Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday check-in  
Today we made the rounds in Montecatini to check on all the group members possible.
We started at Stanley, Tina, and Emmanuel's place. Stanley had asked F to make him some CVs/Job resumes, which he did. I included the print out of the newspaper article that shows that they don't need a Nigerian passport to get baby Freedom's stay permit. I also gave Mamma Freedom some women's pajamas from Geraldine, the South African lady who often gathers clothes and things and distributes them, plus a toy for Freedom, and some hand knit baby booties. Emmanuel asked us to give him a ride to Pescia with a woman that turned out to be their sister. She was adorable. Her name is Happiness. 
Mamma & Baby Freedom
We all stopped off at Jennifer's house. Jennifer was feeding a room full of men, as usual. We surprised her with a coconut birthday cake. I found out from her documents when her birthday is. Cool seemed surprised when I asked him what flavor she liked in cakes. A lot of refugees don't know their real birthdays, but, anyway, let's say it was her birthday. She seemed pleased. Baby Wisdom was as covered with baby snot as an infant could be. We couldn't even photograph him. I brought him some soap bubbles and a wand. And then I placed the bubbles container in the mystified hands of whichever man that was who was watching him, while Jennifer took care of her pot on the stove. We dropped off a few men's suits for whomever fit them and a scarf for Jennifer. 
Happiness makes 3!
Then we drove the rest of the way to baby Peace's house. Emmanuel was cheery in the car, but very down once we got out. He said that his and Job's real mother did not take care of them. The woman who took them in died recently and her biological children are very impoverished. They have been calling him every day, begging for money for the funeral expenses. Apparently, funerals are very lavish in Nigeria. Emmanuel asked if he and Job could spend a huge amount of the money that we set aside for him and his son for this funeral. I told him that it is his decision to make, but I worry that he will be taking food out of his son's mouth to feed others. I felt badly saying it, but that blessing of a woman is gone now, and his son is still here. Again, he has to decide. 
It's too much cute for one human, right?
Peace's mamma asked us to take her to the supermarket. Peace has started on formula and baby rice and she was out of diapers. We are teaching the group budgeting so she had to pay for her groceries, but a few packs of diapers and some menstrual pads fell into the basket that we paid for. She laughed when I pulled things off the shelves into the basket, and then said, oops, as though they had fallen in by accident. F paid for our portion of the groceries in the auto pay area where you swipe a card. Tina and I had to get into a regular line and wait. People could not have looked at us more strangely if we had three heads a piece. Who knows what they thought. . . I don't even want to know. While we were paying, F got taken aside by some of the supermarket employees. They handed him a large wooden crate. Wouldn't you know it? He won some grand prize. So in the end, the whole group got a bunch of extra groceries and will eat well tonight! That was a nice way to end things. Of course, I told Tina to tell Job to see if he couldn't lift Emmanuel's spirits and to share the effervescent kind of cold medicine I got her with him, too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Two Valentines  
Today I received two Valentine's day presents.
One from my very sweet husband ...
from F
And one from my very sweet refugee lawyer at Caritas. Upon opening my eyes this morning, I received a message with a link to this article:
from my lawyer (and I thought she didn't love me!)
Basically, it says that African refugees no longer have to show a passport from their country of origin, according to a new legal decision from a judge in Palermo. Bravo to the judge for realizing that if a refugee flees a country and its government, it is then very awkward for them to have to then ask their embassy for a favor. I know you are a corrupt country that is filled with famine and murderous gangs, but can I get a passport? Yeah, that didn't make a lot of sense. I am thrilled that Freedom's mamma won't have to make the trip down to Rome and even more thrilled that Peace's mamma won't have to risk everything returning to Nigeria just to beg for a passport.
Happy Valentine's Day to all of us (please include yourself, dear reader!) !!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Italian is Fun-damental  
Emmanuel had his first Italian lesson with me today at the literary coffee shop. He was very sweet, as usual. 
I discovered that the book I got him is not going to help very much because he does not know how to read English. Instead, I invented a sign language system to help him memorize the different subject pronouns in Italian and how to match them with the verb endings. For example, I eat, I sleep, I work in Italian is expressed by making the verb end in the letter "o." I taught him to make a circle with his index finger and thumb and put it over his eye to remind him that when he says "I" do something, he needs to make an "o" sound with his mouth, as in "mangio, dormo, lavoro. .." 
We started with the Italian alphabet so that he can spell his very long last name for the officials.
He explained to me that it is hard to learn when his brain is always trying to keep track of what his son Precious is doing without him in Nigeria. Is he eating? he wonders. Has he bathed today? Did he go to school? It is hard not to know, but his brain is always searching for answers. It is like hitting his head against a wall. I tried to be encouraging. The lawyer said knowing Italian would help his case in asking for political asylum. And that in turn, would help him to get Precious here. 
He had a lot of questions because he knew at least a dozen phrases in Italian, but not why they were constructed in a certain way or what the individual words stand for. They were nice to us at the cafe. Today, we didn't have any problems from the police, but I have to remember to make sure I have my stay permit with me at all times in case I have to produce it or justify why we are together. We have never been asked for our permessi di soggiorno by police while going about our daily lives in Lucca, but F had to produce his to explain why he was giving a donation from our car to one of our group members. Best to be always prepared.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Too legit to call it
Nah, we haven't quit yet either.
In refugee land, F took Emmanuel to the police station in Pistoia where the immigration agents greatly appreciated the chocolate sourdough bread he made them. And yet, no permesso renewal for Emmanuel. They are still waiting on some documents apparently. I hope we are not giving away all these carbs for nothing.

F also took Paul to see a room for rent near the restaurant where he is dishwashing. The great part is that we know the American woman who has the rooms and she is willing to write him a hospitality letter so he could get residency. Even though the owner of the apartment which Paul is currently occupying has decided not to come back, and so he could continue to stay there rent free for the time being; it might be a good move for his future if he spends the money and does the rental because it would make him more official in the eyes of the law. 

Freedom's family hot water heater broke again. Eltion, the Albanian man with a van, came to the rescue even though he is away for work in Milano this month. He got the plumber to return for free this afternoon; and, at least for the moment, it is working.
I have had more than one heart attack about Peace's family this month. First of all, I was worried that she had fallen off the high bed on to the ground. So I ordered them a baby bed barrier to keep her from falling again. Of course, I got Peace's cold and have been sick all week long. I called to ask if everyone was well before the visit, but apparently my timing was off and they didn't figure out how sick she was until after the call. Italians and Africans have some pretty funny ideas about how you catch cold and none of it has to do with the transfer of germs, so we are forever sick here anyway. My students often lament how a cold wind caught them without a scarf or how a change in temperature is the culprit. It is maddening. 
Anyway, I accidentally entered the wrong address for the package. Being in Italy, they won't let you change anything on the order. I even followed the advice of contacting the delivery service, which in turn makes you register on their website and wait for a passcode. An hour past our bedtime, the website informed me that you can only change address mistakes on future orders, not past ones. So I bought another bed barrier and figured I would try to get our money back for the second one. Then while I was teaching back to back English classes all week and fielding refugee phone calls, the courier called me and asked me for the correct address. The class listened while I fielded the call in Italian, and then laughed hysterically when I acted out the situation whereby Peace told her father in baby sign language that he better not let her fall through the cracks again. Anyway, that is why Peace is safe from rolling off the bed either to the right or the left, from her mother's side or her father's side.

Even though I am still getting so little sleep that my eyelids are all wonky, I still have been fending off advances of several of my male students and it is hella awkward.

In unrelated news, I did get a tour of the workshop at Fabio Perini where I got to see the converting line machinery up close and personal. The explanation of the mechanics was in Italian, and I understood most of it and was able to ask questions. I've come a long way baby. Let me know if there is a Trivial Pursuit board game edition dedicated to how toilet paper and towel paper rolls are made. Life makes some turns that you can't predict, folks. 

Meanwhile, T's whole class at the Classico high school are all going around like the cast of some Goth telenovella because of the number of quizzes, interrogations, and assignments the professors have lined up for them over the next two weeks. Their group chat is so dark that even the cable tv stations would have to think twice about putting it on the air. Their gallows humor is not for the faint of heart, and I, for one, certainly hope they all get to chill out during Erasmus week when they will host students from other countries, including the Danish girl who will be living with us, god help her.

Jennifer, Wisdom's mamma, called me to ask for some of the money we allocated her to start up a business of selling Nigerian clothing to people in her community. We think it is a genius idea and she prefers that to an Etsy store, but, of course, if business is good, we can always help her to develop an online component. Our hope is that all of the people in our group can live independently, that is why we are meeting with Anna Morelli tonight to ask for her help once again in finding jobs for the men. She is the one who gave us the contact that ended up with Paul's getting hired. Even though, my eyelids say differently, I am apparently going out for cocktails tonight. 
Tina is also interested in going to work selling Nigerian cosmetics. I am very worried about her because of her expired Nigerian passport. I have been pestering the lawyers all week, but I still haven't gotten an answer about whether her only choice is to return to Nigeria to ask the embassy in person for a new passport. She would have to get herself and the baby Peace vaccinated. I worry they might get sick or have problems coming back to us. I worry enough that I can't function like a normal human, but she continues to seem happier that I've ever seen her. I want to see if the lawyers can make a case that she tried to get a passport, but was turned away.

Two fabulous parents from the Piccoli Aiutanti, kid volunteer program group, offered up some baby books for babies. I picked up donations from a South African woman who knitted them all baby booties and collected some toys for them. She also gave me some clothing for the men. We read my article in the Grapevine magazine in some of the English classes, and only one of my students said anything xenophobic, so I'm calling that a victory. In March, I will be meeting with a researcher from Pace University who is writing about refugee issues regarding childhood education. The more, the merrier, I guess.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Stops and Starts  
Today we woke up at the crack of crack to take baby Freedom and his parents to the Caritas lawyers to get the baby a permesso di soggiorno. The lovely brother and sister lawyer dynamo legal team had bad news for us. Since Mamma Freedom's Nigerian passport expired she will have to get a new one, and ask for one for the baby while she is at it, before she can go to the police station/questura to hand in her stay permit application. This will cost upwards from three hundred euro. It makes no sense. Why should refugees have to show valid passports from the country that they are fleeing? Also the Nigerian embassy is corrupt and you have to pay all kinds of money to get them to do anything. In addition, they make Nigerians come twice for passports: once to be finger printed and once to pick up. That means double the amount of train tickets to Rome with the new baby. Luckily, we have some donation money for them. 
I followed up on a lead for rooms for rent for Paul. I was afraid the person who placed the ad would not rent to Africans. Imagine my surprise when it turned out that the person is American and that I have met her before! She has no problems with renting to Africans. We have an appointment on Thursday. 
Here I am, looking ragged and grim.
And also yay for The New York Times because we think they will consider the group of six for an article that might be published this Spring. I am sorry I doubted you.
The adventure will continue on Wednesday with Emmanuel's stay permit appointment. . .

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Etsy, Books, and other big ideas  
F dropped me off at Peace's house while he did a donation run and dropped off clothes for baby Wisdom, a sleep suit and a light up entertainment center for baby Freedom and a bathroom mirror cabinet from Ikea for Mamma Peace. Peace had a mighty bad cold, so Tina and I used saline spray and those little suction cup nose cleaners to give her some relief. Tina was making me laugh because she kept telling Peace that she was sorry, so sorry her little nose was broken. We are lucky it wasn't broken for real, because Peace forgot to tell her folks that she learned how to roll over and she rolled right off their super high bed into a crack between the bed and the window sill. Tina woke up and heard screaming, but couldn't locate the baby. Job insists that Peace jabbered the whole story to him in baby talk and kept gesturing at the crack like she still was mad at it. 

Anyway, Peace and I had some time to chat while her mom got some errands done around the house. 

F had this genius idea about opening an Etsy store with Nigerian artisan products in it. Job was super enthusiastic about it. It seems that four days ago he went to the train station in Pescia to meet Tina and the baby when police started questioning him. They asked to see his documents and how long he had been in Italy. They were upset with his answer that he had been in Italy for almost seven years, but was still unemployed. They brought him back to the station and strip searched him. When they didn't find anything, they told him they were sorry but that they had reports to search for a suspect in the area. They made him sign a form, which he refused to do until they found an English translation (bravo!), that said they had not found anything on him. 

Jennifer said she would prefer to work as a house cleaner because Nigerian fabrics are costly in Italy, but I told her about wholesale fabric shopping and she said she would think about it. As we have had no leads with other types of jobs, we thought maybe there was a way for them to work for themselves. 

I all the sudden realized that none of the babies have books, so we have to do something about that right away. 

As stressed as I am about their situation, I have never seen Mamma Peace happier. She loves the new apartment and being a mom. She was worried about how Peace might be treated in Italian daycare, and so she was also excited about the idea of selling Nigerian jewelry or cosmetics and other things either door to door Avon lady style or over the internet. We'll see ...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I hear you
I'm sorry for the lack of photos this week. While I haven't physically been in the same room with the group of six, I have been telephonically glued to them, almost constantly. 

Number one on the agenda was getting Emmanuel's public defender, not to be confused with his other three lawyers, to pick up the phone. The other three lawywers told me that only this lady, let's call her Antonacci because um that's her name, had to handle this case against Emmanuel because her name is on the accusation against him as his court appointed advocate. I tried not to bother her. I emailed her. Twice. When that failed, I texted. When that failed, I had Emmanuel and Job call her. She told them to call one of his other lawyers. Then I called her and she told me she couldn't talk. Then I called her again and she said she wasn't the right person, and she kept saying that until she, herself, the very same Antonacci, realized that she was the right person. I got an appointment time with her after a prolonged negotiation between both of our calendars. Just when I was getting ready to celebrate, and after two lengthy phone calls with Job and Emmanuel to explain what had gone down, she called me again. Mannaggia!

It turns out that what happened a year ago, my young Sherlocks, was that Emmanuel was asked for his document by some police. He gave it to them, but said that he didn't understand or speak Italian. The police then saw it fit to charge him with not having a document, despite the fact that he had handed them his stay permit document, and then told him not to come back to Lucca for one year. Since Emmanuel doesn't read Italian, he did not realize, and neither did we, that the accusation against him was not a real order to stay out of Lucca. Those exist for sure, as Job once received one, but this was just a pretend order. Therefore Emmanuel has been afraid of violating that order and has not entered Lucca for one year for nothing. The lawyer then cancelled our appointment, explaining to me that the case against him will not get before a judge for another year or two. There is nothing she can do until that time. If he had a notice banning him from Lucca, she could have cleared that, but none of us see any evidence that there ever was such an official decree in writing. 

We had a similiar close call on Sunday afternoon when the police officer telephoned us from the Montecatini police station to figure out how to fill in the paperwork showing that Emmanuel had declared his loss of his temporary stay permit, which he left on the train. Luckily we were able to send her our scanned copies of all his previous documents and impress on her that he is not alone. He has back-up. Ironically, Emmanuel left his bag on the train because of his exhaustion and hunger levels and his desire not to bother me for money. It was tough going to explain to him that this is much more of a bother; that I have money set aside for him to draw from for just this scenario; and that the fanny pack I bought him for his documents is not a fashionn accessory. But Iove Emmanuel. I really really do. Sfigato as he may be.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A typical 24 hours in refugee help

Sometimes I feel like Alice in Wonderland, telling everyone I meet: I know our group members are better off than those who live in tents on the street and do not even have stay permits, but I REPEAT, it is not okay that they have to beg for twelve hours a day just to make ends meet, are constantly in trouble with the police, and have no security net for their lives.

Take the last 24 hours ...

I had an appointment with strangers. A couple from America who was sent to me from our friends, the bakers. They entered the apartment, panting from the stairs, and in no short order told me a. that they were not rich and had no intention of donating; b. had come to ask for my help for a senegalese man who needs work, not the other way around; and c.  that I better form an association, call the contacts they gave me or else. It was interesting. I looked into their eyes and realized that angels appear in all kinds of paint spattered clothing, and some angels come into your home and start yelling at you for no apparent reason. 

Among the directives I was given was to write a newspaper article whose deadline was that same evening. So among the hundreds of other things on the calendar I wrote an article to be published in a local English language newspaper. 

I also called a contact that ended up being the shame nasty man who works for the comune of Capannori immigration department and hates Nigerians unabashedly and for no apparent reason. 

Then I had a meeting with a man whose job involves giving away government money, five hundred euros to potential employers, in exchange for one year job contracts for people age 29 or under in a program called GiovaniSì. It turns out that they have as much trouble getting people jobs as we do, even though we set aside that much money as an incentive to hire any of the men from our group out of pocket. However, we gave the gentleman our idea of opening up indoor vertical farming spaces that could provide fresh produce when it would usually be out of season to the best restaurants in exchange for restaurant jobs and apprenticeships. 

Meanwhile Emmanuel called to tell me that he lost the temporary permesso I fought so hard for him to get on the train just before we are supposed to take him to exchange it for a real stay permit. He lost it on the train, so we called the train employee whose wallet he found and had me return to her with nothing missing on it. She called the conductor and the cleaning crew, but no one found his bag. We printed out a color photo of the original, which may not be acceptable when he goes for his appointment and gave it to his brother Job to bring to him, since he is still forbidden to enter inside the walls of Lucca because of another legal problem he has that we have yet to resolve. I had to admit to the train employee, Sara, that while I told her that I had found her wallet, it was really Emmanuel who had found it, but being African he was too afraid to get involved in returning a wallet so I did it for him undercover last year or so. Crazily enough, Sara and I had never erased each other from our cell phones. 

I wanted to cry. 

At least we got the heater fixed, thanks to Courtney's mom Dinah, at the house where Emmanuel and Stanley and Mamma Freedom are currently living until that situation blows up. 

I am so tired that the eyelid twitch has become a permanent facial issue for me and everyone thinks I am winking at them all the time. Some of my English classes have suffered in quality due to my exhaustion levels, but such is life. To summarize, none of the organizations designed to help refugees are doing a better job than we are as creative and nutty, private citizens.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Angels do exist, though
I admit it. I felt guilty about not meeting Stanley and Mamma Freedom's requests for their new, temporary, completely illegal house. Some incredibly generous women donated money, one of them happens to be my friend Courtney's mom Dinah, and so we got something done. With the help of Eltion, the man with a van, my favorite Albanian -- I'm sorry I wrote that he was Romanian, that was incorrect -- and his band of construction specialists, a refrigerator was delivered from Vanessa's house in Lucca to Montecatini, and two problems were identified with the heater. Vanessa was also great and saved the day with the fridge donation. I guess all the money we paid to other people in the past for that heater was for nothing. I need to get certified in plumbing and water heater repair, but that is not really in my wheelhouse.

It all went down in the ten minutes in which I was supposed to be leaving for work at Fabio Perini, the converter machinery company, where I am teaching English and causing people to either love or hate me. I would say it is 80/40 at the moment. It was the fastest texting I have ever done, and my texting speed is legendary in its slowness on the whole, according to our in house teen expert. Eltion said it was within the hour or in six days' time. Those were the only choices for getting the new baby to have a house with heat and hot water in January. 

In those same ten minutes, I found out from a lawyer that Emmanuel's legal situation is looking pretty dire. The only way to get him reunited with his son will be find him a job and teach him Italian in the next few months. Or else. I also can't get his public defender to clear his ban from entering Lucca that he got by begging on the streets to survive. If he can't come to Lucca, it will be hard to give him Italian lessons. It will be hard to give him Italian lessons because I suspect that he can't read, in any case.

And I still got to work on time. Frazzled, but on time.

Cool also had bad luck at the police station. Even though the lawyer told him not to get a Nigerian passport because it would look like he did not need Italy's protection if he was able to get things like a passport from the Nigerian embassy, the police told him that he couldn't renew his stay permit without it.  Cool was told that the Nigerian embassy is not giving out the passport books themselves to any Nigerians at this time, so now he has to wait. He also risks not having the right documents if the police frisk him or demand to see his stay permit in the meantime. 

Then I taught seven and a half hours straight with no breaks and then came home.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Will you still be ..  
Tonight we brought all of F's Nigerian cooking in aluminum trays to Peace's family's house in Pescia.

We picked up Paul, Cool, Jennifer, and Wisdom in Montecatini. Emmanuel took the train and met us there. After the food was reheated and served, and the movie Queen of Katwe was loaded from our key onto the television through the computer, it was time to have the dreaded meeting. We explained exactly how much money we had left for each person, and recommended that they start budgeting wisely. A big, heated conversation broke out in Nigerian. F asked the group if they had any questions. Job said, I have a question. Everything with the money is okay.  We appreciate everything you have done for us. My question is, when the money is gone, will you still be our mother? . . and father? There was a collective holding of breath. 

We said, Yes, of course. 

Job said, Okay then. As long as the relationship will remain, we are okay. 

So that killed me.

Cool said that it was the responsible thing to do, and that I should have given them a number sooner, so I would not put my own family in jeopardy.

They liked the movie. Even though none of them has ever heard of chess, and did not understand the title of the film. They wanted to know about the queen. 


Queen of Katwe


Emmanuel forgot to bring the court papers, so he will have to meet F at the train station in the morning. He has no money on his phone. 

Uncle Paul

Paul asked us about how America ended up with a president that they didn't want. He was sad as we are to see Obama go. 

Anna had the flu and couldn't come. We hope she will make it next time.

play nice!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

We tried to see if we could get anybody else pitch in to help, at least the kids, get food, medicine, clothing and meet their daily needs. We got three whole positive responses. THREE. So, nope.

P.S. I treated Stanley to coffee at the bar downstairs yesterday, and heard him out. It came out that they may have found a bed from someone else, but didn't tell me, even though I was continuing to put a lot of time into trying to locate one for them. I gave him the landlord's phone number of the apartment he is thinking about moving to temporarily, and I encouraged him to get her blessing and to encourage her to replace the hot water heater in exchange for his promise to faithfully pay the rent. I found someone who has a refrigerator to donate and F got them a space heater, in case of emergencies.

Tomorrow is supposed to be our group meeting where I have to tell our group that after they spend up the money we can afford to give each of them for the year, we can't afford to pay their bills for them anymore by ourselves. I am praying that Anna Morelli comes to meet them, and gets inspired to help them find restaurant work. Meanwhile F has prepared Jollof rice, peanut soup, coconut candy, and a bunch of other Nigerian delicacies to take to sweeten the conversation as much as possible. I am dreading it, but I know it needs to be done.

The request reads: These angel babies need #angels! Their names are Wisdom, Peace, Freedom, and Precious. 

Their parents left desperate living conditions and risked everything to have a chance at having the same things we all want from life. Here, they have permission to stay, but nothing else. Apart from the camps they entered when they first got off the boats, they have not been given significant assistance of any kind. They came before Italy was ready for them. No charity has offered to house, feed, teach, or train them, and the current laws prevent them from being afforded the same help that new arrivals currently receive.

Precious is living in Nigeria because, while Precious' father made it here, his pregnant mother died after his father got on the boat. He is being raised by his aunt and uncle, but he wants his father. His aunt and uncle have several other children and very little resources to spare. Wisdom, Peace, and Freedom were all born here. Peace is the only girl of the group. 

Please message us to sponsor one of these babies with as little as one euro/one dollar a week. If you don't know us and want assurance that the money is going to the right place, you can confirm with the Italian post office that their parents are the recipients of the money attached to the postal accounts. Only they can access the accounts with their identity documents. When you alert us that you want to pledge, we will give you a postal account number with which to do so.  

Questi bambini hanno bisogno degli angeli. I loro nomi sono Wisdom, Peace, Freedom e Precious. I loro genitori hanno lasciato condizioni di vita disumane e hanno rischiato tutto per cercare ciò che vogliamo tutti dalla vita. Qui hanno solamente permessi di soggiorno. Sono venuti prima che l'Italia fosse pronta per loro. Nessun ente di beneficenza ha offerto di ospitargli in una casa permanente, dargli abbastanza da mangiare o istruirli e le leggi odierne vietano a loro di ricevere lo stesso aiuto che i nuovi arrivati ricevono.

Precious abita in Nigeria, anche se suo padre sta qua, perché sua madre (incinta) è morta dopo la partenza del marito. Resta con I suoi zii  ma lui vuole suo padre e loro hanno altri figli e poche risorse. Wisdom, Peace e Freedom sono tutti nati qua. Peace è l'unica femmina del gruppo.

Vi prego di mandarci un messaggio per sponsorizzare uno di questi bambini. Basta un solo euro alla settimana. Se non ci conoscete e vorreste assicurarti che i soldi vanno alle persone giuste, potete confermare con la posta che i genitori di questi bambini siano i destinatari dei soldi. Solo loro potranno accedere a questi conti con i loro documenti. Quando ci avvisate che vorreste prendere questo impegno, vi daremo un numero del conto postale.

Monday, January 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

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

Job and Emmanuel putting up the curtains


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

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

those cheeks, though!

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

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

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

T's school is so weird

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

me embarrassing T

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

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

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