Friday, May 27, 2016

Run Happy
We are the kind of people that when the contract calls for a "social," we say -- well what is the point of having a luncheon at a restaurant where all the students must speak English for two hours? Let's just invite everyone to our house for a cocktail party! And, as you know, it doesn't stop there. We are also the kind of people who say that because our students are all runners who work for Brooks Running Company, we should make the dessert be a cake that looks like shoebox with a giant cake sneaker on top of it. And, yes, I get that kind of people may indeed be a euphemism for mentally unstable. Just check out the weird glint in my eye in the photo below. Enough said.


Last time we used fondant to coat a cake, it worked out very well. However, it turns out that there is a big difference using heavy fondant to decorate in winter than in the beginning of summer. Cut to us redecorating the cake four times, the last of which was a frantic effort half an hour before our guests arrived.  Despite all my handywork melting down the sides, we were able to roll, cut and patch well enough to have the desired effect. Hopefully, a good time was had by all. I can never tell for sure what the students are thinking. For example, in the pictures below I suspect they were thinking, what the cabbage is this weird spread? (Italians put the word cavolo into all sentences where they would like to say hell but they are too fond of cruciferous vegetables to do so.)





Yes, the table is sprinkled with Cards Against Humanity. #don'tmakemeexplain

Today was supposed to be an easy work day for me with just a few lessons, but of course the Nigerian situation exploded and my day became a nightmare. 

First I spoke to Emmanuel's new lawyer. That went well, actually because he thinks that if Emmanuel loses his appeal there is some loop hole by which they can make the request for a stay permit all over again. I don't know how. This lawyer speaks some English so he can understand his client. The other great thing he said was that he thinks that the charges against Emmanuel for not having a document can be argued since he was legally still waiting to hear about whether he would be granted a document at the time that he was charged for not having a stay permit.

Then Cool told me he had a job opportunity in Switzerland. I was happy for him until I remembered that the form he signed at the police station when he acknowledged that he was caught without his valid document on his person stated that he cannot change locations without the permission of the police. You remember how I waited there for hours until they translated the form into English for us? Well, that's why. The charity lawyers were busy and did not answer my email or texts and Cool has a train ticket that leaves in 24 hours. I forced myself to have a lot of awkward Italian communication today and even called another lawyer who said that Cool could face jail time and not be allowed back in Italy if he left without permission. He said that Cool needed his own lawyer to accompany him to ask for permission. I advised Cool to try calling the lawyer. At 7 pm he finally got her on the phone. She told him that there was no problem. Then I had to call her and read her the part of the document that said that there is a problem. She changed her opinion and told me to tell Cool to stay put. Cool was really upset and he did not seem to fully believe me. I told him that I was trying to save him from not being able to see his family again and that he could make any decision he wanted as long as he understood the information that I was offering him.

This was stressful as having lasic eye surgery done by a manicurist in the subway and it took me all day long and a frantic phone call to Jennifer to convince him not to approach the police on his own at night. 

One of the ladies from the foreigners in Lucca group said a journalist friend of hers might be interested in writing about this for a magazine, but not if the story had a woe is me refugee angle. I suggested that if the journalist's editor wanted an angle relevant to Americans, they write about how what is happening in Tuscany is a test case for why Trump's plan for immigrants will cost the country and cause the opposite of the desired effect. The interest of another journalist may have prompted the journalist from Il Tirreno to let me know that she plans to interview us tomorrow. I may also be a sly dog. An exhausted sly dog. But a sly dog all the same.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Love is

The three of us went and dropped off donations to our group on Sunday.

On Monday three really good hearted women from the people-who-are-not-from-Lucca-but-ended-up-in-Lucca group came by to learn more about the African immigration issues and to donate money towards diapers and supplies they need. 

It turns out the new parents in our group, Cool and Jennifer, need a plumber and an exterminator. When we got to their house it was have a serious sewer blockage problem and there were mosquitoes all over the walls. It was a short visit. 


I called today to make sure the landlord was on top of it, but I think we may need to intervene later in the week. 

Jennifer has become a really skilled mother in just three weeks. She did a one handed baby outfit change that took my breath away. She recognized the difference between a cry for a diaper change and the one that said Wisdom would like his milk immediately, grazie very much. She has basically nailed this whole mothering thing and looks really happy, despite the smell and the mosquitoes. And that makes her like ten thousand times better of a person than I am. I admit it. 


Paul called to borrow T's bicycle. I should have volunteered it earlier. It will make getting to and from the restaurant much easier for him and he was thrilled to have it. 


Emmanuel's new lawyer, this will be the third one he has consulted, flaked on him today. So I will speak to this guy who I already don't trust tomorrow because we need to have a contact near, but outside of, the camp so that he can get his permesso renewed again in just six months. If he doesn't get deported before then. If anyone has ever needed a miracle, it's this guy. 

This great student of F said she might be able to get an apartment for Tina so our fingers are crossed for them, too. It is good to know that there are good people out there who do care. For a while, it seemed like the world was so ugly and we were fighting by ourselves. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

I did not hit post, va bene?  
Sunday Morning Punchiness

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Silence of the Racist Lambs

This week I met with the good folks at ARCI Pistoia to show them my letter about how African refugees who arrived between 2011 and 2014 have been systematically excluded from integrating and deprived of any kind of aid, including health care. They are on board and want to help. They suggested opening a sportello with aid for this group.


 They cautioned me not to meet with the Commissioner of the Vigili Urbani, but since he called me personally to move up the time of our appointment and F thought it best to try to smooth things over, I went. I wanted to let him know that I am not a threat to him for my family's safety in Lucca and also to let him know that I understand the pressure on local police to put a bandaid on much more complicated and thorny issues of street begging even though the ordinance they are enforcing is inhumane.


 I am not exaggerating when I say that after I said my piece and he said his, I was shaking like a leaf. It wasn't so much what he said, but his gaze which made Sir Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs look friendly and warm in comparison. I later googled him and found out that he is suspected of illegal activity himself. Imagine my surprise.

Today I had a wonderful phone call with one of the guys from our group. He was so happy because we found him a real job and he even has a real apartment and he can begin to have a life as a fully integrated immigrant. He had an hour to kill before his long day at the restaurant begins so he sat down in the piazza under my house to make a phone call. The police, including the youngest and strongest looking officer assigned to the nucleo operativo antidegrado, demanded to see his documents. I was in pajamas. F ran downstairs. They said it was just a regular check. Moments before, according to our friend, they had taken the wallet off another African man who they suspected of street begging, and removed its contents. I grabbed the first dress I could find to cover myself quickly and it happened to be a Pretty Woman looking affair so I grabbed some heels too because sometimes the visual helps and I ran down the stairs. They had let him go. This time. You can imagine how our friend felt after having been without aid for four years, and having finally found a job and an apartment, only to be singled out by the police for being black.

I made attempts to meet with the head of the Prefect in Lucca this week, but I was told that the Prefect will not take responsibilty for the welfare of any refugees who arrived before 2014. Shame on them. I wrote to the UNHCR and now I am going to write about this in Italian and try to get it published in the local newspaper Il Tirreno. If they try to Amanda Knox this situation on me, I have you all as witnesses. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lucca's Big Little Dirty Secret 

I want to start out by saying that I love Italy. My family could have moved anywhere in the world from New York -- and we chose Lucca. When we discovered that my daughter had diabetes, it was the Meyer Hospital that saved her. So you can say that really I owe Italy my life.

But there is something happening in Lucca right now that is very distressing. At first, I thought it could not possibly be true. In fact, my contact at the Red Cross told me it could not possibly be true. But we were wrong.

A number of English speaking Nigerian refugees who realized that my husband and I are English teachers, told us that they had no other way to provide for themselves other than begging on the street. I thought at first that they must be clandestini, but then they showed me their valid permessi di soggiorno. It did not make any sense. One refugee after another told us the same story. They did not know each other or who we had talked to previously. Who would live in filth and beg all day, if they were not forced to do so?

My Italian friends and officials from both Caritas and the Red Cross educated me as to the fact that immigrants who arrive from African generally are followed by one of the two philanthropic charities and that they receive food and money and shelter. I brought a group of six people to Caritas to inquire as to why they were not included.

It was explained to me that in 2011, Italy was not prepared to receive these immigrants and that those who were not welcomed by SPRAR were hosted by hotels run by the regions which soon became overcrowded. Like so many refugees, several people in my group accepted 500 euros from those at the hotels to make room for the new arrivals, not understanding that by accepting the money that was pushed into their palms, they were sealing their fates forever. They left the various camps where they had first been processed, and, unlike their friends who left for other European countries, they came to Tuscany where they discovered the money would not last very long and that they had no one to help them to survive. They were ashamed to beg, but they had no choice. They were ashamed to live in filthy, overcrowded quarters for which they are overcharged by nefarious landlords, but they had no choice.

If they could have stayed in Libya when the war broke out, they would have. They risked their lives to get onto those boats. Many were already orphans or had lost one parent to violence or disease. They had no idea that even if they were allowed to stay in Italy, they would never be allowed to integrate legally.

Almost everyone in the group of six belongs to a different church. My husband said we could not save everyone so that we should just choose a group of six. Each of the churches has about 150 people who arrived between 2011 and 2014 and have never received aid. That leads me to believe that we are talking about somewhere between 200 and 400 people who have permessos but no other form of assistance. That is a lot of people who are legally being allowed to starve.

In the past weeks a new ordinance was passed which is being enforced by the nucleo operativo antidegrado. Now all these people who have no choice but to beg to survive are being charged with 50 euro fines and any money they have on their person is being confiscated, if they are caught even standing still inside the walls of Lucca.

It is one thing to outlaw begging for immigrants who receive aid and it is another to deny people the only way of obtaining money that is keeping them from homelessness and starvation.

Why did Italy grant them a permesso di soggiorno in the first place, if then they were going to let them die from starvation anyway?

I know about financial crises. My husband lost his job in America during a crisis when I was still home taking care of our young daughter. I know that Italians have had to withstand a horrible financial crisis and that many are unemployed. I do not know many Italians who are looking for jobs as dishwashers, street cleaners, caregivers, and farm workers, and, therefore, I do not understand when people say that Italians have enough problems obtaining jobs for themselves. African people and Italian people want to do completely different kind of jobs. In fact if the African immigrants did the jobs that Italians don't want to do, the money they make would be funneled back into the Italian economy which would be good for everyone and would create more jobs for Italians.

As a social worker and food program organizer for the homeless in New York for many years and former employess of the Coalition for the Homeless, my husband and I know that when problems of this magnitude get addressed with a bandaid, they only get worse. Yes, you can give a multa to everyone who stands in front of a store in Lucca, but those people will not go back to Africa. They will not disappear. They cannot afford to pay the fines that are being levied on them. They will just appear in a different community and they will be ever more desperate.

For every person ignored, Lucca is losing the 30 euros, roughly 27,50 for Italy and 2,50 for the individual African, that is collected for immigrants who arrived after 2014. If the refugees get sick from starvation, Lucca hospitals will have the economic and logistical burden of caring for them. If their permessos are taken away due to failure to pay the fines and they are caught without documents, the jails will have the same burden. It is a short sighted way to deal with a problem that in the end will cost the good people of Lucca in many ways that will effect their quality of life.

The people of Lucca have hearts and consciences or they would not reward those forced to stand for hours and hours a day, humiliating themselves, with change from their pockets, which in the end usually comes to less than 20 euros a day towards paying the 200 euros they are forced to pay per person in rent for houses that are not considered worthy or large enough to give them residency, thus further depriving them of benefits.

Let us come up with a more humanitarian, cost effective way to acknowledge the existence of people who definitely do exist. I am ashamed of how America has denied that its entire history and every one of its achievements is due to the work done by immigrants. I am ashamed that the fear that Americans have about climate change and terrorism has been funneled into a frenzied attempt to find a more beatable enemy and hatred against people of different races and religions.

If there were a way to grant carte di soggiorno to this group of immigrants, which has not been treated the same as other immigrants from the beginning, most of them would leave Italy immediately to try to find work in other European countries.

If that is too thorny a process, why not invent a point system whereby immigrants can earn points towards reintegration by participating in Italian classes in exchange for food care packages or job training programs for work that Italians do not want?

We came to Italy because we were so impressed with the value that Italians put on family. I hope that we do not become a society that ranks which mothers, fathers, and children deserve to live decently and which ones do not.
LA SBORNIA, parte 5
Friday and Saturday have been like a sequel to the movie Hangover, but cold stone sober.


I came up with the possibly genius idea of writing a letter in English about the police squad that is going around Lucca levying fines on starving African immigrants who have no choice but to beg to survive and confiscating all of their pocket money/earnings so that they can get leverage on them to take away their stay permits/permessos. This letter would be an invitation to the prefect of Lucca and the mayor and the head of the police to meet with me about the difference between maintaining civil order and taking away the livelihoods of people who have been constrained by the inhumane laws to exist without any way of supporting themselves. The sly dog element of the plan was that I would have my student who leads the immigration division of the prefect read the letter as part of her English lesson. 

It started well and she even offered to help me meet with her boss, but then the whole thing went south, no pun intended. I got a call from ARCI, one of the immigrant aid groups I had been trying to enlist during the week, during the lesson. The caller was speaking so loudly that my student could hear every word as this man's karma did him in. He was saying that the problem that I had called about did not exist about fourteen seconds after my student had fully admitted that it did exist. I told him that this government official who speaks to fairly frequently would like to disagree with him and handed her the phone. As he stammered and backtracked I started cracking up melodramatically on the couch, hoping to pantomime my way into my student's good graces. That failed and she told me that she had a lot of respect for this guy so my karma caught up with me and I started stammering and backtracking and it wasn't fun. He said that aside from my allegations that the begging law was unfair, I was also saying that the immigrants are being blackmailed into paying high rents for unlivable apartments. She read on.

When she got to the end of the letter she told me that she was disappointed that I did not have a reasonable solution to solve this problem that did not involve writing new legislation, which she assured me would be impossible. I did learn from her that these new patrol groups go by a new name --nucleo operativo antidegrado-- and that they are headed by the same officer I had words with over Stanli and Cool when they got harassed and brought to the police station last week -- agente Delnoa. 

I have the assurance of my ex-student and journalist for Il Tirreno that if my invitation to discuss this in a civil manner goes unaccepted, she will print the full letter in the newspaper where I will be naming names.

Cut to later in the day when I call everyone in my group to make sure they are safe and staying out of the city center. I give Emmanuel the lawyer's fax number in case he can convince the camp manager to let me see a copy of whatever kind of letter they had him sign so that I can verify whether or not he actually had permission to leave the camp to go to the police station to pick up his stay permit. All this despite the fact that if his appeal does not go through, he will be sent back to Nigeria for the sole reason that he did not understand enough Italian to give officials the "right" answers.


Then at 10:30 PM I frantically messaged Paul to see if he had gotten on the train to get home from another test day for a job at the restaurant that we got him. I am not his mother, but I am a mother, a hennish one at that and I didn't trust that when he said he would only not contact me if he was safely on the train, I didn't believe him. Of course, he was not on the train and would have had no way to get home if I didn't second guess him. He also had no credit on his phone. He said he was still working and would call when he needed a ride home. It was almost 1 AM when he called and F went to pick him up. The only people left were the michelin star chef and the head of the kitchen. They cheerily called for Paul who was changing out of his dirty clothes. They said he should bring his documents the next day, which gave us hope that he can officially be on staff. I woke up at 2 AM and had no idea where F was and he had taken my phone so I couldn't call him.


The next day the same thing happened, but F asked the head of the kitchen about how Paul is ever going to get home to Montecatini during the week and he was told that there might be space for him in their worker crash pad. This would be truly awesome. Paul says everyone is so nice to him and he is happier than we have ever seen him. I hope for me that means: One down, three jobs to go.

In the midst of all this, T and I planned a surprise birthday party for F. We had some of friends agree to wait downstairs at dinnertime and text me so I could buzz them in and they could suprise him in the kitchen and take him out for pizza and beer. I got three men to agree to this silly plan, but one, Luca, had to work late and when Fabio and Angelo came in the door, I had been watching Wendy Williams and I could not comunicate with them at all. It was like the nightmare where you are unprepared for a test. I offered them wine we didn't have. One guy made a joke about F's shirt being so nice that it led him to think he had known about the surprise. F changed his shirt. Just a hot mess. But everyone had a nice time. T and I had to finish cooking the dinner for ourselves and we learned that spatulas are not trustworthy equipment and that in order to make decaf you need a coffee filter.

SORPRESA! They look hungover, but, as we had no wine, it is just the effect of listening to me speak Italian after watching Wendy Williams. #HANGOVER-IV

For his birthday Luca got F some suspenders, and it served F right because that man's pants are always hanging south of his underwear band, no matter how tight his skinny jeans start out when we first buy them.   

Friday, May 13, 2016

CIAONE PROPRIO
 

And then I got a call from Emmanuel from the camp in Calabria to which he was called back to await the results of his appeal after having been denied asylum in Italy. He recounts that the camp Manager Mario said he was going to the police station to pick up Emmanuel's new permesso for him. He came back and said that the police told him that Emmanuel had to go in person. 

Emmanuel asked whether he needed permission to leave the camp location on his own. The manager then thrust a form in front of him that was written in Italian, which Emmanuel can't read. Emmanuel signed it. On his way back from the police station, the camp told him that they were going to throw him out because he had violated the rules about leaving camp on his own without permission.  

I wrote to the lawyers because I did not want to chance a phone call.  

Then I called Paul to tell him what had happened to Cool with the police. Good thing I did because at that moment Paul realized that he had left his wallet on the floor of the job site when he changed his clothes at the end of the day.  

Then I talked to Tina who had her sonogram today. I paid for it because she needs to know what kind of donations to ask for and that, in Italy, means you have to know if it is pink for a girl or blue for a boy. They told her to come back in twenty days because the baby's legs were closed. Yeah, I don't know if I believe them either.  

 Then I talked to Paul again because he did not know that the last bus home to Montecatini from the restaurant is at 10,30 PM so I told him that if he could not get out in time, F could give him a ride home.  

If today had been Friday the 13th, I would now be the most superstitious and insane person you know. Today is actually only the 12th, but I keep asking F if we are maybe getting screwed by the time difference.  

I also planned a newspaper article with Nadia, the reporter for Il Tirreno about what is happening to my group. Nadia had spent an hour with Tina, getting her life story after she promised to hide her identity and not to use any photos. Then we decided that the best way to get her a decent home would be if she asked her pastors who agreed to put down the deposit to come to see the apartments with us because the couple speak fluent Italian. They said they were too busy and told Tina not to talk to Nadia anymore and so that was that. Even without Tina's participation, I think if it were written well, the article could do some good for public education so I told Nadia that I had proposed a meeting with the police commissioner and now we have to just wait and see.  My real work was cancelled today which makes another day where I spent more than I earned, but I can't imagine regretting the fact that I spent money to save people's lives so as long as T is taken care of . . that's how we roll. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ciaone
You are not going to believe this. 

I'll start with the fact that the chef stood us up for our appointment. I took F ahead of time because I didn't want to disappoint Paul with another dead lead for a job. He has been on the streets begging for years and things are only getting worse for the Nigerians in Lucca. The sous chef had the sweetest face you ever did see and he made a few calls and told us that Paul could have a trial to see if he could work with them. 

F took him over to the restaurant that they are building outside the walls by foot so he could learn the way. I told Paul that he had to ask if he could come back the next day in Italian, and I instructed him to ask that last thing before quitting time. I was anxious all day until I heard his happy voice telling me that they said he could come back. I told this whole story to one of the students I teach for free in exchange for help from the charity for my group. She advised me that the testing period is usually one week and that it is without pay. Thus we run the risk that Paul is not getting rent money and that they will use him for free labor and then let him go or only give him occasional work. Of course we will pay half his rent, if that happens, but this whole project is costing us money because the group has constant emergencies. 

Unfortunately, my phone ate the sous chef's number, but then I found him on fb and he told me that he was happy that Paul was given a chance, just as he was many years ago. I hope he will stay in his corner after week is over, but it is a good week for Paul to be off the streets. 

Now it turns out that Lucca has a new ordinance that says that anyone who asks for money in the street has to pay a fine of 50 euros. The vigili/police are not making any distinction between people who get help from charities with two euros a day and free meals and accomodations and the people, like everyone in my group, who don't receive any additional help and who have to beg to stay alive. 

Cool, who is a new father to a baby who does not sleep a wink at night, had to go out to do some shopping in the evening for his family. He was worried about getting robbed of his documents so he put them in a second fanny pack that he wears during the day. He forgot to replace them and the police searched him. Today he did what the police told him to do yesterday and brought in his documents. Then he called me. I was there for hours. They wanted to sign off on a legal document accepting culpability in Italian, which he can't read. I made everyone wait while various people who originally said they could speak English, changed their minds after meeting me. I refused to be the translator because I did not want the responsibility for understanding every word of a document that is notoriously tricky to understand. Then I rejected their google translator version as gibberish. In the end, the  agent had to write out a new document by hand based on an English copy they finally found in their archives. 

It turns out that the police also confiscated all the money in his pockets without probably cause or his resisting arrest. I asked several times if this was standard procedure and no one would answer me. I both infuriated and courted the agent in equal measures. I asked her what she would do to help this situation if she were me. Surprisingly enough, she advised me to ask for a meeting with the head police commissioner and she gave me the phone number. I reached his secretary who informed me that she would bring my request along with all the others to him and he would decide whether or not to grant me the meeting for next week. Today I spoke Italian well, but who knows what will happen next week. 

The same police officer that gave the ticket to Cool's brother was the one who got Cool. He couldn't believe it that I was there again. He asked me if I knew every African person in Lucca and I didn't know what to say because I didn't want him to know that they were brothers. I just smiled at him. 

Cool is lucky that the lawyers from the charity are still accepting him as a client and so they spoke with the police and will handle the case. Unfortunately now Cool will have a mark on his record that doesn't go away and he will have to have the lawyers make it possible for him to move. He would like to work for three months in Switzerland. Three months is the most Switzerland lets immigrants stay there, and a Nigerian friend of his might let him take his job if he returns to Nigeria. Now the whole plan is a little messed up or wahala, as they say.

Cool is also feeling very down because it used to be that begging was legal and he made enough money to send for all four of his brothers who now are starving here. He wishes that he had never called for them. He preferred the time when he could make enough money to just provide for his father and all of his brothers by himself after his mother died. He said that his brother was operated on by Nigerians who were not real doctors but healers and that he suffered very much which is part of the reason his behavior is a little bit erratic. The money I gave that brother to get his passport to leave Italy was for nothing because they sent him away with an appointment that won't take place until mid July. 

I then walked the streets and told everyone I knew to go home for the day and to try to let me convince the commissioner to make some exceptions for the people we know or to give them carte di soggiorno so they can leave the country or let them integrate into the same system that exists for all immigrants that have arrived post 2014.

In other news, we found out that Harvard has 52 cases of mumps and that they are very picky about the shadows on the student ID photos. We also found out that T has tests almost every day until the last day of school and that a number of her classmates get extra tutoring help just to get their homework done while T white knuckles it alone. And those kids are all Italian, which means she is a genius. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

And then I almost got arrested  

If you are new to the blog, let me catch you up. This is me:
 
On the crazy scale, here I only look like a 4.
I am a crazy, burned out social worker:
This is me hanging out in T's room while she's out school trying to prepare myself for the fact that she is going away for the summer. Pathetic much?
I moved my husband and daughter to Italy and we are not Italian and we didn't have work here.
I ended up taking up the cause of a bunch of African immigrants who are really getting a raw deal in Italy.
Wisdom is home at last.
Jennifer's discharge from the hospital was delayed. Cool was out of his mind with worry and sleep deprivation. We gave him a ride to the hospital with us. When we finally came to pick her up, the staff could not have seemed to care less. They made no effort to give us any after-care information and based on my stubborness and intuition, I called the hospital after we got back. I found out that, yes, in small print, in the Italian discharge letter there was an indication that without this medication she could become infected and that the baby vitamins had to be without vitamin K because they had done an injection while the baby was in the hospital.

I did not get the idea that the new family knew about SIDS or baby sleep positions or burping, but we don't always speak the same language so I can't be sure. I offered what I could. They would not use the baby car seat we worked so hard to provide and held the baby on their laps on the highway. When we got back to their house they had a ton of supplies, but no diapers. Maybe they were going to use cloth, which would be an economical choice. I don't know. I bought them some diapers.

Then today I almost got arrested. Cool's brother Stanley tends to be aggressive in his panhandling technique, and he has racked up a bunch of tickets from the police because even though he would starve to death otherwise and live on the street -- begging is illegal. Today he got searched because we had asked him to deliver the medication Jennifer needed to her. The police, who I imagine searched him illegally for standing still in a place that he has been known to panhandle in the past, said that if he had money for medicine, he should have paid his tickets and they wrote him a new one. According to him, he was not even begging at the time.

I called the number on his ticket and the agent told me I would have to come to the police station. I went to the station where I received mixed treatment, some rude and some polite, while I waited for the agent who wrote the ticket. He silenced me immediately and recited the anti-begging law to me. I dropped a bunch of names that he knew, which is the Italian way, and then I started yelling at the officer because he wouldn't listen. He told me that the fact that this guy would die without begging was a humanitarian argument and not a legal one, and I could almost respect that coming from him, but then he started talking about cameras. I told him to get me the damn film because witnesses say that Stanley wasn't begging. And the medicine they found on him was a vaginal medication so it was hardly for his personal use. 

Then Stanley started behaving in a less than smart or respectful way from his posture to his attitude so I got angry at him and defended the officer. This was partly just showmanship so that I didn't get Stanley to have a bigger target on him since I could see we were going to lose this battle. I offered to pay Stanley's tickets, but he said the officers were stupid and it was too much money for anyone to ever pay (50 euros). In the end, although one of the officers snarled and me and stormed off, the main one now knows we are watching what they do and he may lay off Stanley which was our goal.

This all went down after I took Paul back to meet the Michelin star Chef at his restaurant in an attempt to get Paul a dishwashing job. The chef did not respond to my confirmation text in time and it was only afterwards that I saw he had written me to say he would not be at work because he had a fever. That turned out to be half true because while he did have a fever, I did hunt him down at the restaurant and achieved my goal of the day which was to be seen by him and to have Paul seen by him. He said Paul could come back Saturday, but if he has the same flu I just had, I am willing to bet he won't be out of bed after today.

And then Paul laughed at me because I made him use hand sanitizer and he assured me that in Nigeria, hospitals are really filthy so they don't believe in germs.

Then I went to work and my English class and I had a really depressing conversation about immigration for like two hours because I don't understand the world anymore.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Relapse, Sheet happens, and Wisdom Arrives!           
I thought I was better and then boom! I was sicker than before. I was so sick that it was actually worse than childbirth. And that is saying a lot, trust me.
Attention Mom and the Ukranian pornographers that follow this blog: I Am Now Fine.
When I was incapacitated these things happened:
Tina had to go do the dogsitting job. She did a great job, but when I was voiceless and F went to explain to her the fine art of poop picking up, there were some communication issues. First of all, he used the word poop. After the whole explanation, he checked that she had understood (thank goodness!) and she asked, "But what about the shit?" And that is when we understod that poop is not a word used by Nigerians. We overstood that.
   
Tina & Nash
I called to make sure the dog had its morning walk and found out that Tina had been walking around for an hour and a half. "Oh honey, you can stop now." We got it down to twenty minutes.
The same thing happened when we had to call to let her know that Nic, the dog Daddy, had hurt himself racing and was coming home early. I told her she could strip her sheets from the bed. Tina was horrified. But the dog never sheet on the bed, she said, I took him for a long walk!
Somewhere in the midst of this Cool called. Jennifer Lawrence's water had broken and she was bleeding. I understood that an ambulance was coming, but I think they drove around in a friend's car and got turned away from one or two hospitals before they landed. The baby came quickly, I think. His name is Wisdom! And mamma and baby are happy and healthy. T is convinced that with family names this awesome he will grow up to be a super rich and famous star. His rap name, she decided, will be Wiz. Lil' Wiz, if he stays on the small side.  
           
F ran out to get a car seat from Caritas Pescia today so we can take everyone home from the hospital tomorrow. 
       
Get ready world . . it's Wisdom!
Coolest Family Ever!
It turns out that Jennifer can't get her permesso, if we don't find Cool a job. You know things are bad when I am writing snarky emails in Italian to the lawyers, saying sheet like, Even Harry Potter could not get a certificato di idoneità and proof of earning potential in less than a month for this family. For the love of everything good, I am doing my best, people. My main point was to ask how exemptions for immigrants work, but as usual, the lawyers ignored my query and responded to my over-the-top tone (I know, I know, but it's too late to change me now). They said that we are all trying our best to integrate this group of immigrants into Italian society, but we have to respect the law. Well, I don't respect these laws, but then again neither does any one else in this country who isn't getting paid to enforce them, so . . . hypocrisy, anyone???
 
If I do get a job corps together, we're going to call it IMMIGRANTS, We Get It Done alla Hamilton.
Anna Morelli, the food connoisseur, told us to insist with the chef because he does have work. I called lo chef today and said, "GOOD MORNING" in my best "Good Morning, Vietnam!" kind of kooky, cheery, I'm American and I'm not going to hurt you (yet) voice. He said he could see me on Wednesday, but now he is saying the work is only occasional catering work and not contract work, which is disappointing. I hope that once he sees what hard workers Paul and Cool are, he will change his mind. 
In other news, our friend Gabriella got F some great website design work on some new businesses, including a luxury hotel in centro storico. 
T had classmates over and worked tirelessly to do not just her part, but the parts of the three other girls on her English presentation about Gothic Cathedrals. WE ALL HATE GOTHIC CATHEDRALS NOW. Please don't mention them to us ever again.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

You don't know  
I wish I could go back to last week's me and say, oh honey, you don't know what rough is.
 
After trying and failing to get other people to contact Emmanuel's lawyer for me to confirm that she had the proof I think he needs to not get deported, I finally took matters into my own hands. Although the email address Emmanuel had given me was a fail and she wouldn't take my phone calls, I realized that I still had her cell number and I could just text her. When I did, she confirmed that she did not have the documents and said that it was now too late. I begged her to amend the appeal and she said she would try, but didn't know if the judge would accept it. 
 
Then I counted to ten and wrote to the catholic charity's lawyer. Twice she ignored the parts of the emails that had to do with Emmanuel and when I underscored this she wrote me back a more formal letter than usual saying that she had already told me that she is in contact with Emmanuel's excellent lawyer and that I should let the professionals do their jobs. 
 
Well, I wanted to say, the professionals didn't share the documents on time for starters. But I didn't. 
 
Then I realized that despite having been vaccinated, I had the full-on flu with raging fever, body aches, nausea, dizziness, and just for good measure a huge acne cyst on the side of my nose.
 
My big worry was that I would not be able to accompany Cool and Paul to the job interview with the Michelin star chef who said he needed dishwashers. I decided not to confirm our appointment because I didn't want to give him room to wiggle out of it. Instead I sent F and also T, who we had to get out of school an hour early, to do the Italian part. I sent her with a cheat sheet of notes. It was in English, but still. The guys were excited and I was anxious. Of course, the chef was not there. His staff reached him by phone and he said he was meeting with his accountant in a different city. He did not ask to reschedule. He did not respond to my text begging him to let us reschedule later in the day. Cool and Paul then waited around to find out and when they got to the train station they discovered that due to the holiday on Monday the Friday afternoon trains were not running (so Italian!) and they had to endure a terrible confusion and eventual bus ride back to Montecatini. 
 
Then Jennifer called me to let me know she had faxed some documents we needed from her to update her permesso and asked me for money to renew her Nigerian passport. Earlier in the week she asked for the spelling of my name so I can have permission to be in the birthing room with her. This is a weird communication problem because I know Jennifer has never been wild about me. I said to call me if she needed anything and so I cannot be surprised if she does. I told Cool that I would advocate for her if she is not being treated well in the hospital because I would. But I am not looking forward to getting a view of Jennifer's nether regions or hearing her curse out everyone, including me in the labor room. ah well.
 
So I wrote back the lawyer saying just to let you know what kind of day I'm having . . . and I recounted the day's events with the explanation that due to language difficulties and cultural differences, our lives in Lucca are a continual series of misadventures and that she should know that between preserving my dignity or their opinion of me and helping my group, I was going to choose the group every damn time. In fact, if I had worried less about angering the lawyers in the first place, I might have gotten Emmanuel his documents on time. So that was cringe worthy. Just sitting in my unglorious truth of dirty bathwater.
 
And I didn't even mention the long and dismal phone conversation I had with the director of a cooperative with the same name as the cooperative that I believe provides job training to immigrants tell me that I had the wrong idea about the work that they did. I had gotten his name from my journalist students who thus far has tripped me up more than once. After I hung up the phone, I found an email from the lady I actually wanted to reach consenting to meet with me on Tuesday! But then a third cooperative, the one that was kind of condescending to everyone about learning Italian, called to ask me to teach the staff English. And they really do provide job training, so I said yes. Yes in a pissy you were supposed to call me a month ago kind of way, but yes all the same. And then I discovered that they pay 50 euros and hour. So that is good. I can give fifty to Jennifer.
 
As long as I'm listing all of the humiliating episodes of the week I should add the part where I begged one of my students to get the phone number of the person I wanted to call Emmanuel's lawyer for me. She said I should call after eight at night. That is late so I texted first, asking if I could call and she didn't answer. So I called and she hung up on me. And that's when I got the stomach ache that told me that Emmanuel's future was more important than being a people pleaser.
 
I still don't know what to do about the chef. I am praying that I don't give F or T the flu. I am hoping that I can handle the Tina/dog-walking situation that starts tomorrow and that I don't cough up a lung in the process. 
 
How long until summer vacation?
 
Oh and p.s. did I tell you that when T goes to college, I want to move to Puglia?
 
The only good thing that happened to me this week was that my tumblr idol TVhousehusband liked my post comparing the cast of The Real Housewives of New York City with that of The Mary Tyler Moore show. 
He wrote back: Fabulous :) Thank goodness, because I am in a fragile state where a snarky comment from tvhousehusband could have really annihilated me.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Craig's list, Craig's pissed.
This is a multicultural learning opportunity waiting to happen.
This has been a rough week. I raced to get Tina a job interview for a 5 day dog sitting gig. Nigerians do not generally keep dogs as pets so before we met the Australian Iron Man at the outdoor cafe who owns the adorable, cocker spaniel puppy along with his (from the photo) gorgeous girlfriend, I had to prepare her. First off, I suggested that she do her hair and makeup because when she asks for money outside of the bakery she obviously does not spend a lot of time on her beauty regime. That said, she is pretty stunning naturally. Then I had to teach her how to pet a dog's head. She made it to my house one minute before the interview so we raced her pregnant self over there and I think we scored her the job.  I imagine that lessons in dog poo picking up are to follow. I have managed to live 46 years without ever picking up after a baby of the canine variety, but I guess there is always a first time. I chatted wildly at the modelesque, professional cyclist and when he asked me how long I had been interested in dog walking, I pointed to Tina who had not said any words for the first ten minutes since we got there. When she finally did say words she came up with the most over the top compliment for the dog and with a large smile she repeated several times, He sure is quiet. I refrained from mentioning that I got interested in dog walking when I realized that a Nigerian pregnant woman who begs for money on her feet for six hours a day and has to pee in alleyways because she is black, could have a five day spa vacation, staying in a clean apartment if I taught her about dogs real quick.

This is how I dressed for the the doggie interview.
When I told this story to my friend Ian in New York, he suggested that I make a new website called Craig's Pissed because I seem to be an expert in getting things for people that they don't want.

I look tense, no?
Four minutes after getting Tina this job that I'm going to have to do for her, I went to look for work for Paul. I messaged the chef ahead of time so that I wouldn't be too much of a rompiscatole/ball buster. The chef kept us waiting for a good long time and then when he came out he said that he suddenly did not have any work, but he kindly offered to give me the phone number of a hotelier who hires from a cooperative. Paul and I called the guy who told us to call back the following day. I tried to call back, but first I had to put out the fire of 9 months pregnant Jennifer who went all the way to the police station in Prato under my advice from the lawyer only to be told that her permesso wasn't ready. When the lawyer helped me to get them to hand over the document, she discovered that it expires in four weeks. They wasted five months of the permit time not giving it to her. This is all okay because then the lawyers graciously agreed to help her to get it converted to her husband's better kind of permesso which is the kind of alchemy non-Italian-lawyers or mere mortals cannot attempt on their own. The hotelier gave me the number of a lady who runs a cooperative who supplies him with cheap labor, but she wasn't in the office so I wrote her an email in my kind of Italian, the kind which charms no one. In between appointments, I ran into these folks:

Cute family of English students
This is the princess cleverly disguised as a woodland elf.
This was all before I had a chance to brush my teeth. 
I now have to teach English on the telephone. 
Ian says my safe word can be second conditional. Second conditional.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Oh honey
After a series of English lessons via telephone with folks from Brooks Running company in Italy, I went to the kitchen to get a snack. I heard a really loud buzzing noise at the window. This was strange because all of our windows are screened, and, what's more, they have been closed for months. It was a gigantic yellow and black striped insect that, at first, I thought was a wasp. I remembered that the owner of the apartment kept some spray upstairs in the mansarda so I went to look for it. And then I saw two more. You don't have to tell this chronically unlucky woman twice -- I ran outside without my wallet or my jacket. 

By the time F came home, the apartment had dozens of buzzers inside of it. We called our landlord and some exterminators, but no one could help us this week. Maybe next week we could have an appointment. Say whaaat?? I called Patrizia who is my Italian inside track for all things local and she told me to call the police/vigili urbani using the number 1-1-5. When they asked me if someone is the home was allergic, I said that they might well be because conosco i miei polli and my mammina didn't raise no fool. They were there under ten minutes. F sprayed as many as he could, much in the same way he saved his house from a wildfire in the hills of Los Angeles when he was a teenager by spraying in a circular motion around him. He still bears the scars from that day, but no stings from today. Anyway they found out that there were not dozens of nests all over my house that were birthing its stinging spawn spontaneously like a scene from a horror movie, but that there was just a hole in the ceiling that leads to the roof. I had to believe them because the bees were so large that they couldn't have been born just moments before. Unless there was a time continuum, but that would be a different movie. 

The men, I think they were actually firemen, told me that the queen bee had been followed by its drones (is that a bee thing or is that Star Wars?) or followers and they got trapped in my sealed up house. They didn't even fleece us for money. They were lovely, actually. 

The funniest part of the day by far was that when I ran out of the house I saw Job downstairs and I told him about the swarm of bees. He started laughing and asked me if I were actually afraid. I said, damn right I was. I asked him if he wouldn't be just a little afraid if he were in my shoes and had a house filling up with bees. His answer was priceless: "I am from Africa," he said. "Even if my house had 25 lions in it, I would not be afraid." I know, I know, white people problems again. 


via GIPHY
My one woman show

So far this week I have had communication problems with a lawyer in Montecatini (not her fault -- she has the flu and I can't understand her fancy lawyer emails), a lawyer in Calabria (va bene, she's just playing hard to get), T's art professor (oh lord, how many years until I master the congiuntivo??), and several other people.

Most of this happened because Emmanuel only has five days left until he is no longer eligible to file an appeal with the court so that he doesn't get deported back to Nigeria. On his behalf, I had embarrassing failures in communication with officials in all walks of life who think I am certifiably insane. But at the end of the stress-filled giorno, the lawyer in southern Italy did answer my voice mail message, and, although she refused to hear my story, she said she knew who Emmanuel was and would speak to the other lawyer. My standards are so low, that I took that to be a victory. 

It's a long story, but to make up for my failed parent-teacher meeting, I decided to buy In Altre Parole for the art professor, but, after five books stores and an internet search, I can say that the rudeness and disses to Jhumpa Lahiri are never ending in this part of the world, even if some of us love her madly. So my bilingual sucking up will have to wait.

And thus, dear readers, I have decided to do a one woman's show of Charlotte's Web in which I will play all of the characters who will espress themselves in Itanglish and pidgin English. Che cosa on dey mind? On dey mind no count, whatever  counts is ciò che si trova sotto le chiappe. And then Templeton the rat does a reggae rendition of Ru Paul's hit Sissy That Walk. Buy your tickets now.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

What The Firenze is going on??
Just when I thought this story couldn't get any crazier -- it did. As I was watching a bootleg, streaming version of the latest episode of The Good Wife, my gmail flashed before my eyes. The only sentence I caught was from the lawyer working with the catholic charity for my group of Nigerian refugees. It said that she didn't know where Emmnauel's appeal case could go given that his reason for seeking asylum was that he was a homosexual who was being persecuted. Now I know it is possible for someone to be married to a woman and have children and still be gay, but I was also pretty sure that wasn't the case in this instance. I made some calls to find out. 

Emmanuel who is currently holed up in a camp in Calabria in what I imagine is a kind of dormitory situation with a bunch of other men told me to call his brother and he would explain everything. Job told me that Emmanuel found out on the boat on the way to Italy that his beloved wife Rosemary who was six months pregnant with their second child had died. He wanted to turn back, but he couldn't. He knew his surviving child would be without him. He was in shock when he was interviewed about his reasons for seeking asylum and the people who came over with him told him that the persecution of a person for their sexuality was a valid way to obtain asylum. He went with that. 

Job told me that he would let me see the statements and documents he has about his own story. True to his word, he used three of our mututal friends' phones, since his has no more credit on it, to bring me his papers. When he got here he said he didn't think I should look at the papers and that they wouldn't help his brother. I have no idea why. It turns out that due to his known activity and backing of a political party in Nigeria he had received death threats that led to the burning down of his family home where he lived with all of his brothers. In fact, Emmanuel is in the photo with the burned down house. I immediately sent the documents to the lawyer and I hope to God it makes a difference for him. Meanwhile, we are wiring money in case he can be legally transported back to our region in order to be represented by our crackerjack lawyer who is so far batting five out of six. 

Then today I got a phone call from the wife of the guy in the plaid suit from the wedding photos. She is the one who wrote the hospitality letter for Tina so I am grateful for them. They are asking to meet me so F and I will take them out of coffee after work tomorrow. 

Anna Morelli promised me that she had called the chef that is hiring and that she will see him at an event this weekend. I asked if she would come meet the group in person next week to give them some good advice about how to best handle the job interviews and how to write their resumes. I am not so much looking forward to translating those monster documents with all of the Nigerian addresses and long names in them, but it is for a good cause so I'll give it my best. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Players gonna play


So I have like three ulcers, but the meeting with the lawyer from Caritas went very well. I take back EVERYTHING. Or at least PRACTICALLY everything. It was another sleepless night for me. Then this morning I am pretty sure that I woke up and also scared everyone in the group into being on time. I was sure they would be half an hour late, but they were adorably on time and sleepy looking. It was the lawyer who was late. We thought she wasn't going to show up because the head of Caritas and I realized at the same poignant moment that she had never confirmed. We had confirmed to each other, but not with her. Anyway, me and the group were pretty happy about the situation because we could get credit for coming without getting yelled at or having any legal retribution of any kind. Then ten minutes later, in she walked with her associate.


I quickly took the wheel. Before the meeting, I prepared the group that Tina was going to have suddenly forgotten how to speak any language but Nigerian and when she remembered Italian and English, I kicked her every so gently under the table. I decided the best road to go was to say that I had been very angry at Tina for not wanting to stay in the shelter and the lawyer laughed and said in English that they had seen the dark side of me. Then I said that I had to talk myself into understanding that she probably had valid reasons for her trust issues and that the rest of the group was still hoping that the lawyer was not mad at them and would continue to help them. She just laughed it off and said that it was her Calabrian temper and that we shouldn't worry about it. I wanted to say that I had not slept in about six days because of her little sfogo of letting off steam. But I then realized that I loved her. Then the head of Caritas went way out there on a limb for us and explained that they were really not baby stealers and that even if you had doubts about social services it was not cost effective to have to care for these babies if it were not really necessary due to situations of abuse or neglect. I love her, too.


The lawyer went around the table and helped every single person and Even called the staff of the camp in Calabria where Emmanuel is holed up and made an official gesture to become his lawyer and try to save him from being deported. She got Jennifer her permesso, and, if that was not enough, after the meeting she called around to the police stations to verify the dates that the permessi or stay permits would be ready for Cool, Job, and Jennifer to pick up. We all left feeling sleepy and elated. If you any of you have children, since my fertile days are almost offically over, please name them Manuela after this lawyer. They will cause you problems, but it will be worth it. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Pasqua Nigeria   
Well, our new friends invited us to their church - so we went. Today was a big bonding day for me and Tina. We understand all of each other's words now and we sound like each other. So much so that when I spoke to Emmanuel today from the camp in Calabria, he understood me, too. Camot! 
Here goes my Nigerian dance tutorial.
F made two trips in the car. First he took the men over and I waited on Tina and she waited on the line in her house for the bathroom and one hour later, we were all ready! As Tina moisturized and primped, I watched a famous Nigerian pastor from youtube on her big screen and learned all of the five dance moves that I needed for the day. 
Everytime some walks upstairs, it seems their foot will appear through the ceiling, and that blue lightbulb shudders like an aftershock.
This little boy was a great dancer and he wore a thick gold chain around his little neck.
I know how Tom Cruise felt when Katie wore heels.
The Happy Couples
The man in the plaid suit is helping Tina with housing so I am thankful for him.
Baptism birthday party, Let's just celebrate everything!
There was a lot of cuteness present in church today.    
It was the primary colors box of crayolas up in here.  
I will have memories about today and I will think I dreamed them up. I have seen it all. I saw a wedding celebration. I saw a baptism. I was part of a dance line. We gave the offering envelope the first of the five times we were called on to donate during the service. We saw twerking and testifying. We listened to people talking in tongues and prophecizing. We saw a pastor prostrate himself on the altar. People wore full on glitter and lace, camoflage and sports coats, flowered dresses and corsets, head wraps, and pointy white loafer shoes, high heeled sneakers and everything inbetween. We saw a birthday party and were offered malt drink and sandwiches in tinfoil. We sang praises and we heard bible verses read in a harmonized echo from individuals who could read from their bibles in the pews. Some people ignored us, some people stared at us, some wanted to know who we were, and some did not want to know. That's pretty much how we roll.
We are exhausted.