Saturday, May 05, 2018

Wrap up
We did our customary presenting of the cakes. Wisdom got one for his second birthday last week and Tina got one today for her birthday.

It is amazing to see that the kids in our group have grown up so beautifully. Peace will catch up to Wisdom and turn two in September.

We finally got our current landlord to get a competent team of roofers to fix the roof, so we don’t have to worry about the ceiling falling in every time it rains — which is good news since it is supposed to rain this evening. We will pick up the keys to our new place in Emilia Romagna in just two weeks. Our friends Monica and Luca at the bakery Giusti have agreed to allow people to drop off clothes for Peace and Wisdom so that they will still be provided for in our absence. And we have wonderful news to share: T will be attending university in Holland this Fall! Now we all just have to survive her exams and the move, and it should be an exciting new adventure for all of us.

It has been great letting off steam and sharing our adventures with the refugee group here in this blog. Thank you for being a part of it. We hope you have enjoyed it, and that it may inspire you to help out wherever you can, whenever you can. 

Monday, April 02, 2018

Back to the Start
It has been a rough week for the group and all of us. 

Emmanuel went to the lawyer’s appointment I made for him. But he did not go straight from point A to point B. He bumped into a friend who was also going to a lawyer named Stephano in Prato. Unfortunately, 87% percent of males in Italy are named Stephano. I exagerate. But, of course, it was not the same lawyer in Prato; and Emmanuel ended up needing to be directed clear across town and was 87 minutes late to his appointment. And that, I swear, is not an exageration. Then the lawyer who, as luck would have it, is a full on misogynist refused to take Emmanuel to the police station to find out if he had missed his Commission hearing until he heard F’s reassuringly male voice. Only reluctantly did he agree to try to use the hospitality letter that I so painstakingly got from the owner of Emmanuel’s house, along with her identity documents. Apparently, these days you also need the name of the person on the rental contract, who, in this case, has been leaning in to schizophrenia for a while now. I gave Emmanuel some incentive money to get DeWill to accompany him to the appointment, but that did not work. He may also have an expired stay permit. The lawyer - we were fools to think otherwise - just took our money and then did nothing to get them to accept the hospitality letter and then told Emmanuel that he will try in the future if Emmanuel can pay off some other African friend to sign on to his fake hospitality letter. Until then, if caught, Emmanuel can face being thrown in jail for not having an active permesso di soggiorno. 

Cool went to Nigeria because his sick father needed help getting accepted into a hospital. He also planned on dealing with business there because all Nigerians abroad are losing access to their bank accounts back home and so he needs to clear out any savings to pay for his father’s health care and bring back anything else that was left to pay off his family’s debts. We got the sad news yesterday that his father died. I don’t think he was very old, but he had been suffering for sometime without medical care. Jennifer called me, holding back tears. It is good timing that my contact Marina got six full bags of clothing from the mothers at the school for little Wisdom, so F will take that over to check on her today.

Here are the photos:

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Rocky Road
I don’t know why Emmanuel’s lawyer kept telling me that no news was good news. And I don’t know why he didn’t tell me that lawyers are not actually the people who get informed when a refugee gets summoned in front of the Commission. I, foolishly, trusted him. And Emmanuel was right not to. No one told us that his temporary stay permit replacement had to be replaced by a real stay permit and renewed every three to six months. Therefore, it is null and void. And to make matters worse, it is probably that he missed his Commission hearing and was given a negative result due to his absence. We learned all of this from a very nice English speaking lawyer that Emmanuel heard about from his friends. Unfortunately, she refused to deal with the police station in the neighboring town where Emmanuel lives because the system is entirely different than the police station here in Lucca. She did say that she would accompany him to his Commission hearing, but only if it is to be held in the north of Italy and not in the south, which she also doesn’t know because that gets decided on a case by case basis. She did refer me to another lawyer who did not speak English with me, but whose Facebook page claims he speaks both English and Pidgin. I always thought we were all speaking pigeon, but I was wrong. Anyway, he only does this kind of work for a payment. And he has yet to give Emmanuel an appointment date. But it would be worth it to get Emmanuel on some kind of right track or road or path or line in the sand. 

Tina and Peace had no lights or gas this week. We paid their bill, but it was so late by the time she got it to us that she has to go through a process. I called the company and the customer service person told me they only turn the lights back on through a faxed request. The office accepting faxes was closed on the weekends and we were calling late in the day on Friday. I also had to field angry messages from her landlady because she did not get her rent in on time. To be fair, Job warned the landlady that she might be late this month while he was away in Nigeria. Tina also offered to pay in two payments, but the lady made a giant deal out of it. 

Paul called in a panic because when we helped him to open a bank account, he didn’t realize that the one hundred euros he put in there would be completely eaten up by fees; and he got an angry letter saying that if he didn’t close it by September the police would be involved. F is going to go sort that out tomorrow. 

Jennifer called to say that she renewed her stay permits, but she still has not convinced the landlords of the apartment she wants to rent their apartment to her family because they do not want to rent to Africans. She is desperate for a twin stroller, and the donation never came through, so I am getting her one for Wisdom’s birthday. Everyone in the group is basically one last request granted and then we are going to go live our life privately starting in June. I hope. 

Today F and I picked out new furniture for our new place, but we didn’t purchase anything because we haven’t got a signed contract yet. Since the furniture store is run by our students’ family, they were super sweet to us, and may possibly do the entire move for us so we don’t have to hire a moving company. Karma, baby. 

Meanwhile, the roof is still leaking our landlord has not been able to get a repair person to come by. Hopefully, he will manage it before it starts raining again. 

I have no pictures for you. So, I am going to just hope Ben and Jerry won’t sue me:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Well, this is Italian
So, the real estate agent had her wisdom tooth removed. She was in so much pain that she told me that the house we were about to sign for was noisier and less ideal than the first house I talked about in the last post —our second choice. After I grilled her for details, she said that everything but the living room is basically quiet as could be in the other apartment, but that the one we were about to sign for had been restructured in such a way that the floors and ceilings would let in a lot of noise from our neighbors. She went on to say that while the landlords were very meticulous and responsible in this apartment, they had to be because it was a lot to manage. I did not understand what she was trying to say until five seconds later when a crazy woman marched up to her and almost attacked her. This woman had the most surgically enhanced lips that I have ever seen in real life and it was impossible to look at anything but the protruding center of her face. She started shrieking at the agent and demanding to talk to her immediately. The agent refused. The lady, the same one who was blasting her music when we arrived last time and who we were told would be moving out next month, became irate. The agent admitted that this lovely neighbor-of-ours-to-be had not paid her rent in a year and that she didn’t really know when she would be moving out. Americans are prized tenants in Italy because we have this reputation of always paying on time. That tooth surgery was like truth serum, I tell you. 

Cue to us returning to the other apartment, located on the top floor, where we negotiated down the price, met our lovely seeming new neighbors who are both doctors, and found out that this apartment comes with a storage space in the cantina and a garage space, and that the notary office downstairs is both quiet and closed on the weekends. In the end, we made a proposal and cut a check, but we still have to sign the contracts with the owners who will most likely travel down from Milano for the meeting, if they accept our proposal. 

Oh, and I would also like to mention that while designing a kitchen sounds like a good idea, dealing with the Ikea design team in Italian is not unlike having a wisdom tooth removed if you have absolutely zero dental insurance. Luckily, the apartment we chose comes with a fully new and modern kitchen and we basically only have to buy beds and mattresses at Ikea. 

This past weekend we were reminded how rough the renovation process can be, when we pitched in to give our friends Fabio and Francesca a hand in painting their new home. Please remind me that I should not break the rule about not doing this kind of stuff after I turned forty, as it is one of the main positive things of being older and wiser, and yet, I didn’t take full advantage of it. After four hours my back was about to go out, so I was able to get Gabry a job substituting for me with F. He just needs to afford yellow paint to make his taxi dreams a reality and swears that he will never come back to Lucca again to beg. We had to pay for his work, but only because we pretended to our friends that he owed us a favor because we didn’t want to make them have to pay, and it is for a good cause. 


Thursday, March 08, 2018

Looking to move on
While Jennifer needed help from us with her passport fees, and Cool’s brother needed help with a bogus police report claiming that he attacked his girlfriend - who he says says she was never attacked - and Tina needed help with more old fines for begging and her electric bills that she can’t pay while Job is in Nigeria, we looked to move on.

It is another crazy adventure in real estate and Italian real estate brokers. The same tricks apply the world over, in that they never show you the best apartment first and they always say someone else is on the verge of signing for it, if you don’t act fast, and they always say anything at all whatsoever to clinch a deal. I let go of one the night before we even left Lucca because he called late in the evening to grill me about my employment status, and I felt he was quite rude.

All of the apartments we looked at cost half as much as a Manhattan studio apartment.

The apartment I was sure I wanted ended up being too big for us, and the living room was directly over a very busy shopping street with a bus stop. There was a skylight filled with bird poop and a guy who comes and cleans it once a month. It had a great kitchen and beautiful floors. The agent, Cristiana, and I chatted easily. She is a very loving auntie to her niece and lives in the neighborhood. Her voice is so deep, probably from smoking constantly, that I called her Cristiano on the phone, but she forgave me. I think.

The second apartment was in a stunning palazzo from the 1500s, but the apartment has ugly marble floors — if there is such a thing, and has not been in use for twenty years. It needs some repairs and felt very cold. The price was not bad. 

The next one was a grandma apartment with crazy old lady furniture and pea green walls. It had tremendous potential and an old lady smell. Most of the furniture would have to stay and also the wall color. The son of the lady refuses to live there, and so did F. 

Then we went to a house with a stunning frescoed ceiling, but the first agent told us that she didn’t like the area because of drug activity. We are from New York, so we took that with a grain of salt. I interviewed some high school students and it turns out to be a square where only kids go to smoke pot, and not really a high danger area. However, the kitchen was tiny. I liked the agents and the house owner and the current occupant a lot. I suck at rejecting real estate agents. I am what you call a sucker. But I do believe I will have coffee with the current occupant because she seems like a really cool person and she swore she meant it when she gave me her number. The color of the walls was a little oppressive to me. 

Then we went to a house under construction. I almost fell through the stairs. The construction chief said that the walls were insulated, but I made F tap on them from the neighboring apartment, and it turned out that they were not so much. The agent was very nice and seemed crestfallen when I told her no.

We were late to the last appointment, and the agent was already grumpy. He did the restructuring of the apartment and his daughter would be the upstairs neighbor if we took it. It was a giant, swank, apartment with all the amenities. This agent thought he was being nice to us. He called a friend about finding us work, bought us hot chocolates, and pretended to like us. Oddly, he flashed in with little bits of passive agressive rage when we mentioned that the first agent had told us that the place is located from the noisiest strip of the city where the bars are lined up and that the bar downstairs always has drunk people on the street in front of it on the weekends. It was the most expensive of the possiblities and perfectly amazing with a Sex and the City worthy walk in closet, a washer and dryer, a full armoire, lovely kitchen and bath, and even a garage space. But he got so mad telling me that he can’t control if the bar starts to play loud music or not, that we took him up on the hot chocolate at the bar near his office. And when he left, we got extra whipped cream and put it on his bill. He also tried to scare us about rich Bulgarians who he was shocked hadn’t signed the contact yet. Good luck with that.

I won’t show you the place we picked yet because it is very simple and well constructed, but can wait to be decorated for a big reveal. We still have to take a second look before we sign the contract next week to be sure. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

My Oscar please
Things have reached a certain point of craziness here. Italy is on the verge of getting themselves Trumped in the upcoming election, and I mean that in the crudest and most negative way possible. Six African immigrants were shot in Macerata this month by a failed candidate for city council who went on a killing spree and the anti immigrant rhetoric has reached a very feverish pitch. 

What went down today was that I impersonated a rich American lady in search of real estate possiblities in Montecatini. Two days ago I made an appointment with a certain shady real estate agent who took 2,400 euros off Wisdom’s mother Jennifer. To be fair, Jennifer gave her the money as a show of good faith because she had helped her find her last house and because she was afraid she would blow the money on other things like food and electricity. On the other hand, even asking for the 500 euros that the agent usually requests, is shady when you haven’t even found a house for the client. I had a hard time keeping a straight face, as this agent justified the practice of taking  a pre-deposit deposit so that she doesn’t have to run around finding houses for people for nothing. I couldn’t really be bothered to explain that finding people houses for nothing is her exact job description. 

Anyway, I made F wear a suit and a tie and I put on a faux fur scarf and a bunch of jewelry. As soon as we walked through the door with Jennifer and Wisdom, the agent was flummoxed. My story was that I got her phone number through Jennifer, but that I didn’t want to do business with her until she returned the money to Jennifer, half of which is actually money we gave to Jennifer for a new house. She bought it. I told her that she had a week before she would hear from our lawyers. I then made a big act of pretending to be angry at Jennifer and yelling at her in English for giving my money over to a stranger, just to make the thing more believable. 

In the end, she said that she had shown Jennifer some houses that were either above her budget or too small or whose owners refused to have Black tenants. Ten minutes later we were in the car, and, by some miracle, she had found them an apartment. It is pretty perfect for them, but Jennifer will have to get an Italian friend to sign for her because the owner will not do business with Black people. I don’t know what will happen next because I don’t want anything else to do with the whole transaction. 

Cool is back from Denmark, where he discovered Africans can work off the books for 10 euros an hour for four hours a day, which is better than Malta where you can work twice as many hours for 5 euros an hour. We gave him money to get the autonomous work certificate so he can sell umbrellas or batteries with a permit instead of begging, and which may help him to get a long term residence permit. We will do the same for Job and then I think we will conclude our work. 

Today we dropped off books and shirts for Wisdom from my teacher friend Elisabetta. Funnily enough, one of the sweatshirts had a very apropos saying on it.

It is very likely that Peace would not have been born if we did not meet the group, and so I am glad that we were able to bring some Peace to the world.

*Footnote: I later received a call from Jennifer saying that her Italian friend who would have guanteed for her with the racist apartment owner is currently unemployed and, thus,  ineligible. We are not going to guarantee unemployed people’s rent for years to come because that is just not smart, and I had to explain to Jennifer that it was nothing personal. I do hope she finds someone who can do it for her. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

What had happened
Well, the bastards have decided that not only should the refugees who have no other choice but to beg in the streets be fined 50 euros everytime they get caught with their hands out, but now they are putting interest on the fines. Tina was scared when she got a registered letter from the police and put off reading it. Finally, I insisted and F went to go pay it off. It now has escalated by another 14 euros and would continue to do so each month that it goes unpaid. Her fine is two years old. She hasn’t begged on the street since Peace was born, so I assume this is a new procedure.

I called her to find out if she got a subsidy to help with her rent, only to find out that Job is gone. He had to return to Nigeria to renew his passport and to help some sick family members. In Nigeria, you have to pay for medical treatment up front, even from the emergency room. Emmanuel’s son is with a family that is having health problems, but I could not understand which family member died. It is really a challenge to understand Tina on the phone. 

Emmanuel is also not doing very well. So far he has not managed to get a work permit for autonomous work, and his spirits are very low. I had to call everyone to make sure they are aware that the temperature is going to drop precipitously at the beginning of next week. Wisdom’s mother heats the house with a gas bomboletta. It is very dangerous, but, anyway, she ran out. And it is better she is prepared. Also, he is ill. Again. Emmanuel’s house has no electricity because Freedom’s family sends all of their money back to Nigeria instead of paying the rent or utilities. Allegedly. They throw the blame back and forth at each other in that house, but however you slice it, the rent does not get paid and they have no lights or heat or hot water. 

I suggested he move in with Tina to be the man of the house while Job is gone, and that seemed to be a good suggestion for everyone. Although, there are a bunch of men in the house sharing the second room because otherwise they could never scrape the rent payments together by begging. 

We brought Jennifer a birthday cake and a cash donation that my friend, the judge, gave us. Today we got more donations of clothing and books for the kids, and some support for Paul. 

T has had several more college interviews, but we won’t know where she will go for another month. She has constant tests in all of the subjects and gets no extra credit from the professors for being one of the few kids at her school who never cheats and who really learns the material, instead of just memorizing it. I don’t know how she does it. She is amazing. I just hope the colleges can see how special she is. 

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Getting going
This week I translated for Emmanuel and we paid for him to try to get a work permit for autonomous work. The man in charge wasn’t sure if he could do it because Emmanuel doesn’t have a real permesso di soggiorno yet since he has not been called up for a second time in front of the review commission. It was a gamble.

We also gave little push screen tablets to the babies so they could stop dropping everybody in their house’s phones and cracking the screens. They were a big hit!  Wisdom is usually scared of new toys and he cries when he first sees the invaders in his home. I think it is because his house is a shelter for a lot of people who Jennifer cooks for and hosts. She is also currently babysitting for a ten month old while taking care of Wisdom, who is just about to turn terrible two.  We also have made donation requests for her for a double stroller since it is impossible to get them both out of the house at the same time and get further than three steps.

F brought a vacuum to Jennifer so she could clean the dirty one in her bedroom. And Courtney’s mom Dinah came in for a clutch donation to take care of baby food and diapers for the kiddies. 

T has been slaying her college interviews, but they keep on coming. Next week she has her first taste of the final exams that they call the simulazione. She will have a big test every month until the end from here on out. Unfortunately, her wisdom teeth have chosen to make an appearance right when we least wanted to see them. At least one of them is going to have to come out, but we don’t know when we can schedule it. This being Italy, our favorite dentist’s xray machine was broken so she has to go back to Prato just to find out how crooked the tooth is growing in. 

Peace’s parents called us in a panic because they needed a document from the Nigerian embassy translated into Italian and stamped in order to qualify for a grant to help with their rent. If they got it, it would be a life changer. We did our best on that, but we don’t know how it will go.

I am really looking forward - understatment of the millennium - to finding out where T is going to go to school and what our next house is going to be like. She should get some results starting next month. We have ongoing construction noise from our neighbors that is making this beautiful apartment less hospitable. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Good news and Bad news
This is the most Italian day yet. 

I overprepared. I made magic happen between my student, the judge, and baby Peace. She fell in love with the baby, as expected, and then she both had a preeminent immigration lawyer write us a fifteen page legal opinion as to why Tina should get her documents renewed and sent her assistant to translate for us at the police station.

 We got photos taken. I reminded Tina to get photos taken twice. She then went and had a hard time with the machine at the supermarket, and so the photos had the top of her head missing. They were not usable. Despite that, we had all of the other originals and copies of documents they could possibly ask for.

I freaked out yesterday because I read online during my panic attack about the renewal that the law changed and now you have to pay for a baby permesso that is separate from the parent’s. I thought Peace’s document was tied to Tina’s document, but the clueless lady at the post office did not ask us for money for Peace. I made F wake up extra early and doctor up some passport photos for the baby, just in case. We planned that F would go and pay for Peace after he dropped us off at the police station, but then it turned out that Peace’s paperwork is tied to her father’s and that doesn’t expire for another year. 

The problem you prepare for in Italy is never the problem you face.

The lawyer couldn’t find parking. I sweated while we waited fifteen minutes past the appointment time. We couldn’t figure out if we needed a line number because we had an appointment. We did. Finally, the guard, we call him Fred because he reminds us of Fred Flintstone, got us a call number.


We were number 20 of the day, and they were only calling number eight. Fred had us go up ahead of time because he loves me. The blond at the immigration window, unfortunately, hated me on sight. She asked for the passport, and we gave her the titolo di viaggio. I learned at the post office not to dawdle or explain and just to give them the document right away. She conferred with her colleague. This is always a bad sign. I explained to the lawyer that he should prepare himself. He told me that I should try to do the talking. Why was he there? No real reason. She came back and seized Tina’s titolo di viaggio, the Italian passport supplement that Tina needs as identification and if she ever wants to travel outside of Italy. She refused to give it back. She told us that from now on refugees with stay permits for humanitarian reasons like Tina will have their stay permits renewed without travel documents automatically at their local police stations. Then she dismissed us.

We drove Tina and her friend back to Pescia. Her friend was breastfeeding and it looked painful. We made conversation while F took Tina to get new photos made at the supermarket. She told me that she is in a worse situation because she has no stay permit and was, therefore, put under house arrest. She has no house contract or hospitality letter, and her husband begs as a job, so she can not get right with the law no matter what. F took her to her appointment with her baby at the hospital, while Tina and I got her fingerprints taken at the local precinct. The immigration officer there made us go to the entrance for foreigners even though the place was empty. She almost sent us back to the original police station in Pistoia. She said she needed to know the name of who sent us. Luckily, Fred let me go behind the private door to drop off F’s homemade bread for the officers. As usual, the grumpy bald guy who works with people who don’t have appointments stamped his feet and made fists with his hands and pretended to be upset that I was giving him bread. But he accepted it. As always. His brunette colleague yelled at me for being in a private area, but not before she yelled his name. Alessandro. I remembered it, and that is the only reason that Tina got her document renewed today.

That is Italy.

The bad news is that without the titolo di viaggio, Tina does not believe she will be able to renew the subsidy she relies on, 80 euros every eight weeks, to buy diapers and baby food for Peace. I don’t know how to feel.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

B is for bureaucracy
Today I took my friend who is both an English student of mine and whose son is T’s classmate and studies English with F, to come meet the families from our group. And as luck would have it, she is also a law professor and a judge. Ain’t I a stinker? I knew she would fall in love with Peace. She would have fallen in love with Wisdom, but he was fast asleep. She crooned after his 10 month old friend Stevie instead. 

Just the other day Tina had a scare. The mail carrier bring her four registered letters to sign for. She did not understand what they were or who they were from because she doesn’t read Italian. The mail carrier would only tell her that they were from Lucca. She lives in another province, so that in itself is strange. When she called me about it, I almost had a heart attack because I thought that somehow in trying to ger her legal help, I might have accidentally gotten her in trouble. Then I realized that it could not have been anything I did because Peace’s father also was the recepient of two of the letters and they are not married, so nothing I might have done would implicate him. Nevertheless, we are troubled. It could be some fines they received for not having their identity documents on their person one day or for being identified as people who have once begged for money or it could be some kind of threat from their landlord, even though they are not behind, by some miracle, in their rent payments. At any rate, bringing an important friend by was a good move. Plus she seemed to enjoy herself. 

We also filled out renewal kits for Jennifer and for Paul. We brought donated clothing to both of the families, and my friend, Brunella, also bought them a bag of groceries each. She also said she would have her assistant try to accompany us the day that Tina has to renew her permesso at the police station, which would be a really baller move. 

I have had even less sleep than usual because it turns out that one wall of our house that is not from the 1500s and thick as can be is in the livingroom. It is thin as paper and (surprise!) we share it with a till now uninhabited  downstairs apartment that a couple has bought and is having refurbished. Their house is a walk up and only the entrance way is downstairs. Who knew! Anyway, I can hear every breath they and their construction crew take. And they can hear us. It is embarrassing and annoying. Even though we don’t want to stay here more than another six months, it will be a long six months. Their geometra/architect guy is coming to look at the lay out of our house, and he already knows that I want him to convince the couple to put insulation in that wall. They live in Zambia, although the woman is Italian, and are only going to use this place as a vacation home. Nevertheless, she has blasted music every time she has come here and failed to warn us about the construction she was having done. The construction team seems to be in some whistling competition and are training themselves by whistling for hours at a time in a tuneless kind of assault of my nerves.

F bought me some noise cancelling headphones, but the seal of the earbuds on my inner ear caused me to get sick. I absolutely can’t wear them. 

I live in fear of these mysterious letters and the police appointment for Peace’s mother. Meanwhile, T has a bunch of American college interviews she has to do on skype. Her professors still haven’t gotten around to filling in the recommendations she needs for the universities in Holland, and one of the the deadlines a few short weeks away. But today went really well. Check it out!