Immigration: Tea and narghile' at the Arab club in Rome

Open to everybody, it fosters integration

08 February, 14:25

(By Cristiana Missori) (ANSAmed) - ROME, FEBRUARY 8 - 'Al Nadi al arabi' is the Arab club in Rome's Via Cavour, just a few steps from the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica. The club is a new cultural and social meeting point for communities from Egypt and other Arab countries in the capital. Open to everybody, the club is a place where books are presented and music is played - more often on Friday and Saturday. Everyday from 3 pm until 1 am it is possible to sit down here and read, play chess or backgammon, drink cinnamon or cardamom tea, smoke narghile or eat Middle Eastern specials. On the entrance door are written in Arabic the name of countries sharing the language of the Koran.

The club was set up less than a year ago by two leading members of the community. One is the president of the Egyptian community in Italy, Adel Amer, a 45-year-old architect who lives in Rome. 'We invested some 110,000 euros in the renovation', he said. Everybody 'has access here. We give a card (which is free) only to people we consider to be honest'. People don't go to the club to talk about religion or politics. 'For religion, there are the mosques and connected cultural associations', he said.

'The principles we want to convey are those of solidarity, reciprocal respect and integration'.

Many members know each other in a place which gives a unique insight into the lifestyles of foreigners in Italy. A former boxing champion from Syria's city of Aleppo, Saber Kremish, waits on tables. 'From 1980 until 1987 I was a champion in middleweight boxing', he told ANSAmed. He was 32 then. After being a leader in his category for three consecutive years, Kremish won a gold medal in the Mediterranean championship.

Today, at 46 and dressed in a traditional Syrian costume, he is a waiter at the club. 'I have been in Italy since 2000', he said, while his family has remained in Syria where he returns as often as he can in spite of the civil war. He last visited during Ramadan. His wife and five daughters have recently moved to Beirut. Next month he will return to Syria for a short visit.

'My wife has to give birth', he said. In spite of the great risk, they will be forced to have their child in Syria for economic reasons: '300 euros rather than the 2,500 demanded in Lebanon, too many'.

Meanwhile, he keeps training and hopes one say to become a boxing coach. His most recent pupil in Syria, Gheias Taifur, was a boxing champion like him 'but last year he was killed. He was a supporter of Assad'.

After 5 pm the club, which includes two rooms, starts filling up. Many ask for a shisha (water pipe). A cook helps Saber and prepares dishes from the hummus to koftah, meatballs, falafel and kebab. Then the doorbell rings and the barber-hairdresser comes in. He travels through the city with his scooter to cut and dye the hair of his clients, men and women. (ANSAmed)