by Lara Aqel (American University)
IT'S INCREDIBLE how time can pass so quickly in a place that takes things so slow. After four weeks in Cagli, I am going home in four days.

I can’t reconcile how simultaneously I can feel like I JUST GOT HERE! and I KNOW THIS PLACE.

Maybe Cagli is just one of those places that is really easy to know…

Watching the men embrace each other in the piazza, watching how they interacted with the native females, not comprehending the inside jokes being exchanged in Italian between them, I came to realize last night that growing up in Cagli is like growing up in a thousand-member household. The walls that line the cobblestone streets don’t separate buildings and lives, but rather divide the rooms in one huge house, rooms whose doors are kept wide open.

While I can’t help but feel like an outsider wistfully looking in, I know that I am welcome here. I know it because I feel it in my bones whenever a familiar Italian face flashes me a genuine smile. I know it because I can flash a genuine one back.

Today I think about how different Cagli is from Washington, DC, and Wayne, NJ, the two places on Earth where I am most likely to be. Good food is valued in all three places, but here in Cagli, the idea behind the meal matters more than what you end up ingesting. Good food is important because it brings all the people you care about around the same table, which is ultimately what is most important. Italians, like all pack animals, bond over food. I may have a sit-down dinner with my family once a week during the three months in the summer I’m home. Here in Cagli, that would be sacrilege.

When I first came here, I wondered who would stay in a town like this. Visit, sure, Cagli’s not without its charm. But stay? After being born and raised here? I thought that people my age must book it the first chance they got. In the interest of sanity.

But now, after four weeks as a foreigner, albeit a welcome one, I understand that a sense of belonging just can’t be beat sometimes. I think I’m ready to go home.