Fighting for Happiness

By: Paola Granado

María Alexandra Pla, 47, mother of two kids and married to Jay Casalduc, currently lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She does not regrets making her hardest and greatest decision: leaving Italy and changing her future plans to move back to where she was born.

It was the beginning of a lonely and challenging chapter in her life to becoming the owner of Colonial Adventure Company and finding her true love. She was born on January 31, 1968 in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Her passion was to play tennis every day. At 17, she got the opportunity to travel in the summer to London to study English. In the English program she met an Italian soccer player with curly brown hair, blue eyes and a fit body.

“When I saw him I knew that something was going to happen. He was always near me and the way he looked at me was different, but he was eight years older. His name was Fabio Branchini,” María said.

Eventually they began a relationship and when she finished the English program and returned to Puerto Rico they wrote letters to each other talked on the phone. In December, Fabio came to visit her at Mayagüez and to meet her family. Later the next summer he invited her to Italy to meet his family.

“I was so nervous, but excited at the same time that I convinced my mother and father to take me to Italy. When we got to the house, it was like a small castle: so beautiful with many trees and mountains everywhere. My mother and father didn’t know Italian, but they just hugged and laughed when they first met their parents. It’s was hilarious, there connection without understanding the language,” María said.

When she finished high school her goal was to learn other languages and the opportunity to travel to different countries. Another motive to leave from Puerto Rico was to be near her boyfriend. She decided to study in Switzerland, Lugano.

When María arrived at college at age 17, she only knew her boyfriend. The first day at lunch she decided to sit in the back of the room to observe the scenario. Suddenly, she had the luck to hear someone talking in Spanish and met Alessandra Masnaghetti, who later on became her best friend. Alessandra was 5’2, brown hair, skinny and with a big nose. The first two to three weeks María was homesick and it was freezing cold, but at the same time the views to the lakes and mountains were spectacular.

Finishing her freshman year Fabio and María broke up. Alessandra and María became roommates. On the weekends they took the train to go to Milan for shopping and walk around the city and drink coffee. Other weekends they went skiing to the Alps or to play tennis. They made many academic trips to Southern France, Austria, Italy and Greece.

María introduced Alessandra to her Arabic friend, Bassem Jamour. He was 6’2, brown skin, black hair and with a big nose,” María said. Alessandra and Bassem eventually began a relationship, but it was a secret relationship because she was Jewish and both of their families will never allow them to go out because of their conflicts in religion. When the mother of Alessandra came to visit her, she had to lie telling her mother that Bassem was María’s boyfriend.

Alessandra’s mother never suspected anything until one day that she decided to make a surprise visit and found Bassem in the apartment of her daughter. “My mother was so mad that she forced me to leave school and move to another college in Genève, Switzerland without being able to contact him for a year,” Alessandra said.

When they finished college Fabio contacted María and they got back together. María had the choice to move back to Puerto Rico or go to Italy to be with Fabio. She decided to move with him and get married, but it was difficult for an American citizen to work in Italy. Alessandra was still in love with Bassem and María helped them meet again. When Bassem and Alessandra graduated from college they arranged to meet in London and take a flight to Montreal, Canada.

“I was late arriving in London. I almost lost my connecting flight and my meeting point with Bassem. Finally when I arrived at the plane Bassem, the passengers and crewmembers cheered,” Alessandra said.

The summer that María moved with Fabio she felt that her world was falling apart and she had to change all her plans in order to be happy. María said, “he was too immature for me because he was always following the footsteps of his mother and not making his own decisions. She grabbed her belongings, cancelled the wedding and went to Madrid, Spain to visit her sister and to clear her mind before going back to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

María managed to move on by finding a job in the Caribe Hilton Hotel as a Club Executive Supervisor until she built her own company and finally married. Alessandra is currently living in Monaco with her husband Bassem and their two kids. She works as a business consulter. Alessandra’s mother after 10 years realized that her daughter happiness’s can go beyond any religion or culture and asked Bassem to forgive her.

María is on the right and Alessandra is on the left, this picture was taken when they where studying in Switzerland.

María is on the right and Alessandra is on the left, this picture was taken when they where studying in Switzerland.

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