“Put your heart first”-Interview with Giovanni Rossi

Giovanni Rossi has been a long time family friend.

I remember when I was a child, the long talks after dinner that my dad used to entertain with this man; that used to appear out of nowhere with his wife, to then disappear for months or years. And whenever Giovanni was around, I remember him always with an enormous smile; discussing and recounting what to me sounded like weird stories about realities far from earth. It was strange to a young me, but never boring.

Giovanni is a tall and elegant man in his 60s that comes from Città di Castello, a small and pitoresque town in Umbria, Italy; where he spent his life working as a specialist breast-cancer surgeon. Happily married to his beloved Emanuela, long time partner; Giovanni is a man of great down-to-earth sensitivity and genuinity, with an enormous passion for travel that took him around the world.

Last time I saw him it was very long ago (at least eight years, if I’m not wrong), so it’s been a pleasant experience seeing him again.

As I ask him my first questions, he politely answers speaking with a very pronounced accent typical of that area of Italy; and with a comforting, firm, and loud (but pleasant) tone.

As he moves his basalt curly hair; he start to recounts the story of how his life Changed.

Back in 2009/2010 Giovanni was coming back form Ngorongoro after a holiday, when he found himself wating 5 hours in Addis Abeba airport. As he waited, he noticed <a tall and slim man with a huge cross necklace on his chest>, and randomly started a conversation with him. It turns out that the man was a victim of the Rwandan War of 1994, in which he lost his family. Found life in faith, and became the bishop of a small town called Kobgai.

The man was adopted by an Italian couple in his childhood, and therefore he was able to speak Italian fluently. Giovanni <[…]ended up speaking with him all night long>; curious of the stories about the difference that humanitarian help makes in small and remote realities in Africa.

After the conversation with the man, Giovanni decided to keep in touch with the bishop that later on invited him to visit one of his “missions”.

“I think care was a family thing[…]”

said Giovanni laying gently his hands on the table as he explains how he started to realise his vocation.

As he speaks, his stiff surgeon hands swing “italianically” through words and memories; looking nimble and mechanical (nearly robotic) in the old-flow of their movement: consumed, but not exhausted.

“My aunt was a very important figure in my life, and I always respected her devotion to God and the others” he said tenderly speaking about the role that as nun, his aunt had in hospitals; meanwhile a tobacco-brown tuft of his black moustaches bounces fiery up and down with his words, just were once smoke used to ascend.

After a year in planning, in 2011 (supported money of his own pocket, and by two members of “Figlie Della Misericordia” convent) Giovanni finally started his first “test” humanitarian mission to Kizibere, a small town lost in Tanzania, accompanied by Emanuela and the bishop which he met, that invited them a year before.

As he speaks of his arrival and Kizibere, I notice a sligh loss of momentum in the so far tone of his voice; like a sudden change of light of when clouds pass in front of the sun.

“You only feel lost, Luca. Not because there is nothing around you; or because night arrives in the span of ten minutes, no. Not even because of the precarious conditions of life around you, no. You feel lost because you see the extreme good in people; living a “normal” routine in conditions that you know, deep down into you; that you wouldn’t be able to accept. […] It feels unreal, and the only questions that bounced violently in my head : How? What can I do? What the f’’’ is life, if I’m only a teardrop in an ocean? […] It’s been 9 very stressful days, and thanks to what I’ve seen, and to the immense support and joy of Emanuela that something here, and here (pointing his head and then his heart) clicked. I learnt to put my heart first, Luca.”

In 2012 Giovanni finally bought a construction terrain dedicated to the building of small infrastructures to bring minimal life support to the inhabitants Kizibere, bringing work and small progressions.

Since then, Giovanni has spent over 3,5 years in total in African territory, dedicating himself to medicine, faith and labour; and I’ll just say that he spent the majority of his earnings in this.

Today thanks to Giovanni’s initiative, in Kizibere there are now infrastructures hosting intructional, religious, and working-related activities to guarantee a better future and better probabilities to the future generations.

As he leaves, he confesses with petrol where blood should run; that he still takes <good care>of his loved bright-yellow Jaguar E Cabrio; and that next time I’m in Italy, <I should visit him for a ride>.

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