Monday, September 26, 2016

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

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

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

Peace loves her new bouncy chair!

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

Peace and Wisdom!

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


Tina, Stanley's wife

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

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

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Peace's naming ceremony
What a life!

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

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



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

Wisdom was my dance partner.

These pastors were a very sweet married couple.

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

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




Monday, September 12, 2016

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

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


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


us

He does make eye contact with some folks.

Cool, Jennifer, and Wisdom

happy family



That is Celeste in the pink.

Wisdom and Me

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Smiles  
We may not have been successful getting baby Peace her health card since we didn't know her father had to be present and the computers were all down anyway, but that didn't stop us from getting so many errands today . . . or  from enjoying some pretty life affirming smiles. 
 
Tina and Peace
awww, now that's a winning baby smile right there.

Friday, September 09, 2016

To do list times two      
On our to do list just for this week was picking up the awesome donation from Bernadette of a tv for Paul. We needed to call Paul to find out about getting his heater fixed, take Tina to get her stitches removed,  go shopping for curtains to keep all the flies out of their kitchen, print out the photos for Wisdom's baptism present and Peace's name ceremony present, write the letter for Tina and Jennifer to get weekly food care packages from Caritas, and pick up winter blankets for all the men from Vanessa. More or less everything on the list involved doing it twice. Even Tina's stitches could not all be taken out at once. Somehow we also managed to fit in doing the work we actually get paid to do. I almost remember how to teach English. It has been a long summer.
 
It might take me more than one go to get anything done in this country, but I have an amazing track record for do-overs.
 
I was so bummed to have to hold the baby, while Tina had her appointment. See how sad I don't look.    
Here I am keepin' the Peace (and then totally returning her, though!)

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Home Sweet Peace
ahahahaha, check out ms. squoosh face!

Today after my pentultimate class in the English series at Brooks Running Company, I went to the hospital with F to bring Tina and Peace back home. It was not as easy as it sounds. We had two different meetings with nurses and doctors because Tina did not understand her meeting with the doctor who allegedly speaks English and so, thank God, I found the most detail oriented nurse to explain again and again what she has to do. In any language it is not simple as it involves the mother getting injections at home for six days which Tina's husband Job will administer, and twice daily antibiotics measured in a baby dropper with a syringe by Job. That has to be kept in a refrigerator. The belly button cleaning stuff has to be done every day. I made Job write everything in Nigerian on a paper to tape to his refrigerator. I still am unclear where and how to get Peace's birth certificate from the comune. We had to go to an outside pharmacy to buy the vitamin drops that they will never afford to refill for Peace. We went to a maternity store to buy nursing bras for Tina; I miraculously guessed the right size of the band and the cup. I bought her a nightgown that is easy for nursing. Yesterday I gave Peace her first manicure with a nail file. Tina came home to find a beautiful pink ribbon on the door, but she was not happy with how the men left the kitchen. Lots of moping and muttering ensued which was not resolved for several hours until she saw how lovely her new bedspread looked on the bed. 


While I did that, F went to Jennifer, Cool, and baby Wisdom's house to put up mosquito screens in the sauna that used to be their nice house. When I dropped by the other day, there were blood stains all over the walls. I saw at least thirty mosquitoes sitting on the walls. 

Mosquitoes, be gone!

Baby Wisdom is so big and cute now:
Cool and Wisdom, the best named humans ever.

We still have to deal with Paul's broken water heater. Tomorrow he goes for his permesso renewal where he will be fingerprinted, and most likely he will be hassled about his proof of residency. 

In the meantime, I contacted Emmanuel's lawyer for him and also Josha. The lawyer says we will know Emmanuel's fate on September 15th. 

We still need to find a private apartment for Tina, Job, and Peace in Montecatini or Pescia because their home is too crowded. Did I mention that Tina's "sister" from her village, Franca, has come to live with them, too? At least she gets ordered around by Tina pretty good naturedly and will help with cooking, cleaning, and laundry. 

I will start a free Italian class for all Nigerians who want to come to Lucca on Monday afternoons, but who knows how mercilessly I will get teased by the Italian barista and cameriera for that endeavor. 

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Visiting Hours
I can not overstate how happy we all are about this new addition to the group!

This is honorary uncle Joshua who we are trying to help too. He is only 24 and I don't think he has blood family here.

Job's pride and joy




So happy for them!

Winning in squooshability

hanging out, eating contraband African food :)




Job's mom called to thank us from Nigeria. We said we'd send a group photo.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

How we roll  
My best friend from back in Brooklyn, Ian, came for an Italian vacation with his lovely, amazing family; and at one point I could see he was confused about how we live here. I know, I know, I don't put in a lot of hours doing anything to earn money, and I put in a ton of time and energy into volunteer projects that actually cost me money. At the moment, due to pure luck, I have a great rental apartment full of beautiful things that are not mine . . More or less, I explained, I live like a drug lord minus the whole drug thing. Being a true friend, Ian just sighed and gave me the look. 
A Little Face Time
Today we had a much better time at the hospital. And we all felt very happy, relieved, and grateful for Peace.


sleeping PEACEfully

I had to


dear little face

love and Peace

my girls

proud of all of us