Interview to Nestor Kolie

Actor, worker, political sciences student: Nestor Kolie tells us about all the new starts he’s made. And his passion for Fiorella Mannoia…

An insistent buzzword in recent years, “resilience” comes from physics and indicates the property whereby certain metals regain their original shape after yielding under impact. Someone is resilient when they find reason to be happy amidst adversity: turning pain into a resource is a mighty change of perspective and helps you take your life in hand and set it moving in the direction you want.

Nestor Kolie, who looks after guest reception at LUME, was taught resilience by the last 20 years. And politics, his great passion. Here’s his story.

Nestor’s first encounter with Italy was in the ‘90s, in the African country of Guinea, where he was born. He had finished university and was young actor when he discovered the commedia dell’arte, a form of theatre that originated in Italy around the 16th century, and was bowled over by it. “I immediately fell in love with the vivacity of the masks, their lightness, the actors’ brilliant improvisations. In Guinea at the time the theatre was prevalently dramatic and based on hard-hitting, very painful stories about the colonial period. The comic nature of Italian theatre bewitched me,” he recalls with a smile. Aged 30, Nestor went to Limoges for the annual “Francophonie en Limousin”, the famous francophone theatre festival that celebrates all art forms in French speaking countries, and especially those in Africa. It’s 1995 and Nestor decides to move to Italy, Milan, with a dream of pursuing his theatre career here. But nothing goes as planned: Nestor has problems finding a place to live, a job; the language barrier doesn’t help and his savings dwindle day by day till in the end he goes to a “reception centre”. But he doesn’t lose heart and manages to find a job in a factory in Pieve Emanuele that produces safety harnesses. “I must say I was lucky too: a month after I arrived, they approved the Dini decree, which legalized 244,000 foreigners in Italy. Over 20 years have passed and by now I can call myself Milanese!” he says breaking into uproarious laughter.

But this isn’t enough for Nestor, who’s built up a family in the meantime, so he decides to go back to studying again, to get a high school diploma. He goes to evening classes after work. “I finished work at 5 pm and at 6 I was at my school desk, with lessons till 11. Then I went home, had dinner with the family and did a few more hours of study, in the middle of the night.”

Nestor gets his diploma but it’s still not enough. Nestor now goes to university. Faculty? Political sciences.
“I love politics: it attracts me because it ought to be the natural terrain for dialogue and discussion to overcome prejudice and preconceptions. It should teach us this: that there is an account of reality for every point of view. There shouldn’t be any rock-solid certainties: everything can change if there’s dialogue. Understanding politics is understanding the world, and understanding oneself better too. Politics is also disillusion at times: promises are broken, trust is betrayed and this teaches us to be ready for disappointments in life. Unfortunately, dishonesty is innate in human relationships, we ought to expect it and learn to defend ourselves. This doesn’t mean not having faith in people: I like to be open in dealings with my neighbour, but not blindly. Politics has been my school of life: it has taught me to keep an open mind, and take punches. I’ve seen loads of changes in my life: I think I’m an adaptable person, I love my capacity to respond to adversity by rolling my sleeves up. In my home country, Guinea, political events have sometimes led to trouble. This is because people can’t accept defeat, as they can in Europe. Politics teaches you this too, it teaches you how to lose and not be afraid of changing.”

The second change in Nestor’s life came three years ago when he was 50 and the factory where he had worked a lifetime shut down for good. “I could have sat on a sofa and felt sorry for myself but once again I decided to take my life in hand,” he says. Having lost his job, Nestor can’t sign up for his 2nd or 3rd year at university, but this doesn’t stop him studying and he listens in on all the lessons while he looks for a new job. This is how he reaches LUME, and then manages to pick up university again. “I’ve been working at LUME for around a year. They made me feel so welcome here. I like being with people, I learn so much. I’d never worked in this sort of restaurant before and when customers arrive, I always try be up to the task. Besides, it’s always the first impression that counts and such a lot depends on how you’re received. My experience in the theatre was very useful to me in this job: on the stage I had to understand, win over the audience; here I have to understand and win over people in an instant. People may be diffident about handing their car over to a stranger, especially if it’s an expensive model. So you have to be reassuring and show your professionalism.”

What does the future hold for Nestor? He has another dream: after graduating and when he’s retired, he’d like to go back to Guinea and teach kids. Become a teacher, to make the difference in someone’s life. What would he tell his pupils about Italy? “That it’s a great country,” he answers with a smile, “that taught me to be humble, and improve my lot. Always. Italy won my heart with its theatre, when I came across it for the first time, by chance, in Guinea. Then with its food and music. I adore Italian music! I’d be hard put to choose a favourite singer: I like Laura Pausini, Gianna Nannini, Zucchero and… Fiorella Mannoia! I can’t describe the emotion I feel when I listen to her songs! This is what I hope to teach to my kids: the value of beauty and the importance if being open-minded about the world.”