Sunday, October 23, 2016

Buying our lottery tickets  
I was pretty beaten down when I got the email from our champion lawyer at Caritas, saying that even though we managed to get Emmanuel his hospitality letter, we are still missing a pile of papers from yet a third lawyer that he had while he was at the refugee camp. Making matters worse, she said that if he lost his appeal, we can't even bother to try to get him a stay permit/permesso. That would mean all the work we did was for nothing. I wrote lawyer number two who is working on the appeal. He told me that the hearing is for the end of this month, and the decision won't be known for a month after that. I asked him what we should do; and I quickly did an internet search to find the phone number of the third lawyer, so that he could kindly please please please get the missing papers from the appeal. The one ray of hope is that he can file for some kind of fancy, Italian do-over to put in a new plea for Italy to keep him here. I then had to give him the news. He was in an up mood and said that he is a believer and thinks that God will give him a miracle. He asked me if I was a believer. I said, honey, I do believe, but I also want to make sure you've heard the one about God and the man who prayed and prayer to win the lottery. God finally got frustrated and hollered at the man, how do you expect me to have you win the lottery, if you never buy a ticket? You are most likely going to lose the appeal hearing, and you have to know that, but then we are going to pray our pants off that you get a fresh start. So please, Emmanuel, go buy yourself a lottery ticket, abeg?

Giving out the autographs . .

Tina got all dressed up, she is a knock out by nature, but when she gets done up she is breathtaking, and brought Peace into town on the train to show her off. We handed off the vaccines and all the resumes and doctors' notes to her and Job and Stanley. We met up with Monica at the famous Giusti bakery who has been very generous to Tina, letting her ask for money outside the bakery and frequently giving her donations of baby things and the like. As we stood in the street, people came up to touch Peace and adore her like she was a Disney princess in Orlando. She looks just like her mother. I have never seen anything like it. 

I don't get out much . . .

This is what Italians looks like when they have to hear me speak ..

Barbara, Jack and Courtney at Satura

Last night we went out to dinner at the restaurant where Paul is washing dishes with Courtney and her dad Jack, Elena and Angelo, Barbara and Alessandro. I don't go around calling people a hoot, but Courtney's dad is a hoot. He has dozens of very esoteric interests that he is passionate about, and he has my undying respect for the fact that he follows through. On all of them! Even though we were the weirdest common denominator between all of the friends there were enough cross over interests to keep the bilingual conversations going. Paul was thrilled to see us, and I did my best to up his kitchen cred with the two other members of his work team, both of which were super sweet guys. 

I got home to find out we have a chance of getting a quote from Elizabeth Lesser, if Elisabetta Povoledo ever comes to write about the group. I'm buying myself a lottery ticket. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Panic attack

Che ansia! Mamma mia! It is bad enough that every year we beg our pharmacist to give us the flu shot because we don't want to make appointments with the family doctor to sit in the waiting room full of sickies for ages until he gives us the shot. You can buy boxes of the flu vaccine from the pharmacy. It is only free for the elderly, children, and pregnant women. Last year we just administered them ourselves; but then as soon as we get the achy arms or the little fevers, I worry that we did it wrong and have moments left to live. I feel better throwing the responsibility of it all on Dott.ssa Elvira.

This year it is one million times worse because of the refugee group. Many of them don't have health cards or doctors. I can't afford to get every refugee I know a flu shot, but for our group and their children and in-laws we ended up buying ten boxes. I was going to administer it myself, but then I read about the waivers you should sign and the legal responsibility and the possible allergies and I thought better of it. On the other hand, I am awake at nights worrying that I will be spending all night long in disgusting emergency rooms with feverish babies and adults wondering why I didn't just get them the vaccine.

F went to the pharmacy and had a less than successful conversation in Italian where he was neither sure he had bought the most effective version of the vaccine nor that Dott.ssa Elvira would be available. To be fair I still speak the worst Italian that I can speak at that pharmacy because Dott.ssa Elvira is a little deaf and so there is a delay and a lack of supportive head nodding on her part.

I went back with Paul on his work break and we got our shots. It turns out Paul is afraid of needles. I went first. F is going back after his last student of the day. We bought out the store and have to pick up the rest of the boxes tomorrow. The plan is that the members of the group who want the vaccine and who have doctors will bring their friends and show them the pre-bought boxes and get the doctors to admister the vaccines or we will take them to a pharmacist I know who might be just weird enough to administer them for us. 

T would not go to get the vaccine because insert excuse here, and so we have to administer hers at home. I hate it. This is so stressful!

Today my four hour English class was spent having students give oral presentations in preparation for their TRINITY English exams. They will have to have a conversation with a teacher from the TRINITY test and also present a topic that they have prepared ahead of time. The level of reluctance to speak was pretty epic. It made me sad that so many Italians have so much shame about actually speaking English, as opposed to doing grammar exercises in their books. I think it was a positive experience today. I hope it was. I loved how when I said we would create a non judgemental and supportive atmosphere, one woman told me in a very sincerely, well I still feel judged. By us? I asked. She looked me dead in the eyes and said, By myself. Well, that's some honesty right there.

I have organized a dinner at Paul's restaurant like I promised him, with six other people, to make him look good and to spread the word about our group, hopefully in 48 hours from now I will be able to enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Do OVER!  
Yesterday pretty much sucked. At dinner time I was skyping with the landlords of the house in Montecatini, begging them to write a hospitality letter for Emmanuel so that he could renew his permesso. They agreed, but did not send the papers until after midnight. I did not sleep well. We got Emmanuel and had a later start than we would have liked. We didn't know that Mondays are the worst day to try to get business done at the police station in Montecatini, or that they had a new policy which decrees that foreigners must wait outside in the cold for the three hours that they do business in the morning. While Emmanuel and I waited in line, I defended our place in line by chatting with absolutely everyone. I charmed some and annoyed the absolute crap out of others. I defended us from people who wanted to jump ahead, and I assigned everyone a number, given that there was no numbered ticket machine. F took Jennifer to go baby food and diaper shopping, while I was out in the humid chilly air, shivering and shaking. After three hours, we finally got to see the officer and she pointed out that my dear husband had misprinted the date on the document, rendering it invalid. It probably would not have mattered because she upped the ante, saying that she wanted only original documents, something impossible to do when the landlords live in Albania, and also the landlord's passport, which we didn't have. It was not fun.

Day 1, Questura of Montecatini

Day 2, the early bird gets the worm!

This morning we woke up at the crack of crack. Actually, I woke up at 4 AM because F was stress talking in his sleep. I checked the email only to find that the landlord did not send her passport. I did not get back to sleep until 5 AM. Today we were smart. We met Emmanuel on line, he got there second. We chatted away with crazy number one, who arrived even before we did. I was sad I didn't bring cookies for all our friends from yesterday who showed back up to join the party. They also needed different, better, other papers to state their cases. Today the officer was in a lovely mood. She let us leave the line to make a copy that was missing and stamped the hospitality letter with a flourish. I don't know why. Maybe getting there earlier, you get the police when they are fresher. Maybe she just enjoys a good power trip. It doesn't matter, because, honestly, she was in the right and I was in the wrong yesterday. And God bless her, for giving us the stamp today.  

I arrived back at Tina's to find her giving Peace the full spa treatment. She smelled so delicious, I cannot even tell you. Peace is not fond of the facial moisturizing or the hair oiling, but she gave five stars to the full body massage, the warm water splashes, and the general body lotion application.


spa treatment


The train isn't working between Montecatini and Lucca, so we gave Cool and Job a ride to Pescia, where I haggled with some lovely tax office workers for forty-five minutes about how best to add Tina and Job's names to the rental contract. They need the contract to qualify for welfare benefits for the baby. The two ladies looked at Peace's photo and then argued about how best to get her the money. Peace does that to people. I got all their advice in writing for Job to bring back to the rental agent. The problem was that creating a new contract would cost us like a thousand euros, but by doing some bureaucratic blah blah blah, I'll spare you the details, it costs a fraction as much. 

Then we took the guys to an interview at a large employment agency, where the friendly, mustachioed interviewer spoke perfect English. I also made copies of the forms translated into English so they can learn how to fill out documents when I'm not there. We made them CV/resumes that they also brought to a pizza parlor in town. It was a winning day. 

I came home to find out that a big paper machinery company wants to hire me for several full days a week to teach English all day long to their staff! If it works out, I might be able to start in November and it will last several months.

Yesterday in the midst of everything, Glory rang my bell for her Italian lesson. I taught her what to say for her hearing in front of the Refugee Commission and the name of a ton of stuff she doesn't have at the moment like furniture, windows, and pets.

Friday, October 14, 2016

What has my glamorous, Tuscan adventure of fountains, spaghetti, and sunsets brought me this week? Well, ours is not the stereotypical vineyards and double kisses existence that you may have heard about somewhere-damn-else. My life is basically filled of African refugees hanging up on me. They ring once, or "flash" me, and then wait for me to call them back to resolve some kind of issue, emergency or lesser emergency, one to twelve times a day. I have been flashed so often in the last two days that even exposure to Trump's junk would not phase me one bit. 
We were sick as dogs in the suddenly cold, autumn landscape of Lucca, so I missed a few English lessons at the beginning of the week. By the time I could venture outside, it was to pay back a loan on the behalf of young Joshua who was about to get his behind beaten if he did not come up with the money. While we were talking outside, two men came up and started talking to him in a pseudo-friendly manner. Joshua doesn't speak Italian so I told the men that he was studying Italian and showed them the Learn Italian in 10 Minutes A Day book that I had in my hands. They grinned and playfully warned that he better behave himself. When they walked away, he told me that they were police officers in their street clothes and that we had better warn Stanley that they were headed his way, most likely to pick his pockets since he owes them money in fines that he was given for begging on the streets. We called him and he did not pick up for me, although five minutes before he was telling me what kind of baby supplies his wife wants me to get her. Joshua called and he picked up immediately, so I cursed him playfully and told him to move along towards the train station. 
The book was actually for Glory, the 17 year old, along with three bags of winter clothing. She is about my size and she is absolutely freezing at nights in the tents that The Red Cross set up in the fair ground area. I gave her three coats and some furry boots. She was just thrilled. Joshua says they fought and are no longer friends, but that is none of my business. I am not going to stop helping her because of some nonsense between two kids.
Emmanuel and I had an epic flash battle where he would call, hang up, and I would call and he would hang up until finally I could comunicate to him that I had after seven days of trying, gotten his lawyers to speak to one another and to make a plan for his permesso renewal. He can't get it renewed unless the landlord will sign a hospitality letter for him. She is not convinced she wants to do that and will not give us an answer until the end of the weekend by Skype. If she refuses, which will greatly "vex me," as the Nigerians say, I will have to be very creative because we can't let him become clandestine now when his son Precious has so much at stake. A man's life hangs in the balance. No pressure.
Then Jennifer called because she needs 800 euros to pay off the corrupt officials at the Nigerian consulate for passports for her and baby Wisdom. I told her that I did not have money for that kind of luxury item, but that I would take her baby food shopping next week because the charities will give out dried pasta, but they don't offer baby food or diapers. 
Next Tina called me to say that a Nigerian man told her she could have a two bedroom apartment, but in addition to three months rent and the real estate agent's fee, she would have to pay him 500 euros. We were coming up with a very intricate plan to get her the apartment despite the fact that she is 500 euros short, when she decided that he was not to be trusted because he would only put his own name on the contract next to hers and not the father of her baby's name.
Meanwhile, I was facebook messaging with Gabry who needs 500 euros to pay off the corrupt Romanian driving school staff. No matter if you pass the taxi driving test, you cannot have a license without an additional under the counter payment. I was explaining to him about the donation my mother had made for his new taxi, when it became clear that he does not really understand written Italian. He wrote me in a mixture of Romanian and phonetic Italian, asking who is My Mother? Why she give me money? Do I know she name? But he was very happy when he finally caught on that he has a chance of actually realizing his dreams. 
This is from the summer, but since I feel underwater now . . .
Then Stanley's wife called to give me the measurements of the baby mattress she needs. I explained to her why she might want to get a flu shot next time she is at the doctor's. 
Last night, the fever that comes at the end of a virus to kind of burn it off once and for all was hitting me, and I was hoping to go to bed early. As I was drifting off, I remembered that we were doing evaluations of English levels at the Perini company in the morning, so I messaged my old student Lucia because I know she is still looking for an accountant job. I told her she could send me her CV/resumè and I asked if she could keep an eye out in her area for menial jobs for my group members. She wrote back with a facebook group for people who are seeking and offering work. I found a listing for a job interview for dishwashers that was scheduled for the morning. I messaged the author of the ad, and she turned out to be the wife of a chef. I sent her my job flier for Cool and Job and she said that her husband would meet with them. I read the date wrong and she said that they could come in the morning as I had asked even though the official interviews were the following day. I was happy with that because it is better if they get their interviews before any other candidates. 
Flash forward to F and me interviewing and shaking the hands of a dozen or so coughing and sneezing Perini employees, forgetting to write down their ability levels on a graduated scale between A1 to B2, and generally being a disorganized, half asleep chattterbox, while receiving flashes every five minutes from Cool and Job who were lost and could not receive their texts from us with the address of the job interview. We took turns coaching them and they did make it to the place. Unfortunately, the chef was not there. However, on the upside they will be first in line tomorrow, which is the actual day for the interviews. If they don't get that weekend job, we found two other listings that they can try on Monday after we print out CV/resumès for them.
T has been messaging me a lot from Cyprus, as well. She is finally having a good time despite three hours of sleep the first night, a turbulent flight, an awkward welcome into her host family who has only sons, ages 14 and 18, none of whom speak any languages that she speaks, apart from some English ability on the part of the mother. She has eaten a lot of halloumi cheese as a meat substitute and has gotten to see some very beautiful archeological sites like the amphitheater and the birthplace of aphrodite. She also got a tour of a carob factory and met some politicians, including the mayor of her town. It is 90 degrees there and she is walking a lot. I guess none of us is living exactly the life we pictured here, but it doesn't suck. 

Friday, October 07, 2016

Doing the most
Today we were just pretty amazed with ourselves. Not only did we get a new stove for Tina and Job, but we got Ezekiel to install it at a fraction of the normal price. I also got the hot water guy to reduce his price by half! His colleague really didn't do us any favors last time he was here, so from now on we know to ask for Maurizio. Then we convinced the real estate agents around the corner to add their names to the rental contract. With a rental contract they will be able to get some welfare from the government for baby food and diapers each month. When I finally got the landlord on the phone, she said she couldn't get back to Italy until December, but she would sign the appropriate forms so Tina and Job can become official residents and not just guests. It turned out that one of their housemates, DeWill, who never did come for the free Italian lessons he requested from me, also never communicated the messages that the landlord had left for me over the last month. He may not understand her when she speaks, but it is not clear why he never even indicated to me that he had heard from her. 

My mother made a generous donation which will also go to giving monthly emergency aid to Emmanuel's son Precious in Nigeria and towards helping Gabry get a car so he can support his family as a taxi driver in Romania. Ezekiel who had been imprisoned for not having a document is now married to Alessia who is Italian. Aside from their love story, this is also good news because she was able to get a stay permit for him going forward. She showed me her wedding photos today while we were waiting for the new stove to be installed. If we hadn't done that today, the house might have gone up in flames with a gas explosion. 

F had to teach in Porcari, so I spent four hours coming up with ways to distract Peace. 

This was her reaction to her first belly raspberry. .

Just chatting away the morning . .

She is getting so big!

T is getting ready to go on her trip to Cyprus on the Erasmus program. It will look great on her college applications, but, due to some odd decisions by the part of the school, her flight will only arrive at 2 AM and at that point she will have to take a bus to the host family's town that is due to arrive at 3 AM. I am pretending to be cool with everything, but not very successfully. The family who was supposed to host her had a daughter her age, but they balked to see she was a vegetarian, and now she has to stay with a boy whose facebook profile makes T think that the situation does not bode well. She will be gone for eight days. There is a whatsapp group where the kids who are going on the trip communicate, and me thinks there is a lot of night time partying being proposed, which is also less than ideal since they are supposed to be up early in the morning for the scheduled activities. There are a million documents to print and toiletries to buy before she sets out tomorrow evening. My eyes have their bags pre-packed and a lot of the insomnia fueled ugliness is going to be carry-on. Who takes a class trip to Cyprus?? 

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Mood of the Day
On the way to Montecatini to meet the nicest plumber/idraulico in the whole world ever, we walked by this poster:

And F said: Look it's a Sexpo!

And just as the construction workers across the street got into hearing range of me, I announced loudly, "OH GREAT, I LOVE SEXPO-S!" He started laughing so hysterically, that we started laughing. But, now that I think about it, I don't know if we were laughing for the same reasons.

Back in Montecatini, Peace-y was the best baby in the land, and Marco the plumber with the good heart, that sounds like a porno, what is wrong with me today, informed us that we had mixed up the hot and cold water pipes which is why the hot water heater does not have any water coming into it. 

C'mon, she is an angel. I refuse to believe she cries all night. This is why it is good to be the honorary grandma.

Every time we have a little success, I have an exaggerated reaction, but getting the crew to have water and heat would be very good indeed. 

Monday, October 03, 2016

I think we mostly got special treatment at the questura/police station of Pistoia today because no one can say no to Peace. However, I don't care if it was the shock value of me coming in with the baby in my arms that made it so that we did not have to take a number with the dozens of others trying to get their immigration business done in the two dedicated hours this morning. We had to go three rounds at the window, where an essentially sweet, older gentleman barked instructions at me rapid fire like he was an auctioneer. I nodded at him encouragingly, and my Italian was passable enough today that he thought I understood more than I did. That is why he just about barked my head off when we came back to the window without the copies he had asked for and the forms only half completed. In fact, Job and F had to jog half a mile to the post office to pay the fees for the permesso. It wasn't enough to ask for just a new stay permit for the baby, the parents had to have theirs updated which meant we had to pay more than thirty euros a head for all three of them, plus thirty-two euros worth of postage. How does Italy think unemployed Nigerian refugees with babies who want to get them a stay permit can come up with more than a hundred euros for this?
At the police station
 I ended up translating for several English speakers who had tried to make a go of it on their own, while joking with the police, and keeping the people behind us on line from killing us for taking so long. We also ran to the copy shop, where we made copies of everything except the birth certificate, so the grumpy guy yelled at us again. Nevertheless, he made the copy for us, even though it is against the rules. He smiled when I elected him to sainthood. And when I tried to explain that I was American, he basically said American, SchAmerican, it doesn't matter the rules are for everyone. But I snapped back with, Well, if there were Italians who would help this family out; I wouldn't have to do it even though I don't understand the instructions and can't fill out the forms by myself. I also kind of remember promising to bring him our homemade bread when we come back to pick up the document on November third. 
On the way back, we saved a French speaking African guy from having charges pressed against him. I think he did not pay his bus fare, and he left home without his stay permit, if he even has one. The Italian men who were escorting him to the police station asked us to ask him for his birthday because they were under the mistaken impression that he spoke English. F immediately forgot every word of highschool French and tried to use his slow internet connection to look up the words. I did such a horrible job speaking the two languages I am supposed to know, and F did such a horrible job of letting me pronounce the French that for some reason sent him into a panic attack, that the men decided not to press charges after all. I thumped on the guy's chest and pointed heavenward, saying, C'est Magnifique and Bon Chance which are the only things that entered my head besides je ne sais quoi, which was less appropriate to the situation.
When we got in the car, the hot water repairman called me from their house. He couldn't figure out the weird water pump situation because F invented it himself, and there are so may pipes that have faucets which have to be turned just so to get water throughout the house. He was very sweet, and he let me have his plumber friend's number so we can all coordinate and get the water to the hot water heater before winter comes. 
Why hello there, I'm up from my nap!
Several things are falling apart that we had fixed, and we have to make sure the apartment is in good shape before the landlords come back to Italy to do an inspection, especially since no one has been paying rent up until now. 
I also got to speak with Tina's sister Maysie in Nigeria. She has four children. She wanted to thank us for everything, which was very sweet. 
Sleepy Peace-y
Peace on board! She is strapped on back.
I also am trying to coordinate with Emmanuel's lawyers because one of the motions failed. From what I understood, he still has a chance to get a favorable decision from the judge about staying in Italy legally. His camp was so mismanaged and corrupt that it is being closed, so I have to coordinate with the Caritas lawyer here and beg her to help him to renew his stay permit before time runs out. It is a mess. He gets very depressed when he thinks about his son, Precious, in Nigeria who is constantly begging for him, while he knows that nothing is really happening that will allow him to either send him money or be able to even see him again. We are working on that. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Our lives sometimes feel like they revolve around what's happening with our friends in Montecatini. The day, nevertheless, started out in Lucca where we went to meet a technician for Paul's hot water heater. I woke up late with a cold headache, but I had a feeling that I should come out and see Paul, who has been out of touch for about a month. He had a cold, too, and he has been working hard washing dishes. He was pretty depressed, maybe because he is more isolated now that he works alone for so many hours a week. I feel like we got his spirits up with the shennanigans that happened getting his heat back on. The technician turned out to be super short, like shorter than me, and the caldaia/hot water heater turned out to be almost on the ceiling. The ladder that came with the house was not high enough, and F had not yet arrived. Paul had the idea to swing the dining table under the ladder and the intrepid technician swung himself up there and stood on one leg where he peered into the machine. I believe the end analysis was that the electricity to the machine had been turned off since there are twenty unmarked switches on the wall in the vicinity of the kitchen. We paid the guy twenty bucks and he went off, unscathed, and whistling. 

Looking up!

We tried to get baby Peace's permesso now that there is a new law saying that they can't just sign on to the parents' stay permits, but after we drove all the way to PIstoia we found out that the questura doesn't do that work on Fridays. Then we learned that Tina and Job and the guys' hot water is not working, despite the fact that we paid a tecnico 70 euros less than two weeks ago to come fix it. I skype messaged the landlords about this. 

As it turns out, Stanley and his wife did not find an apartment. Either they confused seeing an apartment on the real estate agent's computer with finding an apartment or they just were not convinced I would bring them furniture otherwise. We did, in fact, bring them some lovely chairs from Bernadette. Just in case they had found a good real estate agent who was not prejudiced against Africans, we took Tina and Job by the agent they used, but she didn't want anything to do with any of us. Then we dropped off the chairs at Jennifer's house and picked up the prescriptions for baby medicines for Peace and Wisdom. We drove around for ages looking for a pharmacy that was open during lunchtime. Oh Italy! 


I got bad news from Emmanuel's lawyer that he is going to explain to me in greater detail tonight on the phone.  I am very worried about how I will break it to Emmanuel that his appeal was shot down and that his stay permit will not be renewed. I don't honestly know how he will manage in this limbo state with his son Precious so far away from him and very little hope of getting to see him in person now that it will be even harder for him to earn a living. 

The good news is we have this girl in the world:


Enjoying the ride!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Then there was Glory  
A weird, yet typical day:
This morning, I finished up a bunch of my lessons with the tech reps (technical representatives) for the Brooks running company. I did several hour-long telephone English lessons, and then I remembered that I had promised to offer an Italian class to the Nigerians. Paul can't come because the restaurant changed his day off to Sundays. He was the one who wanted the class the most apart from DeWill who had not shown up for the last three weeks.  A half hour before we were supposed to meet, Joshua called to tell me that I should call his friend who wanted a lesson. He informed me he wasn't coming because he was too tired. I called the number and a girl told me that she would meet me by my house at three. She kept me waiting outside my house for half an hour, during which time I got some mosquito bites and ran into the twins who took English class with me last year. Alessia and Federica looked so grown up that I didn't recognize them at first, and they had a friend with them. I didn't want to say boring teacher things in front of their friend. Middle school is hard enough without adults grilling with you.  I realized that I had both nothing exciting to say, and that I had not spoken Italian with anyone for five long days. Five days is enough to make you turn into a boring, stuttering idiot. Honestly, sometimes I can become an utter loser after just a long weekend of catching up on my shows without spending any time on Italian Fiction/soap operas. The words were slow in coming out of my mouth and felt completely unnatural. This made me panic about teaching Italian in a bar full of Italians, but sometimes ego is not your friend. 
My student finally showed up, carrying an enormous teddy bear, and saying that she was late because she had been at the seaside. Her name is Glory and she turned out to be only around T's age, just 17 years old. She said she had been in Italy for three weeks and that her parents are in Edo State, Nigeria with her seven sibilings. Apparently, she has not even gotten a stay permit yet, and she is sleeping in the giant Red Cross tents, which she says are very cold at night. I gave her a brief, yet jumbled Italian lesson and bought her a cappuccino. I had watched an hour of beginning Italian lessons on youtube, but found nothing that was even half way decent and could not decide on an approach. At the end of the lesson, we wrote her a note to the Red Cross, asking for assistance to sign up for the free Italian class for immigrants at the local middle school. She called me back to say that she, as an unaccompanied minor who has not been transferred yet, is ineligible. One can wonder all day and night about why they don't teach Italian to people who have nothing to do all day in the tents but study Italian to improve their chances at integrating in any kind of meaningful way. Glory said that they don't teach Italian because they can't speak English. Of course it is really not essential to speak English, if you are teaching Italian. You really just need to be good at charades and comunicating through gestures. Anyway, we decided that I would buy her a book and that she can come back to me next week with some friends. I told her I was sure her parents would be proud of her for being so industrious and getting started studying so quickly without anybody helping her or encouraging her. 
Then our sweet friend Bernadette called to offer a furniture donation that we will have to drive down to Montecatini on Friday. We called the hot water heater repair guy who is not ours or the one for Montecatini, but another guy for Paul's house because it depends on the brand of heater you have. After the whole month of negotiating, it turns out that he has no other way of getting heat this winter, if not for us. I also talked to Job and Tina, who has a cold, and they explained to me about the appointments they are trying to do this week to get baby Peace her stay permit. Meanwhile, at least twenty chef or foodie related people have answered my friend request on facebook and have seen my wanted ad for a dishwasher position. My reputation as a crazy American is growing rapidly through social media and in the streets.
I haven't seen Peace for a week, and I am going out of my mind.
Speaking of T, I think I will have to book appointments far in advance if I even want to get to see her this year because she is on a quest to increase her extracurricular activities. The latest is that she is joining the school youth parlaiment, which includes some overnight trips, as well as tutoring, working on the school paper, and volunteering with Caritas and studying for her SATs. 
The BIG 5000  
I was sick with a cold this weekend so I decided to rope F and T into helping me make a job wanted ad for Job and Cool. I then found the facebook account of one of the most famous foodies in Lucca. Then I made the crazy decision to go through his 5000 followers, most of whom are chef or chef related and befriend them so that I could send them a private message. It took almost eight hours and by the end I skipped anyone not wearing an apron or a coat in their profile picture. So far I have had a dozen friendships accepted and one guy said he would make some calls. I am more than a little afraid that my friendship request would be taken as a romantic overture or an invitation for a racist diatribe on my page, but so far so good.  When I set my mind to something, I go full out. Please do visit me in prison, if it comes to that. And really, if being the robin hood of apron wearing contacts is so bad, lock me in the tower.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bureaucratic express
Given the fact that complying with the rules feels like an endless voyage to nowhwere, doesn't it make sense that I like to shake things up wherever I go? 

Despite the fact that we used our own money to renovate Tina and Job's house for the good of their new baby and that we were able to negotiate a letter of hospitality for Tina which enabled her to file for residency with the local city goverment, the comune, she is still not able to get basic welfare benefits for her family. Obviously, they are both still unemployed, as are new parents Jennifer and Cool, as are their relatives Stanley and his new wife who is also named Tina. The two Tina situation has led everyone to refer to our Tina as Mamma Peace and Jennifer as Mamma Wisdom. It was weird how quickly the new Tina came back into our lives. We remember her from when we used to give her money two years ago. She has deep dimples and a striking smile, but now she is also wild Stanley's pregnant wife, which makes her also Jennifer's sister-in-law. They don't have jobs either and they don't have a rental contract because they are temporarily crashing at Jennifer's place.

Peace loves her new bouncy chair!

We spent hours and hours trying to get baby Peace her health card and an assignment to a pediatrician, but the computers were down for almost a week. The same day we got her on the list for one of the doctors with the friendliest reputations that is in walking distance of their house, the health card appeared in their mail slot. We tried to get other errands done like buying teething medicine for baby Wisdom, a nasal passage cleaner for baby Peace, more infant sized diapers and the like. It was rewarding to drop off the donations we picked up over the weekend from some generous Italian new mothers to both Mamma Peace and Stanley's Tina, pink and blue respectively.

Peace and Wisdom!

We also went to Caritas in Montecatini where we got a big lecture from this woman named Elida about how it was Social Services job to help them make ends meet and that they could only do so much. They made copies of all of Mamma Peace's documents and they told her that based on her address she had to go to a Parish that is within three blocks of her house instead of their location which is only about five blocks from her house. They said that as long as she brought her proof of residency she could get a care package every Monday. However, when she got there they told her that a letter of hospitality and the residency letter from the comune of Montecatini were not sufficient if her name did not appear on the rental contract itself. They told Jennifer that her house which is also within walking distance, was districted for yet another parish where Jennifer says they only give care packages once a month that are not much bigger than the weekly packages that Tina would get every week if they let her. The Caritas lady, Elida, also told us that they should not be afraid to go to social service because babies only get taken from families in the case of severe neglect. Jennifer told her that she did ask for help from social services, but no aid had been given as of yet because she is still on the long list of people waiting for home visits. Tina was also turned away from the Post Office for a kind of welfare assistance for babies of low income families because Tina's name is not on the rental contract. The only reason the name is not there is because the landlords will not be back in Italy to make the change to the contract, provided they keep their promise, until mid-October. I called Jim Yardley from The New York Times to report all of this, and he let me know that he is transitioning to a new job so he will have to send another Italy reporter to cover our group.

Tina, Stanley's wife

We also invested a lot of time on this wild goose chase to get Jennifer a new wardrobe. There is a site called Lucca Gratis or Gratis Lucca, I can't recall, where people give stuff away for free. There is a lot more requesting than giving, and even less thanking, so I don't know why I was surprised that when we finally got the owners of the furniture to disclose their address it turned out that the piece was in a dilapidated state. This was good news because Jennifer's Nigerian van driver backed out at the last minute and so we didn't really have a good way of transporting the stuff. They say this is the only guy who is trusted with being a moving van for the whole Nigerian community, but, just our luck, his motor needs repairs. We are wary of making a scene ever since F was questioned by police when he tried to give Paul a donated winter blanket from the back of our car. Anyway, this meant just hours of wasted time for nothing. F also drove for over an hour to bring a monetary wedding gift to Ezekiel who has solved his documentation issues which had resulted in real jail time by marrying his true love Alessia, who happens to be Italian. We couldn't make it to the ceremony due to our work engagements, but we wanted to honor the occasion. 

Oh, and did I mention that this was the week we had to deal with not just our annual check of the hot water heater, which turns out to be completely not set up correctly, but we have also been on call for the repair issues for Paul and Tina and Job's heaters, as well? We had to pay for the repairs in Montecatini. I tried to talk to the Italian guy who found Paul his current apartment, but he knows him as Osas and so had no idea what I was talking about. I always forget that Nigerians are famous for having a dozen names and not even being called the same thing at the same time by their closest friend groups. That is why at baby Peace's naming ceremony Job went by Bob, Bobby, and also Joaquin Phoenix. Just kidding about that last one. As you know, I am terrified of caldaia technicians after the last batch threatened me and were very nasty. We have a new company now, and the guy was very kind hearted, but I have vowed never to be alone when they do the inspections. Luckily, things in Montecatini timed out so that I can parlay our payment for the repairs into a request for the landlords to add Tina and Job's name to the rental contract.

Meanwhile, as an English teacher in Tuscany, I continue to be horrified by the stories of mean English teachers who have made their students feel ashamed of their speaking abilities. The majority of my classes for companies and individuals have turned into a kind of rehabilitation for traumatized students who are terrified of being publicly humiliated for not knowing the meaning of a word or what a double negative is. Luckily, I am the least intimidating ex New Yorker in the world as all of my talents are useless here and not one person has ever heard of a cronut or the pizza rat. I actually think my patronus on Pottermore turned out to be the pizza rat, and so I was not at all surprised when I got sorted into a house that is for great healers and sounds like a fake curse word that only a frigid librarian would use.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Rise Up
Today was weird. In a bad way. My two adorable students who work at the URP, a kind of information station, in Lucca suggested that I come in to meet with their immigration specialist. I didn't even know they had an immigration specialist! Despite the rainy forecast, I decided to go. Also, they are half a block from my house. So I was thrilled to see two approachable looking gentlemen who were there, ostensibly, to improve the lives of the most disenfranchised immigrants.
The conversation started out so well. They were fully aware of what they call the North African crisis and the fact that many Africans who came to Italy in 2011 to 2012 were given stay permits en masse for what they called "humanitarian reasons." They also knew that these folks were welcomed (I am tempted to put that word in quotations too, but who has the time to put quotation marks around everything that I am about to say sarcastically?) into hotels that were run by the Italian government, and that when they became overcrowded they were paid off to leave. They also knew that Italian immigrant workers then tried to indicate that the refugees move on to Germany because they were not going to get any further formal assistance from Italy going forward; and that the five hundred euros they were given as compensation from getting kicked out of the hotels would not last them very long in Tuscany. Then things went awry.
I tried to talk about the fact that hundreds find themselves with no way to integrate themselves into Italian society five years later and that my goal is to open an aid station for them so that they can have their own doctors, health cards, and identity cards instead of going through the emergency rooms. I talked about how they cannot have legal rental contracts and that it is practically impossible for them to overcome racist hiring practices.  I was not prepared for the worker at the sportello for immigrati in Lucca to then start chuckling, almost uncontrollably. He and his coworker went on to say that they know dozens of Nigerians, who, in their opinion, are the least adept Africans at understanding Italian society, finding jobs, and keeping jobs. Just last week, they told me, a Nigerian for whom they had found employment, made off with a bottle of prized wine that was meant to be aged in the restaurant storage area. They asked me who in their right mind would choose the outlying area of Montecatini, which has a strong and tightknit Nigerian community to which all of our group members belong, as a place to settle when even the Italians there are unemployed. They asked me why they weren't smart enough to try their luck in Germany.
Eventually, I had to call them on the one gentleman's theatrical and inappropriate laughing. I will say that I was more surprised because this man was black. I did not feel it was appropriate to ask him personal questions. I don't know if he was born in Italy, Africa, or somewhere else. I assume he was at least ten years my junior. His Italian was certainly fluent, and, certainly, better than mine, although his accent was one I couldn't place. I thought his coworker's facial expressions belied a more sympathetic attitude towards my cause, but I soon found out I was wrong. They both denied the existence of racism altogether, and the white coworker told me that he had also been turned down by real estate agents when he was searching for a rental apartment, ostensibly because he hails from the south of Tuscany. Oh don't worry, I challenged him on that, too. 
Sometimes when people are hateful and I am hormonal, I cry. This kills me because obviously the coolest person is the one who is the most control of their emotions in the heat of argument; and when Paul was demoralized by police on his first day of work in Italy I cried while describing it to the ARCI contact for immigrant rights and never heard from him again. I did not cry or become irrational and my Italian was pretty great for me so the only thing that was strange was that with every offensive remark that the URP staff made about Nigerians the louder the Hamilton soundtrack played in my head. Thanks, Lin Manuel Miranda.
They told me that the only way to help Nigerians who arrived in that period was on a case by case basis, even if there are hundreds of them. I suggested that by working together we could do something on a larger scale and they laughed some more. Before I left, I had to acknowledge to my students what had happened and hope that they weren't offended that my conversation with their colleagues involved their cursing (twice, but not at me), laughing in my face, and raised voices on one of their parts and on mine. They were somewhat embarrassed and I told them that it had been an educational experience in any case, and I was grateful for the information. I was relieved when they said they would see me next Tuesday.
The only thing that saved the day was that T discovered that the absolutely humorless professor that I had been so intimidated by during parent teacher conferences two years ago had made some interesting youtube videos that I might enjoy. T says I can't say what subject she taught, but it rhymes with bathematics. Anyway, she does makeup tutorials that involve constant lipstick color changes and a great deal of lip pursing and pout twitching and the English pronunciation of colors inspired by both trolls, I kid you not, and Arianna Grande. Her signature move is a pageant queen hand wave. You know, the kind that Queen Elizabeth gives us from her window. So Buon Natale a me! I laughed so hard that I actually hurt more than one of my internal organs. Maybe permanently. But so worth it! I would link it here, but T won't let me. (The word women is in the title and so is the word chic.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Peace's naming ceremony
What a life!

This was a very welcoming, lovely tradition where you could really feel how much better the world is for having Peace in it. 

When we first got there, we met this very sweet little girl named Esther who was thrilled to have been given a fan to play with. It was super hot this afternoon in Tuscany so we didn't mind the extra fanning one bit. 

Before we went home, we gave Tina and Job the presents for Peace, including a bunch of snaps/photos that she can send to Africa. She was so thrilled to have the images of her daughter from the very beginning. It was very gratifying for us. The pastor also said that we were doing what God wants us to do and that we would be rewarded. I told her that we had already been rewarded by being included in their lives, and she seemed to like that response. 

Wisdom was my dance partner.

These pastors were a very sweet married couple.

Tina's smiles are not easily won, but they are worth a lot.

Paul is practicing for one day when it will be his turn.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Wisdom's Baptism  
T and I were hoping to hide in the back row of the church, but the usher separated us and put us in the very first two pews. T got placed between two ladies who loved to dance. One of them hit her on the butt when she didn't exit fast enough to hand in the offerings envelope. The pastor continued his lucky streak of pretending that I don't exist and never making eye contact with me. He is now two for two, even though on both occasions of my attending services I was directly in his line of vision for more than three hours. 

From my very limited experience with religious services, I have to say that pentecostal churches do the most.

F did a lot of chauffering people around. We gave Cool and Job's friend Celeste a ride to the church, and he, in turn, coached us through the service. We also gave Joshua a ride to the tents in Lucca to find a friend who is staying with the Red Cross. I convinced him to take my free Italian class on Monday. Or I think I did. We'll see if he shows.


He does make eye contact with some folks.

Cool, Jennifer, and Wisdom

happy family

That is Celeste in the pink.

Wisdom and Me

The best moment was showing Jennifer her gift of framed family photos, a dashing dress blazer for Wisdom, and a little cash.