The real estate agent from Bergamo, originally from Senegal, has decided to bet everything on a profession that to her is a synonym of personality and elegance. Just like the most Milanese part of her heart. Even if she is currently in quarantine at her home in the province of Bergamo, at the centre of this new Covid-19 stressful emergency.
Khady Diouf should have given a presentation at the event “New citizens meet Milan” organized by NRW in the context of the Civil Week, suspended and postponed due to Coronavirus. After speaking with her on the phone, I meet her gaze on Skype. Khady Diouf talks to me from Romano di Lombardia, where she has lived since 2006. That year, she and her three brothers and sisters arrived in Italy to join their father in the province of Bergamo. They came from Kaolack, one of the most important port cities of Senegal and the main city of the homonymous region, which Khady remembers only as a small town. Normally, she travels daily from the province of Bergamo to Milan for work.
“When people see me come with the estate agent for whom I work, they stare at me. They look at the scarf that covers my hair, at my face and I can read the surprise in their eyes: “are you the person I spoke to on the phone when I made the appointment?” “Yes, it’s me”.
Before becoming the assistant of a real estate agent, Khady Diouf worked as a room maid in a hotel. “I started high school late. When I arrived, I struggled with Italian and my classmates at middle school were not very helpful. At a certain point I went to work. I did seasonal work in Venice where some of my relatives live. I was a room maid for five of six years. Yet, it was a lot of work and the pay was low. So, I decided to change and I began sending my CV around”.
Diouf is only 26, but she is smart. So, she didn’t start looking for any job, sending the same email to thousands of contacts. She focused on the real estate sector.
I saw a real estate agent on a TV show. He had a strong personality and I liked the way he spoke and his elegance. I had many job interviews but some people told me my hijab owuld put clients off. Then I arrived at Remax.
Khady tells me about the explanation she was given for not being hired using a matter of fact tone, staring at me through the screen. With the same neutral tone she tells me about being bullied by her classmates in middle school. “I was the only Black student and they had fun throwing me to the ground saying things like ‘Khady, be careful or you might fall’. Back then, I didn’t speak Italian well and I didn’t know how to defend myself. I have an older brother who started coming to pick me up every day from school and so that’s how it ended”.
She rarely lowers her gaze, and the only time I fail to make myself understood – and she becomes wary -is when I ask her whether as a pretty young woman of colour she has had any issues with her clients.
“I mostly stay in the office. If I go out, being an assistant, someone always comes with me. It doesn’t happen very often, but if someone is rude towards me, I stay calm and I don’t argue. I am not interested in this”.
What she likes most about her work are the future opportunities. “I haven’t worked here long, it’s just been four months. But I would like to become an agent and open my own office in Senegal”. I ask her why Senegal and not Milan or Bergamo, where she lives, and she replies that she would like to export the model of the agency to Senegal to give her people jobs. “Because immigration stems from the fact that there is no work in one’s own country. But if there was work, one would stay”.
Although it is difficult now to imagine when a public initiative like “New citizens tell about Milan” could take place, I still ask her about her favourite place in the city.
And she answers just like the greatest of the estate agents: Milano 2.
“There was a day, a few months ago, when I felt particularly low and the broker I work with took me to a place I didn’t know. That became my favourite place in Milan. I liked everything about it: the green landscape, the small lake, the avenues, the red brick houses. And there, I got my will to work back”. A will that unfortunately remains temporarily suspended, for her and her fellow citizens from Bergamo, tormented by a new outbreak of the epidemic.
Translated by Olga Plyaskina