Monday, January 16, 2017

Humans are messy
Well, sometimes things do get complicated. While I was trying to decipher Jennifer's phone call to see if her baby Wisdom was truly in an emergency health situation or just suffering from a little virus, and what I could possibly do from miles away with no cash on me, I was also coming down with that kind of head cold that gives you a migraine headache. Jennifer had been to the doctor already that day, and it turned out she was in a position to have Cool's brother Ehis run to a 24 hour pharmacy with 30 euros. So she really did not need emergency assistance. In that phone call she demanded money and was not polite about it. Of course, her son was vomitting and she was worried.

Then today I got a text message from her unwanted roommate and sister-in-law, Mamma Freedom, saying that if God could forgive her husband for not being a perfect human, why couldn't I? So I had to explain to her that Stanley's rudeness for me is already forgiven, if not forgotten. She said he was a young boy who still has a lot to learn. I told her that she has me confused with someone petty. I don't have to like people to help them, but none of them are in the six person group that we promised to help. It is just a fact. She proceeded to ask me for about a thousand euros worth of home furnishings and other things and said I had to do right by her baby. I did ask for donations on their behalf, but I am not about to buy those things outright for them. The house they want to move into temporarily is not in good standing and may be foreclosed by the bank. She has not gotten permission to move in there from the owners, and at the moment it has no heating system. I told her that she had to have a better plan before she goes around looking for investors. Then I had to tell Cool, Jennifer's husband and Mamma Freedom's brother-in-law, that if his family doesn't learn how to make polite requests, I won't be taking their calls in the future.

I had a direct conversation with each of them, and I set some ground rules. Helping is not all being a saint and getting thanked and all that bullshit. Helping is hard. Especially in this desperate situation. I hope I can bring light onto what the refugees are living with and that I do not have to try to solve these issues alone. In a little more than one year's time, I will move on and I hope that they will be in a better position to do so, as well.

I can't help thinking that Donna Galeno, my old supervisor from when I was an embarressing wreck, interning at the homelessness department of the Red Cross, would be proud of me. She tried to teach me this stuff about how important it is to be distant enough to see things clearly, to have your own life first, and to not be so wedded to a problem, that you wouldn't want to see it solved. I was too young and too messed up to practice what she preached when I was in my twenties. But I get it now. Trust me, Donna, I want this problem solved. Proven by the fact that this is not my career; it is just a kind of shitty, but noble hobby. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Moving Again  
Today F met Eltion at the Brico which is like the Italian Home Depot to get kitchen pipes for Job and Tina's new house. They also moved the furniture from Montecatini to Pescia. 

Job and Emmanuel putting up the curtains


I had to meet with the family of a new student, but afterwards F picked me up, and we scooped up Tina and baby Peace to buy a rug from a Nigerian shop. The guy would not bargain at all. We had to pay full price for it and tie it to the roof of the car.

 Then we went to IKEA an hour before closing time. Peace decided she was going to cry her face off because she got hungry and was overtired. We had to pull over on the edge of the highway for Tina to nurse her. She rode on Tina's back through the whole IKEA in Florence. Tina looked at every wardrobe and frowned. Her dream was to have three doors and two closet rods so that she and Job wouldn't fight over closet space. F is such an IKEA pro by now that he found a way to save money by combining all of the Swedish parts from like six different model wardrobes. We then tied that to the roof and set out to the new place. When we got there Emmanuel told me that he doesn't sleep anymore from fear of being deported and not getting to get to be with his son outside of Nigeria. He still won't tell me why he wants to stay in the old house, which no longer has working heat, instead of moving to Pescia, where Job will need to get roommates to afford the rent by anyway. Begging for a full day who don't make much more than 20 euros, so it takes teamwork. 

those cheeks, though!

I had a really unpleasant phone call from Stanley, baby Freedom's father. He told me that I had to pay for him to move to Tina and Job's old house; but that it was not good enough for him anyway; after all Tina and Job are leaving it; and he wanted to follow my instructions but. . . I stopped him right there. I had to explain that he is not part of the group of six. His brother Cool is. Cool has to decide how to share what he has between all his brothers. I also told him that any economic help we dole out does not come with instructions. We might offer some advice, but they are grown adults and can take it or not. He hung up on me. I feel really badly that we can't help everyone, but this group was really supposed to be a way for us to offer primarily translation help and access to lawyers and doctors, when possible. We have ended up spending a lot of money on folks, and sometimes we have to say no.

While we were at IKEA, Jennifer called to say Wisdom was sick. I asked if he had been to the doctor, and she said yes. She said that there were medicines to buy. She called after all regular pharmacies are closed and we were not in her city. Cool called soon after to say Wisdom had a fever. His precise words were that he was burning up. I told them to text me the names of the medicines, so that we could go to the 24 hour pharmacy. Jennifer said, give me 30 euros because Cool's brother has gone to the pharmacy already. Then she, too, hung up on me. By this point, between us F and I didn't have twenty cents in our pockets, as I gave our last 20 cents to the parking attendant at IKEA to make sure we weren't going to die by means of falling wardrobe on the way home.

The night before, we went to T's class' exhibition on madness in art and literature. T did the music soundtrack to the exhibition, and the music -- Bowie, the Ramones, Joy Division, Pink Floyd, Madness -- was the best part. It was part of the notte bianca, when the school stays open until midnight and all the kids do shows and tours, some of them in medieval garb. 

T's school is so weird

This guy was going on about rules and timetables, but I got him to escort me to the classroom anyhow. It told him it was very cavaliere of him! My bilingual jokes slay me!

me embarrassing T

I got F to photoshop the above photo. T did not appreciate our sense of humor. At all. So I sent it to F's student Giacomo, who is a boy in her class. I forgot they had school on Saturday for a moment. He announced proudly, "T's mom is sending me photos!" Aint I a stinker?

Life can't get any weirder for us . ..

Friday, January 13, 2017

Faith restored, along with Peace, Wisdom, and Freedom
This week, to recap for those just joining us in 2017, we helped Emmanuel keep his appointment at the police station to renew his permesso. My dream will always be to reunite Emmanuel with his five year old son Precious who he left in Nigeria, not knowing that his pregnant wife would die just as he got on the boat.
We helped Cool renew his permesso, paid the fees, which are crazy high for a refugee with no job to manage on his own. We also paid to renew his passport. We also paid off many months of electric bills because he is trying to care for not just his wife and child, but those of his four brothers who he feels responsible for because he had encouraged them to follow him from Nigeria to Tuscany.
Wisdom driving his Christmas present!
Cool's wife Jennifer
It turns out we are also helping Eltion, our fix-it man, who is from Albania, because he is also an immigrant with great economic difficulties, because even though he isn't cheap, he does answer the call and have a lot of skilled friends from plumbers to electricians to heater repair people. 
We are furnishing and moving the new apartment for Job, and Tina, and baby Peace tomorrow. 
Tina and Peace
We are going to pay the deposit for a new apartment for Paul, if he can ever get his work contract renewed, and manages to find a cheap place near the restaurant, where we found him a job washing dishes. He is going to get kicked out of his current place when the American who owns it returns. Meanwhile, he has no heat other than a space heater we found him. He washes by boiling water on the stove. This week I ordered him one of those heat retaining, waterproof jumpsuits. He is very sick with a chest cold. I have taught the whole group my remedy of apple cider vinegar with honey in hot tea to clear them up until we can get them all to the doctor.
My faith is restored in humanity because my landlord acknowledged that I should not have been threatened by the hot water repair guys the first time around, and the new technicians, a plumber and a heater guy who have been friends for twenty years, backed up my story about how awful the guys from that other company are. That said, the only way to stop our heat from going out was to put a plastic canister under the heater to catch the acid drip which was turning back on itself and blowing out the pilot light every week or so for the last year. As a New Yorker who does not understand medieval heating systems -- this was paramount to the moment in a Scooby Doo cartoon when the crazy kids pull the ghost mask off the bad guy at the end of the episode. Phhheww!
I am. p.s. so tired, that my eye lashes hurt when I blink. But at least I know that we are fighting the good fight for ...
FREEDOM I will say it again, why the ca--o/f--k do these good people have to suffer the indignity of living outside the law when they are not clandestine immigrants and they were given stay permits? Why do they have to beg on the streets to survive? It makes no damn sense.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Half a Post
Why should you get a whole post, when we can't get anything all the way done? Just kidding, but also not.
I have told you about the minimum two time rule, that in Italy you must go back a minimum of two times to any given office to get any bureaucratic thing done. I don't mean this is a gross frat boy way, but, here, no does not always mean no.

That said, Emmanuel got credit for showing up at his appointment at the questura/police station, but he has to keep another appointment next month before they will fingerprint him and give him a stay permit. Meanwhile, the judge has not entered a sentence so we don't know for how long or if he will ever have international protection. In essence, the police officers got homemade gorgonzola bread as a Pavlovian sense memory treat so that they will remember us next time we come and need a favor. 

Our car got half fixed. The mechanics said that they would fix it tomorrow. 

Our hot water heater got half fixed. The plumber said he would come back next week with the right tools and parts. I know that sounds like a porno. 

My lessons at the paper company got half done. I still have another full day tomorrow. Today I yelled at a man because he said that knowing how to use commas in English would not dramatically change his life. Um menopause. 

Tina has me so stressed about how she can't move to the new apartment in Pescia without a wardrobe being in place before Saturday that I actually pulled several muscles in my chest. 

And also, 

hee hee.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Technical Difficulties
This is the dinner T cooked us while F was gone. Don't look at me like that! It is good for her to learn these skills ..

This is how pathetic my New Year's was. It looks like I am solo during a drone attack. I was actually thrilled because I didn't hear even one electronic disco beat the whole night!

It is so great to have F home. Tuscany is officially cold, for Tuscany, at the moment. And in the most Italian way possible, this means everything breaks at once. 

We went to buy Job and Tina a stove for their new house. They didn't tell us the house was missing a stove; I guess they just assumed we would get them one. Of course, the car didn't start. F asked Stanley and Paul to give the car a push, but it didn't work. We then paid a taxi driver to do us the decency of lending us a cable. Even though the car started, it kept stalling out. F tried to keep the car in motion as I hopped out to buy the stove, and after that we found a mechanic to change the battery. The car still keeps stalling at slow speeds, so F will have to bring it back to the regular mechanic midweek. I hope we can still keep the lawyer appointments before then because Cool and Emmanuel are counting on us. 

We were a bit disappointed that Ezekiel asked us for more money for the job that we got him out of kindness. We paid him a generous amount, and we really didn't need his help to fix up Job and Tina's place. They are going to move in despite the fact that we know there are problems with the roof because the agent and the landlord were not smart enough to work with us in a cooperative way. They were defensive and denied, denied, denied. Therefore, we aren't going to put money towards solving the problems, which are clearly structural and their responsibility. The idea was just that Ezekiel could team up with Eltion who has the truck, team of specialists, and the certification that Ezekiel lacks; but that Ezekiel could get him access to the Nigerian community of clients in Montecatini. 

Cool goes around looking like a drowning man because he owes 700 euros in Enel bills. Stanley's wife Tina isn't helping matters because she uses a space heater that is really expensive in his spare room, and Stanley doesn't pay as much rent as Cool could get from a non-family member. She called at 8:15 this Sunday morning to ask for money for pampers and to know if I would take her to the doctor for the baby. He is throwing up, but I think it may be that I didn't teach her how to burp the baby, and no one has given her that piece of advice. She and Jennifer take turns stressing me out, so I have had to make some rules and put some boundaries in place. Mamma Peace is the only one who ever calls just to talk. And Emmanuel calls just to hear my voice sometimes, so I feel like the relationships are less about money with them.

Emmanuel is depressed because a woman who helped raise him and Job died in Nigeria, and he did not get to say goodbye to her. Job did go visit last time he was there, but he came home to Italy sick from drinking the water. Paul is about to lose his house sometime this month, and it is next to impossible to find affordable housing near the restaurant. 

When we got home from the mechanic, I discovered that our f--king hot water heater was broken. The regular technician has not answered the phone all week. The only other company authorized for this machine are those men who verbally attacked me last time, and they were unskilled crooks at best. Our landlord said he could have them come. I tried for two other of my contacts from helping the African group in Montecatini, but they both couldn't promise, although Eltion's guy, who was moving house that day, still called at the day's end to make sure I was okay! We were lucky because by using our landlord's name, we got the boss of the nasty company to come. He was lovely and cleaned the machinery enough to get us through a Saturday night. A broken hot water heater always happens on a Saturday in Italy. It is like they know that you will be screwed until Monday or possibly Tuesday, shaking in your frozen shoes. I was stressed to the point that I practically hid under the bed, until that episode was over. 

I don't think The New York Times or Jim Yardley is ever going to write the story of this group of people because despite the fact that these people are in a situation that could happen to anyone --they have to move because there land gets too dangerous-- and now find that they must live as virtual outlaws and beg for money on the streets to survive is not dramatic enough to deserve coverage. They don't live in tents and they are not covered with flies, but when they go to "work" they bring a cap and a cup with them to get people's spare change and are attacked when they don't gather enough rent and utilities and pampers money as irresponsible, do-nothings. Some weeks I just can't.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

When the cat's away ...            
the mice don't drink coffee. 
Yes, well, F went to California to have a memorial service for his mother Anna. He is getting to spend time with his sister, and they are very busy sorting out, packing up, and sharing memories. Since he has been gone, T and I have been fending for ourselves. F is the coffee guy in our family and the cook and he does the lion's share of household stuff, if we're being honest. Unfortunately, T and I have quite the caffeine addictions, and so morning is what I can only describe as truly unpleasant. T tried valiantly that first night, but neither of us could wrench open the two parts of the old fashioned moka coffee maker that F's giant hands had welded together. We found a bigger model, and so T decided to give that a try. It seemed like a good plan, but she hadn't noticed that it was still attached to a plastic heating unit when she put it on the electric burners, where it promptly melted into some goo that I have yet to scrub off the stove top. There was also a medium sized moka pot. I know this is starting to sound very Goldilocks and the three bears, but the medium pot was not just right because its top didn't match its bottom and to make a long story short, T and I briefly considered cannibalism or a solution of the Greek tragedy variety, but it passed.
The very next morning I thought I would try to regain some of T's completely lost respect for me as a resourceful human. I stumbled out into the street, while T was still in bed, with a moka pot in my frozen little hands. Luckily, Ezekiel was out there in his usual spot in front of the ortofrutta. He opened it for me in two seconds flat, and as a thank you I treated him to a coffee at the cafe around the corner. Job and Cool and his brother Ehis showed up after that so I treated them to coffee, as well, because my empathy for the caffeine deprived was at a life time high. 
Poor F almost missed his connection from Paris to Detroit, and then did, indeed, miss his flight from Detroit to L.A. He had to sleep in an airport hotel. His sister Regan put these photos up on FB, so I feel like I can steal them. 
family tree research
Anna's church
Indian food
jet lagged to the max
Virtually every member of the refugee group has called to check on me (sweet!) and to make me aware of numerous unpleasant issues such as broken things, unpaid for things, a death of a loved one in Nigeria, and lots of stuff like that. I have a new plan for getting jobs for the men and it involves "incentives," which is my nice way of saying something slightly less legal. 
Behind the scenes I am trying to arrange for Eltion and Nino and Ezekiel to get the new apartment in move in condition tomorrow, despite the fact that the water and electricity isn't turned on yet, and we have yet to arrange for the stove delivery.
I also spoke to Emmanuel's lawyers today, but it seems that his sentence from the judge hasn't been issued yet. Until we have the sentence, no one can get to work making a new request for his international protection. Next week we have permessos to get for Cool and Emmanuel, and that can mean only one thing: It is time for F to make some of his famous gorgonzola sourdough bread for the immigration police.
Can I just say that my quality of life has improved three-fold by giving a Christmas cupcake to the postal worker. Now she is so nice to me! For the six months leading up to now, she did nothing short of shoot lasers at me with her eyes, snort, and be exasperated with me no matter how fast I tried to fly down the six flights of stone stairs. 
T had fun at this New Year's birthday party, and then, today, she went with a group from the party to Pisa to check out the Dali exhibit. Tomorrow she has a class trip to Florence, even though it is still vacation time. Basically, she has a few new friends from the class above hers. They are older, obviously, and more mature. After four years spending day in and day out with the same small class, it mixes things up in a good way. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Bringing Freedom Home (literally)
Today we brought Freedom home from the hospital. 


Stanley looks a bit like Sidney Poitier, no?

the obstetrics tree

you know you've made it in Italy, when the administrative lady boss behind this door kisses you on both cheeks!

Freedom is so much tinier than I remembered from when he emerged in real time.

He weighs just about 5.5 pounds.

His feet are ridiculously long.

super long feet!

I am still trying to mind plant that Stanley and Mamma Freedom should move into Job and Mamma Peace's old house and that Emmanuel should move out with Peace, but I am not that powerful. Although I did help to bring Freedom into the world. Not bragging, but bragging.

Let it be known, that, despite everything, Freedom was born in 2016.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Squad Goals
For my birthday we watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi and I discovered that my very favorite thing is Oreos buried in whipped cream

Our mission today was to make a construction team out of my Romanian angel man Eltion (remember when I went around calling him Elpion? Well, that was wrong) and Ezekiel. If you don't remember Ezekiel he is a guy who went to prison for begging on the streets when his permesso di soggiorno was expired. Since then he has had the good fortune to marry an Italian woman named Alessia and they are expecting a baby in March. He is a very sweet guy. And he knows how to fix stuff. My idea is that because Eltion has his own team, including this sweet little Sicilian guy named Nino, a truck, a certificate, and tools, he could team up with Ezekiel who has access to all the African people's houses in Montecatini. It worked wonderfully. 

new livingroom

new kitchen

new bathroom

We took Job and Ezekiel in our car to Job's new house that was paid for with the donation my mom left for them. It is actually a beautiful space. It just needs a little work. We got an estimate from Eltion and Nino, figured out that the current landlord is not going to fix anything that she promised to fix -- although when I spoke to her again just now she was quite lovely and pleased that we were going to take care of it -- and then we make a plan. The plan involved F and I going to the Home Depot of Italy which is called, for some weird reason, Leroy Merlin and buying the materials. To make sure Ezekiel didn't get cut out we left all the materials with him, which will also ensure him a ride to the work site next week. They should be able to get the house ready in less than two days. We also priced the cheapest oven to be delivered and sent Job to open up all the accounts for the new house's gas, water, and electricity. I had a long talk with Emmanuel, in which I tried again to convince him to move to this new house. I, personally, think that Stanley and Momma Freedom should move in as soon as Job and Mamma Peace move out.

Ezekiel taking it all in

Eltion and Nino

this happened.

bilingual wizard championship

In the midst of everything, I had to explain to the owner of Job and Tina's old house that I could not meet her this morning. She missed us by one hour and I had the excuse of F's return to America to soften the blow. She came with a present for baby Peace and a newly amenable attitude, but I don't want to have to deal with her anymore because she is a lot of work. I will just stay on top of Job to pay his rent at this new house so we won't have that kind of unpleasantness again. 

Mamma Peace was running a fever, so we had to run to the pharmacy for her, where we had to buy diaper cream for Peace in any event. 

just chillin . . brrrr

I was very stressed that Cool reported that there is no heat or hot water at his house. I asked Eltion if he would kindly talk to Cool's landlord to explain why he needs to pay for a new hot water heater, but the landlord is not picking up the phone for them. Tomorrow we need to take baby Freedom home to that house from the hospital. When I called an hour ago, Jennifer reported that the heat was back on. I doubt I have a black hair left on my head. Worrying as a tool for preparedness seems to only work half the time and the rest of the time it is useless, but I can't for the life of me figure out when it pays off so I continue to annoy myself.