay in Europe is for much different reasons. After a short layover in Germany, I headed straight to the Naples airport in Italy for my volunteer work with the refugee crisis. I was told via email that a man named Ivan would be waiting for me at the airport; there was no man named Ivan at the airport!
It took some time, but another volunteer I was traveling with and I found a different man holding a sign with our names. We felt comfortable enough that this was the right guy and trusted him with our luggage, despite rumors about the dangers for tourists visiting Naples. Our driver let us out on a busy cobble stone intersection, where we met up with the man named Ivan. Ivan spoke enough English for us to understand, which was a lot more than the driver. After some quick introductions, we followed Ivan up a cobble stone street, pulling our rolling suitcases behind us and pouring sweat from the humidity and heat. The people around stared at us funny. It was obvious we were Americans in what I would later find out is the worst area of Naples Italy.
After we were settled in our living quarters, I decided to head out with another volunteer for some authentic Italian food. The city of Naples has one of the densest urban populations in Europe, and the city is known for being ill-ventilated and very chaotic. This was certainly true of the traffic in Naples, since it is impossible for cops to enforce any kind of order. Pedestrians are encouraged to ignore traffic signs (everyone else does) and to just walk out into a busy street with many cars and motor bikes speeding by in an aggressive manner. The drivers are used to avoiding pedestrians, so there usually are no problems in doing this. It may just take Americans a little time to get used to it. The worst thing for a pedestrian to do, however, is to run, since this disrupts the driver’s ability to anticipate the pedestrian’s likely movement on the road.
After some delicious Italian pasta, I headed back to my living quarters ready to get out of the extremely humid Mediterranean heat. I immediately learned that the place seven other volunteers and I are staying for the next month did not have air conditioning or even fans. It was so hot and humid, for the first two nights I had to sleep outside on the roof of the building, where it was much cooler at night. That first night as I laid on my little mattress, which I had taken off my bunk, looking up at the night sky, I speculated about the next month I would have here, working with refugees in Naples, and how long I could handle this heat.