Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Helpers, big and small
On Sunday I went to the first meeting of Piccoli Aiutanti/Little Helpers. I met the parent who came up with the idea on FB. He and his wife really went all out to host the meeting. He has wanted to teach his son the benefits of volunteer work for several years, but decided now was the moment to get a bunch of like minded parents together and consented to let our Christmas time project be the first one for the kids to work on. We got there on time, which was so not Italian of us that it was clear once again that I am a. not Italian and b. the daughter of a psychologist who had an office in our house. The parents who came were an internationally mixed group and the kids were little bilingual and trilingual and whatever comes after trilingual geniuses. One mom was all about doing the IKEA shopping to get fleece blankets for the kids to cut up into scarves for the refugees. Another mom had a strong New York accent in English, but a perfect Italian accent in Italian. What? Me jealous? Anyway, they couldn't have been lovelier. There was one Italian dad who was super patient with us and so his wife and I translated every so often. The Italian mom translated for the kids, almost all of whom were in grade school and felt most comfortable with Italian. She asked if they were on board with making refugees feel welcome and they all said yes. That was a really emotional moment for me. It just felt good. So we are returning next week to shove all the donations we can in our car. 

Tina and Peace

Today was our celebration of Paul's birthday. He came to the house for the first time. He is still not getting paid fairly at his job. Today he told us he had to close his bank account because they have taken fees of 95 euros since May. He sent home 500 of the 1000 he has earned in the last three months to his sick mother in Nigeria. The rest has gone to pay his inflated electric bill, which we can't settle because he can't have a house contract since he doesn't have residency because he doesn't have an official pay envelope from his job. We made him a box of fancy cupcakes to take to work with him. I know, I know. F made them. Whatever. And we gave him one of the donated jackets. A good, designer one, that fit him perfectly.

Then out of the blue two people I met on FB decided to donate money for the refugees. We made a deal to share photo receipts with them so they can see what their money is going towards, and so now, maybe we have found a way to help Paul a little bit each month. This one lady who dragged a bag of clothes all the way up our stairs said she was "lazy" even though she retired at a young age and just got married and is traveling all over seeing new things. She is donating 50 euros a month! I told her never to say such negative things about my new friend. I mean, good lord! Also my friend Courtney keeps telling me that we are going to get the 150 coats together in time for Christmas, despite the fact that at this moment we only have about ten. 

I am psyching myself up so that I can invade the tents of the Red Cross with the Piccoli Aiutanti donations and the cookies we are making (ok, ok, F is making) and at least hand them off to Moro, the guy from Gambia who lives in there. This weekend we got him an Italian text book and he was happy with it. I also have to decide, depending on the Piccoli Aiutanti parents' vote, whether I can involve the reporter from Il Tirreno in the whole event. This would not be acceptable donation giving behavior, as far as the Red Cross is concerned, but if that guard outside the tent gives me problems, he is for sure getting coal in his stocking. I'll leave it at that.

There is Ezekiel in the background.

I found out the hard way that Maurizio the caldaia/hot water heater repair man doesn't work for his company anymore. Once I finally got an appointment for Cool's house, the receptionist tried to set me up with a new guy. I never know how thorough or racist someone might be when they get sent from a new company so I then had to call my guy on his cell phone and start all over again. I got Maurizio to agree to go work on their house tomorrow.  Ezekiel is now free to travel after his short imprisonment for begging and not having his document on him. I paid him to wash Cool's house with bleach to try to kill all of the mosquitoes that insist on living there like they are doing a stint on Survivor/L'isola dei famosi or some other such reality tv show. That is where baby Wisdom lives, of course, and Stanley's pregnant wife who is due in January. He went to Sweden to work unloading trucks, but has still not started work as far as I know. I don't understand why Cool didn't do the work himself. He is either exhausted or depressed or both. Anyway, Ezekiel has a baby on the way and needs the work so it was a good solution.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

You can't beat my hustle
So Emmanuel was running out of time to renew his permesso di soggiorno because his grace period ends at Christmas time. Yesterday afternoon I ran to meet him at track three of the train station because he is banned from entering the city of Lucca because he was caught begging too many times. I gave him the documents that the lawyer gave us and told him to go first thing in the morning to ask for an appointment to renew his documents. I included a full poster-size letter that said in Italian: Good morning! Please help me to get an appointment for the renewal of my permesso. They actually all stopped what they were doing and applauded him for his efforts. But they said he needed a bunch more documents before they could give him the appointment. He could not understand them so they wrote it down for him and he brought it to me at track three of the same train station this morning where I came running to look at it.

I called the lawyer and she said that there would never be a way to have proof of the outcome of his court case because the judge won't make a decision until March, which is way after the grace period will have ended. The line cut out. We had all of the things they needed scanned into our computer. Luckily, F had a break in his work just then so he printed everything out, bought Emmanuel a focaccia to eat, and we scooped him up in the car to try again. I called his second lawyer (he has three) from the car, and she said if she wasn't in front of a judge she would try to help convince them to accept that he can't have the outcome of his case for them if the judge hasn't decided yet. She said this was his only chance.

The new base of the police station for immigrant business doesn't open officially until the middle of next week. None of the websites had the exact address of it, but we figured out where it was using Google street view. There was nobody there. No line. Usually you must wait for hours for a turn at the window. We got to the window, and it was the same two guys that we gave bread to when we went to request baby Peace's documents. They recognized me and after the old, grumpy guy yelled at me about something I can't understand, he processed the request. I asked Emmanuel if he could hear the angels singing. Emmanuel celebrated by playing us the most obscene rap song imaginable on his cell phone and asking me for a honey candy. I gave him the whole bag. He said, now I am celebrating. And we took this photo:

Then we stopped by Jennifer's house which is still full of mosquitoes, stinks of sewer, and is without hot water. The landlord said he would come by the day before, but he didn't come. We put together the Christmas tree that Bernadette donated. Ali was there. The police tried to empty his pockets to force him to pay the fines they had given him for begging. He refused, so they gave him another fine and a time to appear before a judge. They assigned him a lawyer who doesn't speak english. I may need to speak to the lawyer he got assigned because he made the mistake of saying that he understood Italian when the police questioned him. They ask in this way that makes you think that sì is the only right answer, and everyone always falls for it. 

Job found a new house for them, but Tina hates it. She called me, saying that it is too old. But Job paid the deposit because, truly, homes that cost 400 a month are hard to come by. It has no furniture, needs paint, and it is going to take a lot of work. AGAIN. It turns out that the man DuWill who has his name on the contract for their current apartment, said he purposely did not collect rent money from the people there because he wanted to get evicted. It was during a house meeting, and everyone was surprised when he said it. Clearly, he is mentally ill. So  they need to get out of that house. However, if we had not fixed up that house, I would not have had the consent letters that allowed Emmanuel to get his appointment today. It takes a consent letter from a house owner and her personal identity documents, which we scanned when things were going better, and none of us knew that the housemates had collectively failed to pay rent for eleven months. Now they paid off two months' worth of rent this month, but they are still grumbling about how unfair it is. I don't get it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Real things that actually happen (only to me)    
Jumping back in time, I managed to get pretty much wasted off a quarter of a glass of wine at Thanksgiving, perhaps it was the fasting beforehand, so I was more entertaining than I planned on being for two of T's friends who happen to be dating one another and who also happen to be F and my English students.
Thanksgiving lightweight!
Peace and Wisdom both got horrendous stomach viruses for over a week with vomiting and diarrhea that necessitated me paying for all of their medicines which were special and did not get exempted with those that are free for the documented unemployed.

Tina's household has a water pump, even though last I checked they do not live in A Little House on the Prarie, which in my mind is the only way in this day and age houses in the first world should have water pumps. It broke today which means no heat and no water on the coldest day of the year thus far. Just as I was trying to figure out what kind of lap dance I was going to have to perform to get them a plumber at such short notice a holiday miracle occurred and it restarted itself just like that. 
seriously, though . .

This is the goodie. Wait for it. 

I ordered this spacesuit looking deal for Gabry. Even though he got his driver's license and some money towards a taxi that he wants to buy, he still came back to Lucca to beg. Unfortunately,  I didn't have any more to give his family at this time. This thing is waterproof and warm up until six degrees below zero. It has shoe covers and a hood. He usually sleeps at the fruit and vegetable market at night while he's here, but there is no heat there. When the package arrived on this cold for Lucca day, I was excited to call him right away. I saw the number listed under Gabry and I called. A woman answered. I told her I must have the wrong Gabry. She insisted that it was correct. That her name was Gabry. I told her that I was looking for a man. She said her husband was also named Gabry. I told her that the man I wanted was Romanian. She told me they were Romanian. I said the couple that I was talking about had a son. She said that they did have a son. She insisted on knowing what I wanted with her husband, and her tone led me to think that this wasn't the first time she had gotten this kind of a call. Anyway, I told her I was sorry, but that my husband and I have a joint contact list and maybe her husband was one of his students. She said I spoke Italian too well to be American (Thanks, lady!). She made me promise that my husband would call to clear things up later and threatened that she would save my number and call me back if I didn't.

Anyway, the real Gabry was downstairs. He called the female Gabry, wife of also Gabry, and explained in Romanian that she had nothing to worry about because he was the Gabry in question. You see, it occurred to me also that if F called his Italian would not be good enough to clear up anything with this lady and he could possibly make things worse! He loved the coat. 
Since it is only a matter of time before I get arrested (see all other posts), enjoy a photo of the real Gabry's family that I illegally stole off his fb page.
Oh, and I went to T's parent teacher conference and for the fourth year got the two silver haired professors confused because the one who usually leaves his shirt unbuttoned too far must have been cold, and he was all buttoned up. Mannaggia me!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

My favorite human doesn't turn 17 every day

Today was pretty discouraging. We got up early to take Emmanuel to the lawyer's. He is missing his son Precious, from whom he has been separated for the last two years. In order to get Precious here from Nigeria, he must have asylum in Italy and a valid permesso di soggiorno. He is not there yet. I love the lawyer from Caritas. She is from the south of Italy and she adopted her son. I believe he was born in Vietnam or Cambodia. She truly cares about people, but when she is at work she is hard as nails, so sometimes I can't read her. Today, after we found out that they are relocating the immigration part of the police station in Pistoia, and that Emmanuel's case is too complicated for the simple renewal procedures where you fill out a kit, and that we have to wait until next week to ask for an appointment at the new location; I decided to use the rest of the allotted time asking the lawyer questions about what she thought of the way Emmanuel and his family have to survive here. I asked her what she thought when we first presented our group to her last year and why she thought this group of immigrants is forced to live as outlaws because they had the misfortune to arrive before the advent of SPRAR which is the normal network for processing refugee arrivals in Italy. She had no idea or recollection of the situation; and, what was more dismaying, she didn't see any legal issues with what is going on. She classified it as a political problem, and she qualified it by saying that she has seen much worse. 

I sent letters to various refugee organizations throughout Italy and I am awaiting replies. Those that I have received so far either say that they only help refugees in their provinces, or list other organizations that I can try. 

On the way home, Jennifer called me to ask me to pay for her son's medicine. I had to pass someone begging who lives in Tina and Job's house when I passed by the bakery, and he just shook his head at me. Then he said that he didn't have words for the messed up situation they have at the house. I wanted to say that I was also afraid. The other day I got a letter in the mail from the Court of Appeals in Florence and I didn't know whether to think that the owners of his house were trying to frame me for the fact they haven't paid their rent in eleven months or if it was an official statement saying that they planned to deport Emmanuel for having lost his case. I called the lawyer tearful and too afraid to open the envelope. It turned out to be a letter saying that I have to testify before a judge because that fancy gym that I used to work at has some tax problems and they are calling me in for questioning about their practices, not mine. I hope. I told the lawyer when I called that she had to promise me she would not let me become the next Amanda Knox. 

Tina's sister called me to say that her father's "body is alive" thanks to me. So that is some money that went to good use, anyway. 

At Christmas, I am going to make what some would say was a huge error in social working, but I invited Tina, Job, Emmanuel, and Peace over to watch Queen of Katwe and have some peanut soup and spicy rice at my house. 

Peace expressed what I feel today perfectly:

WTF is going on in America??


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Frida Kahlo & Santa Claus  
We took our practically 17 year old T (can you believe it?) to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit in Bologna, the one unbirthday request I could squeeze out of her. We spent ages looking for parking and hunting for take-out food (Mexican, of course) to eat on the long way back in the car. Bologna is too big for me to live in, though. What has happened to this former New Yorker is really shocking. I am just not about crowds these days. So, now I am thinking that we should move to Parma and visit Bologna when we need more art and shopping excitement. 

Dorothy, we're not in Lucca anymore . .

Photo taking was not permitted.

so don't look at this either.

We also got all the donated baby stuff to deliver and everybody was pretty excited with their haul of good stuff. 

Stanley's wife Tina who is due in just about a month got to check all the things off her hospital list of baby requirements.
Tina got a bag full of cute onesies like this one!

Baby Peace was totally entralled with her high tech play mat. 
Good news for her mom, Peace loves the play mat!

Two adorable individuals who need naps.

more peace talks

. . . and a snazzy mobile!

Wisdom got some big boy clothes. 

Even Emmanuel's son Precious is getting a whole new wardrobe sent to him in Nigeria!

Tina and Maisey's father got to have his operation, but I don't know how it went. 

And we even managed to connect a donor --our previously grumpy neighbors- with Gabry, our friend the aspiring Romanian cab driver. They donated a thousand euros to him towards a new car to use as a taxi, after we paid his way to a driver's license. This is great news because he has not had to leave his wife and little son to come and sleep in the ortofrutta store and beg for several months and is taking steps toward his big goals. I guess I will have to the folks next door next time they come back to Lucca.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Che Culo!  
So last night I didn't get any sleep because I am very sensitive to the aftershocks from the earthquakes in Norcia, and I could feel the light tremors going on all night. Then today I was hoping that baby donations were going to be brought right to my door, but just as the weather report was threatening massive thunderstorms (although they still haven't arrived) I got a message from two different women who I have never met before telling me to come meet them at two different locations at the same time. A flurry of whatsapp and FB messages ensued of apologizies, thanks, and further specifics on location. First I found my friend Monica's friend who gave me a large bag of lovely girl clothes for Peace and then I ran to meet this other woman from the expat group who is moving to Belgium. I had spent the whole afternoon practicing Italian for the first lady, but I was in such a rush that I recall sort of wildly taking stuff from her and giving her a weird thumbs up gesture as I backed away from her towards the second location. My wingman Courtney who had seen the post for the donation on the expat group was sending me encouraging texts in the middle that said Run K Run. The bag was slowing me down so I literally threw it into a macelleria/butcher shop and asked them to hold onto it for three minutes. 

I finally got to the second location and met two women who look like super models, despite the fact that I imagine one of them had given birth in the last year or so. They kindly offered to help me walk the bag of baby clothes back to my house since it was bigger than me. They looked confused when I came back out of the butcher shop with a second bag of clothes. The super model friend was Italian, but spoke perfect, although accented English. For some reason, I could not change gears and I vaguely heard myself sounding more like her than like me. That happens when I have to go back and forth between English and Italian sometimes, but it is always embarrassing. I have worked really hard to get to know myself and my real voice and so this bilingual thing is a bit of a setback on occasion. Not as embarrassing as when I got flustered to find the postino/post man downstairs waiting for me with some birthday presents for T's 17th birthday on Monday. I wanted to say something like What a stroke of luck! but I had been watching a lot of Pechino Express so I came out with Che culo! which is not super refined Italian since it literally means What ass! The delivery guy looked at me, shrugged, and said in polite Italian, I guess on you it is kind of cute that you say that. I managed to block the supermodel carrying the enormous bag for me while I forged F's signature (why?) and then only let her in after typing and signing on the tiny automatic signature device thingamajig.

donation city

In other good news, Tina's sister got the money, paid off the hospital in Nigeria, got her father transferred to a different hospital where I believe today he will have an important operation. I hope he makes it!

Also, I am seriously thinking about shaving my head and having a silver buzz cut. I know it will be perceived as a Britney moment, but I feel like if you get to that point, you can't really be bothered to care what people think. 

And now that T has joined the youth parliament thing, the tutoring thing, the erasmus thing, the newspaper thing, and some other things that also count as extracurricular goodness on her college applications I believe I may see her again for five minutes when she is 18 or so. She is scheduled to the max and she hasn't even begun the whole SAT thing. Sometimes when I say, can I ask you a question, she earnestly tells me that I have 19 seconds. Also she objects to every single thing I do say, which is impressive because I only say things that last 19 seconds or less. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Little bursts of light  
It's pretty cloudy out there in the world right now, so I wanted to share with you two little bursts of light. 

From our living room window . . .

1. We got the money to Tina's sister in Nigeria in time to pay off the hospital so that their father could be transferred for a critical operation. The old hospital would not transfer him to the one where they are capable of doing the operation until the entire bill was paid which was like 150,000 in Naira. 

2. I got an appointment for Emmanuel to see the Caritas lawyer and picked up a kit for his permesso di soggiorno renewal. This doesn't sound like much, but the more that I think about, the more I realize it could be essential for Emmanuel whose permit ran out last month. If we go soon, he will still be in the grace period. And, even if, the questura denies him the permesso because his appeal case is still pending regarding his protection in Italy, at least the Post Office can generate the appointment slip so he will be safe if stopped by a police officer who wants to see his documents in the short run. Of course, a million things could still go wrong there. But it is a step in the right direction. 

Make that three.

3. Two lovely humans have decided to help me organize the Christmas time initiative for children to make presents for the refugees who are inside the Red Cross Tent. So that project is getting off the ground, as well!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Self Talk
Of course I talk to myself, every so often I need the advice of an expert!

After several a panic attack, I have come to the conclusion that maybe the people in baby Peace's house won't get evicted if they do what they vowed and gather two months of rent together to pay to the bank right away. It would not make sense that an Italian bank would want to have to take over that house given the burdens they are under. Plus, things move at a glacial enough pace here that there is no reason for me to go broke trying to solve the problem myself. On further reflection I recalled that we had advised everyone not only that they should pay rent, but that F gave lessons on how to keep track of the payments and how to work as a team to make sure all the members of the house gave equally and in a timely manner. When people like the house owners yell at me, my first instinct is to think I did something horrible. That is a not an exceptable strategy in Italy, so no more Ms. Nice Human. 

I stayed up late waiting to hear from the landlords who never called. They sent a message this morning threatening that the tenants need to pay it all by December 15th. I don't really buy it, but they are supposed to call again tonight. Tina always says no problem, when, in reality, the problems are pretty staggering, but not life threatening. I now understand why. Nothing phases me anymore. 

There is a Nigerian guy who speaks fluent Italian who makes his living getting commissions to guarantee rent payments for Africans from Italian renters. He is now Tina and Job's hope for getting a new house. It seems sketchy, but other sources, Paul included, told me today that he gets the job done. 

This morning we took Paul to the CUP/Health bureaucratic stuff office at the hospital of Pescia where after almost five years in Italy, he finally got his health card. I thanked the staff person so hard that my ex friend Alessandro would have really been ashamed of me for my American enthusiasm and level of gratitude. Whatever. 

Meanwhile, Tina, whose mother died of a curable illness because her family did not have enough money to pay the deposit for an appointment with a hospital doctor in Nigeria now has a father in need of an operation to save his leg. Instead of helping to pay off the back rent for some people in the house who are not disciplined renters, for lack of a better term, we will take part of the donation my mother made so she can use it for that. Afterwards, she will repay that money so she can use it on a new house in the future. 

I am not comfortable with any of this, but, as they say, no problem.

I got back in touch with Moro in the tents of the Red Cross where he is freezing his butt off waiting for the refugee commission to decide whether he is worthy of a stay permit. He said he will help me to distribute Christmas/Winter treats to the 150 or so people in there at Christmas time. I am encouraging my ex student Elisabetta who is a teacher to get her students to make scarves and cookies, and I contacted Nadia at Il Tirreno to see if the newspaper would take photos to get a positive article in the newspaper. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

from kitten to shit
so tonight was not fun. The people in baby Peace's house have not paid rent for 11 months. I knew about the last three. We advised them against it, but they said that since I paid for repairs, some of which were structural, that the owners should take that instead of rent. We all thought that was cool, sincerely, since we sent receipts for thousands of euros of work on the house and the owners never asked for rent. Still, F and I always thought they should pay and we had given them ideas about how to keep an accounting book to keep up to date with the payments. 

The owners are in Albania and got a letter from the bank that they are going to take away their house. I don't know on what planet they didn't check for payments until now. The owners called me cursing and hysterical. I had to tell the people in the house on the phone because the owners and the tenants don't understand each other on the phone. We calmed them down and convinced them to try to make a payment plan with the bank, and that we would try to act as intermediaries with the tenants and make a donation ourselves to try and save that house for everyone involved. To think I was happy that we didn't have to fix the other group members' hot water heater because the landlord came though for them, and now this much worse, much more expensive thing. It sucks because if they got evicted it could put the baby in jeopardy with social services and I will do everything in my power to prevent that. No good deed seems to go unpunished these days.. Jeesh.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A little tiramisù

In case, like me, you just might be having a pretty shitty week. Here's a little pick-me-up we found at my friend Patrizia's house:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

This is Why Lots of people ask us why we moved to Italy and what we are trying to accomplish by working with a group of Nigerian and other African immigrants in Tuscany. Fraser and I worked with The Coalition for the Homeless in New York during a time when then mayor Rudy Giuliani saw people without homes as human garbage that needed to be cleaned from the streets. We saw first hand that bandaid solutions never work, and how none of us can really have the world we want by fighting for just some of us to succeed. I reached a point where I couldn't step over human bodies anymore to get to the subway or the corner deli. And, as a native New Yorker, try as I might, I couldn't imagine myself in a different large American city or in the suburbs somewhere. I can't even drive. My only true talents include being able to find Macy's blindfolded through sense of smell, getting knots out, and finding the spiciest take-out food. Given that, integrating in Italy was harder than I could have ever imagined, and we are what I would call privileged immigrants. After the adjustment period, we began to benefit greatly from the educational opportunities here for our daughter, the excellent access to health care, and the relationships made through teaching English. Then in 2014, English speaking, African refugees started appearing in front of our doors in Lucca to beg for help. We thought we could help translate for them so they could get essential aid. It turned out they were living a nightmare where, no matter how hard they try, there is no clear way for them to move forward. If they have a permesso, they don't have a health card/tessera sanitaria, if they have a health card, they don't have a apartment lease/contratto d'affitto, you can't have a contratto d'affitto if you don't have a busta paga/pay check and almost all of them are   

We want to do something because we believe that, knowing them, they would definitely do the same for us. Hard as it is, every time their lives get better, ours get better too. Now that Trump has won the election in America, the anti-immigrant movement may well become stronger than ever. In Italy, where the birthrate is the lowest in Europe, and elsewhere throughout the world, immigrants offer a real hope of economic upturn for everyone. It is wrong to view immigrants as merely a drain on resources. The idea that the financial crisis means we should isolate, exclude, and hoard and squabble about who has it worse won't make things better for anyone. As global citizens with global problems like climate change to face, we can't afford to be wall builders. Italian lawmakers must recognize that refugees who arrived in 2011/12 with the North Africa Crisis that were paid to vacate the overcrowded hotels where they were first welcomed and did not have the opportunity to go through SPRAR, have been deprived of the possibility to live within the law. A sensible solution would be to address it by opening a sportello to provide them with legal aid, Italian language courses, and assistance for survival. The official recognition that it is even a problem would be a victory in and of itself.


Anyone who says that we can't help refugees while there are still unemployed Italians, or that we shouldn't get shoes for refugees because there are earthquakes victims who need them, or that we aren't in a position to criticize because look what a mess America has become, has truly missed the damn point. But, if I leave it there, we can't heal. I tried not to see the people begging. I left my own country to get a break from them. Then it hit me that I had to dive back in because that is the only way to get anywhere.

First Act of Trump-lessness
I'm still with her

Today I was possibly a little too revved up in my grass roots, proactive, take care of each other, defiant positivity. That said, it was the perfect morning to address the fact that our friend Paul, after years of being forced to beg for a living, finally managed to find employment in Tuscany as a dishwasher only to be forced to use most of his wages to pay his approximative light bill. Since no one will rent an apartment to him because he is an African refugee, he is taking care of an apartment of an American who had to return for an undetermined amount of time, and the contract and the light bill are not in his name. His inability to report his address to the police, also means that we are having trouble getting him a health card because my contact at the Health Office in Lucca says that since his last registered address is in Borgo a Buggiano, he would have to go to Pistoia to ask for the health card. I have exchanged over a dozen terse emails with my contact there, and I think I burnt that bridge and built a Walmart on it.

aint I a stinker?

This is my long-winded way of telling you why I put on my crazy large hoop earrings (always a bad sign), dragged F over to Paul's apartment building this morning, buzzed all the buzzers of his neighbors, and pretended to be the dear American friend of the apartment owner in search of her friend's missing light meter. I called myself Elena, and, I am ashamed to say, I temporarily had to take custody of the real owner's package slips in order to do the necessary reconnaissance. I, of course, will give them right back to Paul to place inside the apartment. Anyway, Antonella-the-neighbor, told me that the landlord plays around with the design of the place so that it is totally irregular and that she thought that more than one apartment was assigned to each of the three observable meters in the white, metal cassettone in the lobby. In Italy, Enel, the light company, sometimes sends a guy to read the meters, but sometimes they just guess how much you are using and this can lead to very inflated bills, as we assume is Paul's situation. Antonella suggested we call the landlord or complain to Enel, but we can't because Paul's name isn't on any of those documents and we don't have "my friend" and fellow American's documents or a letter of delega. 

I think our only hope on this one is that me and Franco, which is F's undercover name, can ask my mother-in-law to let us pay Paul's light bill as a Christmas present to all of us.
p.s. Crazy man Stanli gave us a call at the crack of dawn the other morning to say that a friend of his in Sweden had got him a job at a hotel and that he wanted to thank us for all our help for him and his family. While this is great news, it's also Stanli, so we don't know the possibility of it working out, or if it doesn't, if he will manage to have airfare to get back to his pregnant wife...

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Building the arc
It has been two crazy days of giving in the rain. The plan was to meet Federica from Brooks running company and give out the shoe donations in the tents of the Red Cross with Glory, my 17 year old Nigerian student of Italian, as our guide. Glory came early and Federica got held up on a different project so I tried to lug the bags of shoes and clothing down all our stairs by myself. I had spent the morning in a very Italian meeting which was designed so that all the English teachers who work at our company can not say that they didn't know the rule about accepting private work offers of students we meet through the company.This seems like a no brainer, but it actually is fraught with ethical and logical inconsistencies that for economic reasons need to go unchallenged for now.

Anyway, Jeff was downstairs asking for money in front of the ortofrutta; and since I suspected he was bitter because of being romantically thwarted in some way by Glory, I thought it best to offer him a new pair of shoes to get him on board with the day's project. While he was searching for shoes, all of our gang assembled and had first pick of the men's shoes in the larger sizes of which there were few, despite the high demand for them. In less than ten minutes, there were only really ladies' shoes left and that's when some new guys from the tents showed up barefoot, wearing only flip-flops. It was a bad feeling. Glory had left me for a walk around with her new boyfriend, and Jeff was stuffing a bunch of stuff for the women him his pockets because he wanted to have presents for what were seemingly going to be his new girlfriends. The men started speaking poorly of Glory. I put a stop to that because she is only my daughter's age and unmarried and can have whatever boyfriends she wants, as it is a free county, no matter how much money Jeff spent on her in presents. However, I am now more worried about her than ever, and have thrown my fear that she will get pregnant into the mix. By the time she came back to me and my scattered on the street bags, F had to run off to work and couldn't really escort us to the tents, where she said there were no women left anyway after the transfer. I just made her a bag of women's clothes and shoes for her to take with her to distribute as she saw fit. And then went back up the stairs wondering how I could have handled all of those transactions better. I did get the barefoot guys phone numbers and decided to check out the used clothing stores the next day to see if I could get them some better footwear. 

The very next day in the pouring rain we set out for both used clothing stores who operate on a date system, by which after two months have passed, one can get a considerable mark down discount. One of our best donation sources had told me you could find coats for only four euros, but she must be a better shopper because we only saw ones for 10 and 15 euros so we couldn't get too many. The nicest one I wanted for Emmanuel who is always going about in a very thin jacket. We picked up some warm shoes, too. It was a full on cloudburst by the time we reached the guys in front of the Red Cross tent by the fairgrounds. There names are Moro and Albie and the come from Gambia and Senegal, respectively. They were most appreciative. 

new friends

Then we set off for Tina and Job's house to pick up the work receipt for the leaky window we had repaired in their kitchen. We need to send it to their landlords, in part as an explanation for why none of them are paying rent this month against our advice. The main guy who is on the lease had heard gossip that we were trying to get his name off and put Tina's and Job's names on. He wanted to have a house meeting to discuss it. He refused to do it without F present, which I kind of respected, even though I kind of went off on him and did all of the talking anyway. F made a nice speech at the end about the trouble with gossip, and DeWill seemed to hang on his every word. I pointed out that we have gone to his church and that I would have to be pretty brazenly evil to try to hurt his life situation, while helping others. He is a paranoid dude, and he can't understand what motivation we have to keep helping people if it is not for economic gain. I am understanding to a point, but then I had to shed light on how much cash and blood I have poured into his house, as well as the fact that we never did change the contract because it was too expensive to do it and Tina managed to get a welfare card for the baby, using just her hospitality letter. 

I got to have a long chat with Peace, which was nice.

F, in the meantime, set out for Cool's house where he picked up Stanley and his other brother Ehis and went out to buy supplies to fix the baby wardrobe donation that was missing doors. The missing doors and the missing mattress for the baby bed were absolutely torturing Stanley's pregnant wife who is way into nesting mode and so he had called me several times during the week to ask for help. It ended up that it would cost more money to do the repairs ourselves than to buy a new one so in the end we half drove and half sailed to Ikea to pick her up some new stuff with our basically imaginary money. 

Jennifer's house

Clearly the sister-in-law living together situation is stressful on everyone. I had trouble being in that atmosphere, plus the mosquitoes in that house are demons. Stanley's wife was also stressed by a list of recommended things for the hospital bag that her doctor had given her, most of which were ridiculous, and none of which she claimed to have. Jennifer, Cool's wife, was balancing a grumpy post-vaccine baby Wisdom on her lap while getting her hair done by another woman. He is enormous and I can hardly carry him anymore. I came into the room where the wardrobe was getting put together to find four men with their pants hanging off them, F included. We were late to make T dinner and to get home, so I finally just got in there and put the drawers in myself. Their drawers are another issue, for another day, but enjoy the photo of them from behind if you can.

droopy drawers

We got home at 9 pm to T who was completely starving and without whom' she putting-sweet potatoes-in-the- oven-ability we would not have had dinner at all. I couldn't sleep because the lightening and thunder were the strongest I have ever experienced, and I had the full on realization that our new friends are living in a tent. 

Friday, November 04, 2016

Bread & butter
Yesterday we took Peace to have a check-up at the hospital of Pescia. Sometimes when we take Tina and Job or other people from our group to an appointment, people can't figure out what we are doing with them. Some wrong guesses work in our favor. Number one on this day was that the nurse in the pediatric department assumed that if I had a tall husband for whom I was waiting to park the car and bring money for the outstanding medical tests, he must be Italian. I gave F the signal that means nod a lot, but don't speak. This inspires tremendous faith in people. She gave him a set of instructions based on the fact that Tina now has a paper that shows that they are below the poverty level, so that she gets a discount on the medical bill. Her regular pediatrician did not make note of it because it came through after her last appointment with him. Therefore, the nurse wanted F and me to go to the accounting office across the street and convince them to charge her ten euros instead of 46 euros. Then we went back and discovered the good news that Peace will not need hernia surgery and that her little swelling around her belly button will go away by itself.

Then today I went, full of dread, back to the police station where crazy Jeff/Joshua got on line for us early in the morning to get a number ticket. His real motivation was to have me translate for him because last time he came to renew his stay permit, they seized it from him and he did not understand why. Peace was wearing a donated diaper that was too big for her and her whole outfit got wet so we were late in leaving the house because I changed her and I got all the little snaps on backwards. Twice. The first thing I had to do when we got there was to give F's homemade bread to the officers to charm our way in. I even got old grumpy guy behind the window to smile because he remembered that I had promised him the bread last time. Even though he had said not to bother, he pointed out how to throw it to him over the divider and he chuckled. Jeff is not one that I want to pour a lot of energy into because he constantly is going off of misinformation. He had told me he won his appeal, but that was not true. He told me he no longer was working with his lawyer, but I called the lawyer today and he is still working Jeff's case. The judge's decision is still pending, and he can't get a decision about his permesso unless the appeal goes his way. Jeff also asked me for Glory's number. I thought he wanted to make up with her. Then, apparently, he called and threatened Glory not to disturb me because other people needed my help more. Tina spoke to Glory in Nigerian for me to reassure her. She will come to Lucca on a pass tomorrow and Federica from Brooks running company and I will give her some donations to keep her and some others in the tents with her warm and comfortable. The thing about Jeff is that in social work school they teach you that the smelliest, meanest, least likeable client is the one who needs your help the most. It is not all a feel good exchange.

Peace got good news!

These appointments are so terrible. I hated the bureaucratic stuff we had to go through and was so glad to get a five year break from it while our carte di soggiorno are valid, but now I have some nightmare like this for a group member every other month. Jeff paid at least 30 euros last time he was at the police station last month for a stay permit that he was not allowed to renew so he had me tell the agent at the window that he had given money to them for nothing. Of course the man yelled at me that he was hardly a crook and that Jeff should have a receipt from the Post Office. If it hadn't been for the bread, my whole reputation could have been ruined by that exchange. Next time F will have to add the gorgonzola and not just the salted rosemary. 

We failed to have the right kind of photos for the baby permesso, so we had to go get a photo shoot done at the copy shop down the road mid-way through. We had to wake baby Peace because the photo must be done with your eyes open. She apparently cries and eats all night, but during the day she hardly cries. She is so good! And now she has added adorable gurgling and singing to her repertoire. No matter what people's political stance is towards immigrants, no one can resist her. The bread gift/bribe allowed me to speak more with the officers who asked me if I was adopting the baby because they could not imagine that I would just be friends with the family without having any ulterior motives. I was glad to clear that up.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Parma day 2
This morning we had breakfast alla Tatiana and then T and I went and got our hair cut at a swank place in the city. T will only let me show you a photo of her from the back. I don't know why. 

ye old book store

T's glorious locks

tunes galore

T calls this cut the new Rachel . .

Then we walked around the city and found a really amazing, old book store and a vinyl and CD music store. We stopped for lunch at a vegetarian place with cool artwork. 

Back in Sala Baganza, we took a walk in the woods and made friends with the bird in the house. It was nestled in Tatiana's shirt and scared the ever living crap out of me when it ventured out!

why hello there!

F made a new friend!

So did I!