Sunday, December 06, 2015

Living in the shadow of the tents

I discovered that I probably don't want to work for the Red Cross of Lucca. Firstly because they didn't have the good sense to call me after receiving my excellent resume,  and, secondly and more importantly, because they are having all of the African immigrants that they host stay in a freezing cold tent where almost no staff people can speak English with them. Given the situation, I decided to strike out on my own. Well, not on my own. With me and all of my chi si conosce contacts that can help the people who have stay permits but no jobs, inadequate housing, little to eat, and even less hope about their futures. With this in mind, I have teamed up with my English student Nadia who is also a reporter for the newspaper Il Tirreno and I have also chatted up my student who works for the government of Lucca and is in charge of immigrant services.

My first mission was to take this very wonderful young man from Nigeria to the agenzia delle entrate to get his tax code/codice fiscale which is a fast track to getting a health services card. It was very stressful choosing the right button to get the numbered ticket and then waiting for our number to show up on the tiny computerized screen because it was someone else's future who was at stake and not ours. When our number was finally called, it was a relief to be able to speak decent enough Italian this time around to communicate effectively. Our bureaucratic worker guy was wearing fluorescent green suede shoes, flannel pajama pants, and a flashy ascot, so it was hard to be too afraid of him. I had to give our mailing address because my first client doesn't have the right to give out his address since he lives in a place designated for three people according to the blueprints we immigrants have to show and he is the fourth roommate.

My client -- for lack of a better word -- lived in Nigeria, land of his birth, and it so happened that his mother was the second wife of his father. All was fine enough until his father died and the children of his father's first wife got into a battle with him over land from the inheritance. His mother told him to flee to Libya where jobs were easy to find and where he was doing well until the war broke out. His landlord's son demanded his cell phone and when he wouldn't hand it over, he stabbed him in the rear with a knife. His landlord said he couldn't take him to the hospital and pushed him to get on a boat. He was dazed and injured and wasn't allowed to turn back. He barely survived the journey and then received medical treatment when he got to Lampedusa. From there he was transferred to Cagliari, Sardinia. Eventually, he was invited by a friend to share an apartment in Montecatini where lots of Nigerians are holed up. They take the train to Lucca during the day because the wealthy of Montecatini, apparently, are not all that generous.

When I spoke about the situation with my student who works for the local government she said that begging is illegal here and that she fears that it will only worsen the relationship between Africans and the Lucchese people. She said that people shouldn't have to beg because organizations like the Red Cross give out daily pocket money and three meals to their clients. I pointed out that no sane person would give up a warm apartment with friends for an unsafe and freezing tent in the middle of winter, but she didn't really have an answer.

I got worried when, the next day, my client didn't want to go to the school to sign up for free Italian lessons as we had planned. He accepted the offer of some coffee and food from our mutual friends who run the bakery and barely looked at me when he told me he was too tired to go anywhere with me. I have a cold and am exhausted so my feelings got hurt for a moment but then I had a storm of social work school flashbacks and I remembered about not getting too invested in terms of ego. When I went back out later in the day I told him that I would understand if maybe his roommates had warned him about trusting people like me. He looked very deeply into my eyes and told me that I was crazy because I was the first person in two years to make him feel comfortable. I told him that I knew that if the situation were reversed he would help me. It turned out that he hadn't wanted to walk to the school because his leg was hurting him. So, hopefully, in two weeks his documents will arrive in the mail and we will work on getting him medical care and into some kind of job training, if any exists.

If it turns out that I have something concrete to offer, I hope to repeat the process with dozens of others. I'll let you know.

In other news, T has two opportunities to do some traveling with her school and earn some extra curricular activity credit. If they pan out, I'll explain further. She is super excited to meet the little girl who she will be tutoring who is, most likely, also an immigrant.

F is working on getting the apartment's windows replaced. At the moment, the window company has one panel of our windows and we have a plastic curtain up where it used to be. Hopefully, they will make the model panes at a decent pace and we will have a really fantastic life up here behind the angel of San Michele.

We have also been putting the finishing design touches on the apartment as we are planning a giant Indian pizza party. First I have to survive more skin treatments that will be painful, but afford me a week of recovery time at home, hiding my hyper pigmentation from the world. If I survived the eight hour day of teaching the apprendisti, I can survive anything. I had hours of videos with English subtitles planned, but at lunchtime I had to run home to get the Italian subtitled versions because they got too frustrated. I bartered with them shamelessly and they learned the perfect tenses in exchange for episodes of How to Get Away with Murder and rounds of Cards Against Humanity.

The world is getting intense. I wish you all Happy and SAFE Holidays, wherever you are!

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