Rosa Antonella

A life of sacrifices, in and out of the tonnara

by Camomilla

I did not know her, but my heart did.

Last year I had the pleasure of taking a guided visit to the Florio plant and visiting, among other things, the Turin Hall where the testimonies of the people who worked in the factory when it was still the Favignana Tonnara were still kept. Among the many attestations, many of them from males, the figure of a woman struck me. For curiosity I approached the screen where her image was reflected.

Listening to her voice, shy, reserved, embarrassed yet full of sadness and loneliness, takes my breath away.

Here it is, she is there, I do not know her but I recognize her, and emotions assail me. Listening to her voice shy, reserved and embarrassed yet full of sadness and loneliness, takes my breath away. Her simple dress and sandals on her feet remind me of the old peasant ladies in my homeland.

Her story is touching and it leaves no doubt about her experience of great pain and hardship. I empathy for her, as I listen to her story over and over again, and I feel the urge to embrace her and to let her know that I understand. Her mood is increasingly absorbing me. And now, after a year, I'm in front of her. I went looking for her. Her picture was not enough for me, I wanted to meet her in real life. I hugged her and at that moment she got emotional. She did not understand. She did not understand how I could care about her, about her story. I wanted to listen from her to the story of her life. She spoke slowly, intimate words whispered slowly, as if indiscreet ears were listening . I confess with sincerity that I want to write a story about her and that many strangers will read about her story. I really hope that they will find in themselves the same fondness and tenderness for this little woman who lived more and more lives than I did.

Rosa Antonella was born in Marsala April 12, 1948, from a modest but very united family. For passion, when she was very young, she dedicated to classical ballet. When she danced on the tips she felt happy, and many said she could have had a good career. But life had another plan for her when she met him at Favignana as she accompanied some family friends. He was tall, blond, muscular, and full of promises for a good future.

So many projects, dreams, desires, all remain in dreams because almost every year she found herself waiting for a new child.

A few months later they get married. She is a bride-child, she's only 14 years old, so many of the projects, dreams, desires, remain in dreams because almost every year she's expecting a new child. And in the time between one child and another, Rosa begins to work at just sixteen at Florio's factory, the tonnara, for eight hours a day, returning home then and taking care of everything else.

In her life, Rosa had thirteen children, "the sacred family," as she called them. To feed them she needed a lot of milk, rice and potatoes and sometimes a piece of tuna, but struggling to choose which one of them could eat.

She told me many other sad stories, of fatigue, sorrow, misery and hunger, but this little woman has never lost the hope of a better, more serene future. Now she takes care of only one son, the others have made other choices, they have gone to live their lives, with their families, not even room for a brief greeting to her. Rosa has returned to live in Marsala, in an apartment for rent, always struggling to pay for it because 420 euros of retirement per month are really few even just to keep her dignity, to eat at least once a day.

I would have many other things to tell about Rosa, or rather Antonella. So they called her at Florio's factory, Antonella. If you visit Favignana you must come and see her figure projected over a canvas, you have to listen to her voice to understand that certain stories are difficult to tell. We must learn how to listen with our hearts and feelings, instead.

We have a lot more than what we really need: this is what I find myself thinking as I listen to her story. I thought for a very long time, hearing Rosa’s story. Empathy and fondness are not enough, sometimes you have to do something more, even a small genuine, concrete gesture, to help someone in need. Rosa Antonella now has no one to care for her, even after raising 14 children. She struggles to have someone to talk to, to ask for real help. Often we do not realize how many good friendships we have, and how many people hang around us pointlessly. The story of Rosa Antonella’s daily struggle made me think of how many times a day I eat, and that she doesn’t make it to the end of the month by eating once a day, at best. I wrote this testament also to help her understand that sometimes the encounters are not enough, they are not enough to our conscience. For her a small concrete gesture from all those who knew her through my little story would suffice. Nevertheless, even this small gesture would be away to help her. Just a little action so she can smile again after such a difficult life. Perhaps, among you readers, there is someone who could truly help her. Together, you can. Even if just a little, that is going to make a big difference.


If you are interested and have a good heart write to Thank you and an affectionate embrace to all those who want to shrink around this small and simple life that is called Rosa Antonella.


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