At first glance, Barbara appears strong and a little distant. She has already lived in three countries, had a family with two daughters, whom she loves above all else. She got to know the good and bad sides of life: the feeling of being saved in a marriage, the destruction of it, she has lost herself and found herself, she has come to know the lives of the rich and the poor. She had everything, then nothing: Now she is building a new life, here - in Miami.
After she leaves school Barbara studies social anthropology in Italy. She researches about the indigenous peoples in Central America, she wants to go there and research for her final thesis. She is fascinated by the women there, especially by the Guatemalan women and human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.She is disappointed by Italy anyway. The people there become more and more superficial and materialistic. Barbara wants to get out. She wants to have a deep experience, get to know other cultures, she prefers to not only study and talk but also to act, to understand and finally to help. It’s 1993, she is 23 years old and packs her bags to travel to Guatemala with her best friend and fellow student. She dreams of a career in the United Nations, she wants to write books about the Mayan people, she wants to change the world.
The first time is exciting. Barbara and her friend are staying with a local host family, they are starting to discover Guatemala - a country full of opposites, with great poverty, which is everywhere visible and some very rich people. Barbara is a young European woman full of idealism who wants to discover and change the world. She starts an unpaid internship with the United Nations. It is the time of the peace process in El Salvador and Guatemala. After decades of the civil war with hundred thousand of dead people, there is supposed to happen a democratization in both countries. Barbara travels to El Salvador, to the rural regions. For the first time, she sees with her own eyes that people lack everything, they have no electricity, no water, no medicine, every little illness can be fatal, especially for children.
The project of the UN, in which she participates, is supported by the Italian Government, the project leader is an Italian. Fabrizio is eight years older than her, in his early thirties, divorced, successful, multilingual, educated. He has a strong personality, a deep ethical feeling, he also wants to do something to change things. Barbara is fascinated by him, he falls in love with her. After a month they live together, Barbara wants to be with him and sees the chance to stay in Guatemala and not to have to go back. She focuses on the relationship, the two work together and spend every free minute with each other. In Barbara grows the wish of having a child. "I do not know why I'm so obsessed with having a baby. I was a smart girl with a lot of dreams and ideas, but at the same time, I was very analytical. "For her thesis, she compares births in the Inca culture with those in the Western world. Now she wants to know motherhood herself. Barbara is getting pregnant, they are getting married, Fabrizio and she are happy.
With her pregnancy, she postpones her graduation, later she will tell, she does not know why. At the beginning of pregnancy, she feels full of love and power. But after the fifth month, she has some complications, for three months she has to stay in bed- it’s a high-risk pregnancy. Barbara stays home, in a strange country, her family far away, her husband works more than twelve hours a day. She begins to feel uncomfortable, frustrated, she is dependent, cannot get out - she is afraid to lose her own life.
Now they live in a prosperous area far from the life she is so interested in and that brought her once to Guatemala. They live the lives of the rich, they have employees at home, they do nice holidays, on weekends they usually go out to expensive restaurants and bars.
Giving birth Barbara almost loses her life. She has prevailed against her husband, she wants to get her baby in the bathtub at home, a natural birth, like the Inca women do it. The birth takes thirteen hours, she does not get any painkillers. An American midwife helps her to bring her daughter Martina into the world. "It was a hippie idea," she laughs, "but the problem was not that I made the wrong choice, but I had the wrong midwife." After the birth, Barbara is admitted to the hospital, she has lost a lot of blood and gets three liters of blood canned. It will be her first encounter with death, others will follow. Fabrizio is shocked by the experiences.
With Martina life is beautiful, they feel like a family, the three of them. After a few months Barbara starts working again, she is full of ideas. After Martina starts visiting a school with one and a half, Barbara founds a magazine with a friend of her. They report on social issues, development aid, social theories and write articles on political and social issues in Central America. She likes the life as a journalist, learns a lot about the craft and about the country.
When Martina is four, Barbara is pregnant again. She wants the baby, wants to give her daughter a sister, as she has a sister who she loves so much. Again, she has problems with the pregnancy- Barbara must stay at home and be careful. "This is the time when the relationship with my husband went to a bad path," she says. Fabrizio is working a lot, Barbara, pregnant and with a daughter at home, is getting more and more frustrated. She begins to blame him for her situation, wreaks her frustration on him - he, the successful UN diplomat, she - chained to their house, the mother of his children.
This time they go to a very good hospital for the birth. Everything goes well without complications. When Ariana is born, Barbara is happy again, forgetting for a short time her frustration, taking care of her daughters, and is grateful that she can spend so much time with them. Two years pass, in which she is incredibly close to them and spends the time only with them.
In 2002 Fabrizio and Barbara buy a restaurant in Antigua Guatemala, forty kilometers from Guatemala City. Barbara does not want to work in an office as an employee, the daughters hardly see their father, so she wants to create a professional situation in which she can work and at the same time have her children around her. Also, she loves Italian cuisine, she learned cooking from her grandmother and proved her talent at numerous invitations in her house. People love their pasta.
They open the restaurant Caffé Opera and buy a beautiful house nearby. Fabrizio leaves the UN for a year and runs the restaurant together with Barbara. Business is going well, but not between the two of them. Often they fight about power, Fabrizio wants to do things differently than Barbara, they argue about trifles, like the color of the napkins. "I fought with him about these little things to feel less insecure and more important. I was very stupid because I had a good man, but we both liked fighting and power - this was a bad combination". Barbara and her husband slowly lose their connection and move away from each other. He starts working again in Guatemala City, during the week they live in Guatemala City, on weekends in Antigua Guatemala. Barbara also goes to Antigua Guatemala during the week to run the restaurant. Living together has become increasingly difficult. Fabrizio is omnipresent in her life, he has bought the houses they live in, he has bought the restaurant, the children, she shares everything with him. It could be nice, peaceful, but it’s not. They have always had discussions, but now it’s getting worse. Barbara must get out, she has to watch out for herself again, she has to do something to feel her own personality again. Often she tries to explain to Fabrizio that she has lost herself in all this, she tries to be understood. First through endless talks, then through fights. Somewhere in between all the responsibility, Fabrizio's work, her restaurant, their care for the daughters, the fights, they lose themselves. After a big fight, right before her fortieth birthday, Barbara can’t do it anymore. She knows it's too late. She tells Fabrizio that she wants to spend her birthday alone. "They are men, they never believe us."
She books a flight to Peru. The journey will change her life. „ For me, my life is split between before Peru and after Peru," she says.
Barbara spends five days in Peru. She falls in love with a young man, he is Indio, descends from the Inca peoples. At least she feels herself again. "I was lost behind my husband, my daughters." Shortly after, she will write a book on the indigenous environmental movement, she will live her passion for this culture again - through her work and a short, passionate love story with the young man. She will destroy almost everything that is left of her marriage. The rest will be done by Fabrizio.
After Barbara returns from Peru, she knows she can not go back to her old life. After a short time, she goes back to Peru for an environmental conference and meets her lover again. She wants to write a book about the conference and to work on her academic career. She meets many interesting people, at night she stays with him.
At home, she talks to Fabrizio. She doesn’t want to hide and tells him the truth. "He never forgave me," she says with tears in her eyes. "Instead he used all his power to destroy me". Fabrizio is hurt, out of rage; he gives her three weeks to decide between her old and her new life. Barbara needs time, she can not live like that. They separate, Barbara leaves the house and lives in the neighbor house for a while, which belongs to her father, so she can be close to her daughters. The restaurant is not doing well, through the whole happenings in their marriage she has lost the focus. Fabrizio wants her to disappear from his life, he is full of anger and impoverished pride.
In the upcoming months, he will remove all her belongings from their house, throw them in garbage bags, he will shout at her, shake her, sweep the financial ground under her feet, he will refuse to pay proper maintenance, he will describe her as a woman who has never worked properly, he will hand a list to his lawyer saying how much money he spent in the period of her marriage for her clothes, food, holidays, the car. She will sue him due to domestic violence, enforce court orders, she will leave him the two houses, out of bad conscience and because of her daughters, or perhaps because she wants the nightmare to be finally over.
Barbara is very sad speaking about this period in her life. "In this time, I really understood for the first time, how difficult it is to be a woman. He saw me like he wanted to see me. But I was not the same person he met anymore. He didn’t like the change because he felt it was against him. He didn’t notice the signals. I spoke to him a lot of times before, but he closed his eyes. He didn’t like the change that was going on, that I wanted to discover more things and have a different life. You can’t stay frozen in your life, all the years in the same role. But when I would talk to him about this, he would say I’m crazy and never happy. At the end, everything is about possession and power.“ Fabrizio calls her parents, he has a very close relationship with them, they are supposed to make their daughter reasonable again - Barbara's mother travels to Guatemala, the father stops speaking to his daughter. With the divorce, the whole family breaks apart. Barbara is free, but she pays a high price for it. Her father stops talking to her, her daughters stay one week with her father and one week with her. She gets a job offer at the UN in Colombia, a chance to build up something again, but Fabrizio forbids taking her daughters with her. She stays in Guatemala - with her children. Fabrizio does not forgive her all the upcoming years, in which she goes through all the ups and downs. For seven years Barbara is single, with the divorce she gets the restaurant, the rest she leaves with Fabrizio. She has just enough money to continue the restaurant and to live her life, but from the former glamorous days, little has remained. Sometimes she is fine, then she feels free, is grateful for the time with her daughters (the only thing she and Fabrizio have decided together, is that the daughters should not suffer from their divorce). The restaurant is really good at times, she feels full of ideas and power, she has young lovers, writes books, lives life to the fullest. But often it is difficult, she feels alone and always looks into abysses, the restaurant isn't going well, she has no money, feels alone, is plagued by her bad conscience, about what she did to Fabrizio, whether she made the right decision for her family.
On some days, she realizes how much she can achieve, that only her self-constraint has prevented her from achieving her goals. Now she has written two books, has all the love stories and the passion she always wanted. But then she is tired of being alone, of life in extremes, of the Latin men who are full of passion but cannot be faithful and always have an ex-wife or a woman or other obligations. "When I came to Guatemala I was a protected baby. Protected from my parents, then protected from my husband. This big change made me stronger, but I paid a high price for it.“
Barbara has her children, her restaurant, she publishes a magazine about Guatemala City once a month, she has a young lover who admires her, but with whom she can not have a real relationship. Life in Guatemala takes her energy, the political situation is frustrating. A friend leaves Guatemala and writes to her, "It's incredible how this country can give you everything and take everything from you at the same time."
She is tired of this country, she is tired of being alone. Barbara needs to rest from life at the limit. She books a vacation for a week - to Miami.
„I think two things connected when I decided to change my life again. First, I wanted to change the country and second, I was tired of being alone. I’m not the kind of woman who doesn’t need a man. Perhaps I will be in the future, but not now“, she laughs. „For many years, I was very cold, very cynical and sarcastic about love and marriage - I was disappointed. I saw what happens when people that used to love you start to hate you.“
It's the last night of her vacation in Miami, she met with friends, she thought about the opportunity to open another restaurant in Miami - then she meets Michael. He is a fisherman, like her father, blond, American, divorced with two children. Suddenly everything is going very fast. They spend their last day in Miami, he visits her in Guatemala and she him visits him in Miami. After half a year he asks her to marry him - she says yes. Both are in their mid-forties.
Barbara is optimistic, she finally wants to rest. She doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life in Guatemala. They decide she comes to Miami. Fabrizio now lives with his new partner in Panama, Martina is studying at the university and has moved in with him. Now Ariana has to decide if she wants to go to Miami or to her sister and father to Panama - she decides to stay in Panama. For Barbara, it’s hard to let her daughter go, but she also has a dream of her new life. Finally, she can live with someone she loves, she wants to take care of Michael, to enjoy her marriage and finally rest again.
She imagines how she cooks for him, while he is outside with the boat, she imagines how she will write a new book. He, too, finally wants someone with whom he can share his life; he has had a failed marriage as well and two children who live in South America with their mother. They have found each other.
"Of course it was only a dream," laughs Barbara, who has decided not to talk too much about her new marriage. The reality looks different, it is not easy. Barbara sells her restaurant far below value and moves to Miami in 2016.
On a beautiful, sunny day Michael and she are getting married within a small circle, only a few friends of Michael are there. Her daughters, family and her friends - far away. "In a moment of optimism maybe we wanted to put the pieces of two broken hearts together". Michael works very hard as a fisherman and waiter. He doesn’t have one day off, when he comes home he is tired. Barbara goes to a language school to improve her English. She has to wait for the papers, the work permit, then the green card. During this time, she can not leave the USA, she can not work for the first few months. The two live in a studio apartment in Little Havana, the Cuban area of Miami. When Michael leaves for the ocean he gets up before sunrise, Barbara is alone all day. In the afternoon, when he comes back, exposed all day to the sea and the glowing sun, he must sleep. In the room there is no retreat - it is tight. In the evening he goes to the restaurant. The time is short. Barbara waits for her papers, she misses her daughters, but she can not go to Guatemala or Panama, because it would endanger the immigration process. The lawyer whom they have hired is expensive, to pay for him Michael must work a lot, but he is necessary for all the papers. The daily life is different from what they have imagined. "We developed a lot and I think we were very brave to start this relationship and love again," she says one year after her arrival in Miami. Barbara knew at that time that she wanted a change, but the beginning is very difficult. "I hated Miami. It is full of rich people from Latinamerica. They spend their money here and think they are Americans, but they are not. It is a very superficial world". More and more Barbara is getting used to the city, she understands how much it is influenced by Latin America. She discovers the areas, the different cultures, the music, the language. She feels more and more comfortable because she feels that she is part of it. With Michael, however, she realizes how different the two cultures are. His life is about his work, he works hard to earn his money, the American culture of "hire and fire" shocks her. There is no day off, no breathing, capitalism is everywhere.
Often she is desperate about the differences, they have little time together, no money and Miami is expensive. But she can’ t just leave, she has to wait for the papers, persist, be sensible, be smart - and despite all the differences, she loves him. After getting her work permit, Barbara begins to work as a management assistant in a restaurant, they move out of the small apartment into a small house, her daughters come for a few weeks to visit. Michael is still working very hard. Barbara also works a lot and on her two days off she is so tired that she hardly leaves the house. But she has plans. Soon she wants to open her own catering agency. Sometimes maybe a restaurant, but not in Miami. A little further north of Florida, where it is calmer, where Michael will be able tto catch the fish for the restaurant.
They still have little time for each other, the first year was difficult, it left its marks. „When I'm more powerful, things have to change“, she says. But she must not complain, she has to hold on. „Again life showed me, how important it is for a woman to have her own money. Money is power and women need money so they can make decisions about their lives.“
At some point when she is old, Barbara says, she wants to be a beautiful elderly woman sitting among her friends who come from all corners of the world. She wants to be well-read, always with a book in her hand. She wants to have enough money in the bank account so she doesn't have to worry. She wants to be close to her children, maybe have a few grandchildren ....
Being a strong woman is not easy, she tells me. A strong woman must be able to face her own fears and allow herself to overcome them, without ignoring them. A strong woman is completely herself, no matter what that means. „You can’t be strong and at the same time have a heart of stone, cool and chilled. Love is the most important thing.“ And she knows most people see love and passion as weakness. „ If you are aware of your feelings if you can feel, that makes you stronger. Most men feel weak when they talk about love. This is sad. Most men in my life told me, that I am crazy. Because I wanted to reach something because I wanted more love because I wouldn’t just accept how it is. But I always saw myself as very analytical. And now that I’m almost fifty years old, I’m coming to this conclusion, that I’m not crazy after all. Men are often so dysfunctional, incapable to see in the mirror, to live emotion. They are obsessive about their jobs, sport or their mothers and they blame you, that you are crazy because you want more. We still didn’t point out this problem.
We have to live with this concept of sisterhood, we have to support each other, this circle makes you strong. And the solution must always include love. We can be feminists and accept love at the same time.
* Barbara continues living and working in Miami. She received her temporary green card one year after her wedding.