Saturday, January 30, 2016

Smays like potty

This is what I'm dealing with here.

I managed to offend two dear friends who wanted to get together with us on a Saturday night. The first friend had written me several times to try to get us to decide on a film for our film night. Finally we chose something everyone was happy with and it was all set. Then friend number two called who has been trying to have us over for almost three months, but her husband kept getting sick. When they stopped by to see the house the other weekend I had to throw them out because my student came early and I may have gotten the time wrong. It was awful. I proposed everyone just come to our house to have a movie party as to be as all inclusive as possible. T has a physics test to study for and she wanted to see the film, but without getting home too late. Perfetto.

 But I underestimated how much friend number two wanted to host us. Then friend number one's husband got a fever, and I mentioned it to friend number two who said under no circumstances could her husband be around someone who had a fever. Friend number one wrote to say that her husband was feeling better and could come over. Friend number two also invited a friend we have in common who is taking me for my check up at the gynecologist, the Italian Betty White, before the dinner. And, yes, the idea of this also makes me lose my appetite. Especially for pizza, for some reason. Let's not overthink that. Anyway, I had to tell friend number one that we had to reschedule and tell friend number two that we could go back to the original plan and eat at hers. Then I got a whatsapp message from friend number three where she said: I hope you don't have plans because I am bringing a bunch of friends over to your house tonight for dinner.
Even in English, I am pretty sure I don't have the social finesse necessary to cope with Saturday night in Lucca.

Our neighbors tell us to prepare ourselves because the bar across the courtyard is going to start getting wild pretty soon as the weather improves and that we are going to have to start dealing with noise issues again. I am going to be miserable. I feel stupid. But hell no, we can't possibly move again. Ironically the noise issue I have now is from them because their television keeps sending a ghostly echo through the wall behind my bed. I asked Stefania, the Martha Stewart of Italy, if she could send her husband Luca up to investigate and it turned out that they have an open fireplace that ends up in the hollow area of our bedroom wall. Then he countered by telling us that he hears every step we take and there is nothing anyone can do about it. He followed this admission with an ominous dinner invitation that we had to accept for next Saturday night even though that is when we should host friend number one.

In group of five news, I got Tina the free prenatal care information she wanted and I gave Paul 100 euros that Catherine had donated for them. There was no way to put it off. He is absolutely terrorized at the amount of debt he has amassed since the money he has collected begging is not covering his rent and utility bills.

Like I can't.
I told my class that the American equivalent of cioè or c'è (which is teenager speak used by everyone) is like and then I couldn't stop saying like. And one student suggested I start saying you know just to shake things up.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hot Water, sharp wings, and drama
And, no, that is not the latest offering from America's troubled fast food chain Chipotle. 

This week so far I have gone to Caritas, the Catholic charity, office to leave a letter again for the director with my resume. She will meet with me in person next week, thank heavens. I called Arci which has a project that takes immigrants who are processed in Rome and sets them up with a work collective. I wanted to report that so many Nigerian are saying that they were paid to leave camp Emmaus and find housing and work on their own. I also spoke with a local office of the comune/local government and found out that there are processing centers for new immigrants that I didn't know about in Capannori which is the next town over. Lastly, I spoke with a friend who has a friend at the Kennedy Center for Human Rights in Florence who ended up being friends with the same person who I could have called from the beginning who works with the Red Cross. 

I had the Tuesday meeting at the coffee shop with my group of five. A new guy wanted to add himself to my group of five Nigerians, but a promise is a promise so I will help him in a different way just because he is number six. He kind of  hunted me down and barrelled into our meeting at the coffee shop. He lost his documents and doesn't know what to do about it. Then the guy whose wife is pregnant reported that his wallet had been stolen so I gave them both the name I discovered of the police inspector in Montecatini who works with immigrants just to give them a little credibility. Hopefully, I won't get in trouble for that.

Speaking of lost wallets, someone in the group of five found a wallet on the train. In addition to a stack of identity and credit cards, it also contained 70 euros. He called me and told me that, as badly as he needed the cash, he wanted to return it and thought I would know what to do. I knew exactly what to do. I totally hyperventilated. And then we made a plan by which he would duck into my lobby and hand me the wallet and I would return it to the train station police. I almost peed myself five times on the way over to the Italian police. I had to say that I found it in the garbage outside the station because they required that I give over all my documents and my phone number along with the wallet. Thank goodness the real hero of the situation didn't do this himself. It turned out that the wallet belonged to the head of the train and she called to thank me and wanted to give me a reward, which I, of course, refused. But I did tell the person who found it that there would be a reward and then I had to practically beg him to take 20 euros from me because I felt it was what ideally should have happened if the world were a better place. 

The woman in the group asked to meet with me privately. She just figured out that she is pregnant and the emergency room doctor told her that if she has an abortion she will never be able to have children again because of a uterine problem she has. She says her housing situation is filthy and disgusting and she asked me to call a lead on a different apartment. I called, but the Italian speaking landlord, understandably, won't accept her without proof of a regular paying job. I suspect that the doctor was lying to her to avoid having to give her an abortion so I wrote to a Canadian ob-gyn that my friend from Boston uses, but she wrote back that she is anti-abortion and wouldn't help with any of that. She did provide all the information for how she can get free health care and about adoption that anyone could ask for. It turns out that you can get an abortion legally in Italy for 90 days but only with a health card (which this woman can't get without a legitmate address) and in a public hospital with a signed consent form. She would like to have the baby but she doesn't want to bring it into these desperate circumstances, so when I go to the Catholic charity I will try to advocate for her to get better situated.       

My reporter contact said she knows what argument to use to get my five people health cards from the hospital in Lucca so now I only need her to go with me to the early open office hours. She also knows the director of Caritas in Lucca.

Meanwhile, an English speaking representative of the Red Cross agreed to meet with one member of the group of five by conference call with a Nigerian translator, but she also told me that they were from the richest area in Nigeria and that their story about being forced from the camps doesn't add up. She believes they are lying to me. The members of the group stand by their story and want the chance to tell it to her. I would hate for any of my actions to cause anyone to live in a worse situation so the whole thing scares me. Considering the many years that F and I spent working with homeless people in New York City, I think it is fair to say that we are far from naive. Meanwhile more and more Nigerian people in town who don't know one another keep recounting the same exact thing. In fact, the woman from the Red Cross was right that they could be getting food and like two euros a day, but the Africans won't eat this food. At least a dozen people have told me they hate it. I don't know if it is hospital food and not what your nonna makes you or if it is just a big shock for them. Ambrose told me proudly that after a year of training his stomach, he can now get it down with no problems. 

Today F asked me what I wanted for Valetine's day and I answered -- not to kill him and to be able to pee without burning. He replied something like, "Aiming high, I see."  Ironically, today I taught for three and a half hours at a company that makes non-woven material for hygiene pads. I playfully yelled at one of the groups because the wings are so sharp on Italian feminine pads that I have five cuts. I didn't tell them that second part, but ouch. I know all you NY babes may be walking around in two feet of slush, but count your blessings.  Even my mild mannered gyn says that the Italian wings are "micidiali." One of the men turned purple and I knew right then he was picturing the whole situation, but the filter between my brain and mouth broke in 1998 and I never have actually gotten around to getting it fixed. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Non ti abbattere
Things that happened this week in Italy that you have to experience to believe: 
I had to go to a gyn as an emergency patient. The receptionist told me the first free appointment was in about a week, but as I was in appendicitis level pain and there was bleeding involved, I went to no fail strategy A1 which is chi si conosce - it's all about who you know, baby.  I called my friend whose daughter is a nurse and she got me the private cell number of the doctor who was home with a bad shoulder and who promised me she would see me as soon as she returned to the office. It turned out that I had an ovarian cyst, but instead of going to the free hospital laboratory I paid to go to a private lab where I waited for less than two minutes and where the nurse found a vein on the first try. These are secrets you can only learn in year five of immigrant life. I had a small cry with my pharmacist who assured me that I was not going to have cancer and she gave me medicine for free because she likes me. She recommended I go to the family doctor who works with the pharmacy who is a lovely man who worries about me. I avoid him like the plague because I always come home from his waiting room with something worse than I started out with. Anyway, don't worry about me because I am in menopause with hot flashes and mood swings, but this blogger is going to live.

I tried to email the doctor to find out if I had to take the progesterone (which was not a gel, but a pill, blah blah blah vagina vagina vagina) and she would not respond. My gyn is actually a dead ringer for Betty White and she maintained, in all her pink lipsticked glory, that the matter was too delicata to not be discussed in person. She was offended by my bluntness, people. I'm not even kidding. So Patrizia, who referred me to her in the first place, had to take me there between lessons so that the doctor could give me anti hemorraging medicine and sweetly kick me out of her office with just a slap on the wrist. Apparently, we do not talk about blood unless you add a lot of cute little Italian Disney terminology to soften and pinken the imagery. Davvero?

One small problemino is I have an endless period so that I have to worry not to sit on nice furniture or wear light colors, but that didn't stop me from calling an emergency meeting of the group of five (my Nigerian friends) to strategize how to deal with their many horrible life issues. I want to call them clients, and not friends, not because that will stop me from loving them and being overly attached in an unprofessional way, but because their job is not to help me and because occasionally it helps me separate so that I can sleep at night. In any event, I gathered everyone except Ambrose who comes to Lucca from Prato only on Thursdays and who just adores F. He adores F so much that when I am alone I sometimes can't recognize him without the ear to ear smile he reserves for the tall man. So I took everybody to the cafè that Tina says is the friendliest to Africans and surprised everyone by having them gather around for a talk. Apparently, they thought the big event was just going to be breakfast. I explained to them that my goal was to help them to get information that might lead them to integrate better in Lucca since now they do not have legitimate health cards, apartments, or jobs. I prefaced it by saying that I am probably the worst person to help since Italian bureaucracy confuses me and I don't always speak well, but that I make up for that by being outrageous and persistent.

Then we went around the circle and I got to hear some really sad, sad stories. In addition to Paul who I already told you about, there is Tina who is all alone here. She lives with a man and a woman who she met here, but who are from her same city. As I write this, she is alone at home sick and without a health card, too afraid to go to the emergency room with her migraine headache. Paul managed to get himself blackmailed. He paid a Nigerian for a letter from a lanlord to say he was living in an apartment and then the guy took off with the money. I asked why he didn't take the letter before handing over the cash and he and Emmanuel just smiled knowingly at each other and then Emmanuel told me that is the fastest way for a Nigerian to get killed. There is also Cool whose wife Jennifer is about to give birth. Their Nigerian marriage doesn't count and they want an Italian marriage license. He doesn't have a health card. I met his brother by chance this week and when I asked if they were really brothers he said to me with a grin, "Same mother and same father for me and Cool!" So that's that then. Emmanuel told me that he got a call while he was in Lucca that his wife was dead. His four year old son Precious is with his parents for now. He said the wrong thing and does not have a stay permit. He has a court case and a decision that has been delayed three times. Shit.

I made F make cheese bread for my carb enthusiast contact at the health office. She had stopped answering my emails out of frustration. The smell of the bread got her to spend thirty minutes trying to find a colleague for me to speak with at the Montecatini branch where the group of 5 live. Let me add that we are a group of five because I decided to limit mysef to the five because that way each of them can have an emergency fund of 100 euro that Catherine donated. I explained that part and they did not jump on the money, but rather are trusting me to hold it for them until they need it. The Montecatini colleague told us rules are different there than in Lucca and the group members can't have a health card without an official paper from the police station saying where they live. They should have gotten it when they arrived, but since they don't speak Italian, except for Tina, they didn't know to get that just like they didn't know that they would have been better off being followed by the Red Cross or Caritas of Lucca whereby they could have become more official.

Before risking taking them to the police, I took them to my lawyer at the Patronato INAC who told me their cases were too complicated and that he could not help and that he thought I should probably give up, too. He said the police station was the best next step.

Then I naughtily used my English lesson with the local government official for immigration to try to get her advice. She slipped me the name of the right police inspector, but she started breathing heavily in the manner of someone who has just realized that their English teacher is a mental case.

I had to give her an extra free fifteen minutes and invent a computer filing system with English phraseology for her work computer to convince her to come back which will mean hours of extra work this weekend. She warned me that if I do get the paper from the police in Montecatini the group of 5 will be forever prohibited from getting help from the charitable organizations in Lucca because . . Italy. They love zoning rules here. Stay tuned for the part where I bribe a police officer with gluten free birthday cake.

On a lighter note our favorite teen genius, who is going to study at Harvard this summer, showed us her report card and I fell off my chair laughing. See, if you can tell why: 


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Elfing it up
Remember when I made a faux pas at the high school open house when T was still in middle school and we had to tour the schools so she could decide on a path for her higher education? Well, when it came time for us to look at the school with the most tremendous reputation for its high difficulty level, strict teaching methods, severe grading system, and rigorous enforcement of Latin and Greek studies -- I was sure T would never choose such a grueling path. Middle school was no picnic, and she had the option to go to the linguistics school where she could concentrate on studying English and basically make a holiday of it. I had to admit that the Harry Potteresque setting of the Liceo Classico was extremely cool as was the natural history museum with its real mummy and taxidermy displays; but it was cold as a witch's tit (and drafty!) and neither F nor I could understand what the professors were saying. All we knew for sure was that some of the parents, who were also alumni, had never let up on their exemplary skills in the art of ostentatious culo/tushy kissing. Even total outsiders like us could understand what their game plan was.

yes, that is a three-legged cock.

Well, my favorite part of the story is when, during the museum tour, I became so overcome by a fit of giggles at the earnest attempts of the dutiful students to give us a historical background of the artifacts and just the extreme likeness to Hogwarts that I went all in and started yelling "Free the Elves!" at the top of my voice and running around checking to see if the students were real or if they had wind up devices emerging from their spines.

It is with great pride that last night, we had a full circle moment, and T became one of those dutiful elves and shared a ton of historical information about the museum with other unsuspecting parents. Live and learn, right? 


A further victory was won when we got some of the packages and mail we were waiting for since Thanksgiving and Christmas time, including Paul's health card! I actually was moved to tears today when a friend of ours, who we were very sad to learn is leaving Lucca, left a generous donation for my Nigerian clients that might very well prevent them from becoming homeless this year. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Blacking out, not in a fun way
This is starting off to be such a weird new year. I probably should have a policy that if students cancel with less than a day's notice they have to pay for the lesson because I just sit around like a jilted prom date for half my life waiting for people and checking my phone. On the other hand, I don't really have the palle to enforce the policy and demand the double pay when everyone here is hard up for cash. And, honestly, who are we kidding, many times teacher needs an extra hour to chillax (look it up) anyway. Nevertheless, my earning power is a bit pathetic in 2016.

The new school we started teaching for is also a bummer. Their communication skills are poor. Irony! And when we don't go to lessons that have been canceled without our knowing it, we are getting condescending lectures about bureaucratic mistakes about paperwork taht we are allegedly mishandling based on regulations that were never really explained to us in the first place. I'm letting F handle that mess because my burning bridges ability is legendary. Ask any gym in Lucca and let the torrents of gossip wash over you!
None of my socialwork "clients" returned my calls either. They both didn't have phone credit and have fevers. One lady told me she had been in the hospital with malaria, but I can't figure out if that is true or if it is her way of saying she has the flu. In any case, that newsflash caused F to have to bring me a paperbag to hyperventilate into. I tried to get them a fast track to health cards by means of a meeting with someone at the ASL health office of Lucca who said she would let me email their documents directly to her so that they didn't have to wait on line for hours.

Unfortunately, most of them have to pay for fake addresses that are farther away and, therefore, my contact will not be of as much help. It is all frustrating. I had hoped to get them health cards before they all got the flu, which I was afraid would happen if they didn't avail themselves of the vaccine. Just because every Italian we know doesn't believe in vaccines, including my contact at the ASL who has three kids, doesn't mean it isn't free and their right to have it. The one guy who I finally did track down who desperately wanted a health card turned out to have one but to not know what it was because he can't read Italian. Then my meeting with the job training agency was canceled and I had already promised to bring everybody information this week.

The other night we had a blackout in Lucca. I assume that the strong winds knocked over a tree into a powerline, but I can't be certain. After half an hour of annoying the crap out of T with Little House and the Prarie and The Waltons humor, I called my friend Patrizia. She told me what the procedure should be including finding a power switch called a salvavita that we have never even heard of and don't know where to locate.

Then she lauged her ass off when I asked her if she could turn on the news and tell me what was happening. I should mention that she lives outside the city walls and her lights were on so she had no idea about the blackout. She responded that I wasn't in Kansas anymore, Dorothy, and that the only news was that from the last 24 hour news cycle. I guess NYOne does not have a Lucca equivalent afterall? While we were on the phone and she was rapid firing off what I needed to do, including calling the electric company because she believes that you can't expect the rest of the city to call for you, the lights came on. Menomale. Otherwise, F was going to have to talk me out of mooning our neighbors and their giant flashlight faces in the window across the way.

Also the Campomaggi bag that I bought T bled all over all of her shirts and jackets. This was sad not just because  we paid a lot of money for the bag before T pointed out that it was not in line with my vegetarian world view, but because we just assumed for a week that she was a total slob.

The worst part is when my Italian skills let me down and I came across as a douche to the people in the leather store, although I did manage to get them to create an interim strap, give me free color fix spray, that didn't work, and to order a new strap. Those are not year one results and yet when I think of my image I prefer more Grace Kelley and less, you know, douche.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

A New Year in DEED

2016, weird, but true
This year has gotten off to a weird start. 

It is a bit of a haze, but I believe we picked out two couches for the living room. It involved asking our landlord if we could ditch his couches and he initially said yes, but then after we purchased new couches he may have had a bit of a panic about it, in which he sent us a link to show us what good quality his couches were thirty years ago. The problem is that my back goes out every time I try to teach a lesson while siting on them for more than half an hour because the back has sunk down lower than the front of the seat. It is a dark, rather heavy color steel blue for the room, and it is really stained. We turned to our friends at Dinelli & Rossi for help and young furniture Skywalker, Jacopo, quickly understood that my need for streamlined and modern could only mean one thing: legs made out of glass panels that make the couch look like it is flying. In order to afford these beauties, I had to sacrifice on having arms. Are arms really important? Don't answer that. We aren't going to have any. Also we would have a limited choice of colors. I didn't trust myself all of the sudden and found myself begging Governor Leia, who is Jacopo's mother, to come and choose for me. She was less decisive than usual so I became more decisive and then when she left, I doubted everything all over again. Surely, it was stupid of me to bother her with such frivolous decisions when the fate of the interior design empire rests on her weary, well-coiffed head.

It is called air. It is the hoverboard of couches minus that unwanted spontaneous combustion feature. 
So far nobody I have spoken to really believes that I can help immigrants find jobs in Lucca. Any conversation I start can be quickly shut down just by using the word assicurazione/insurance because it floods the conversation with more red tape than Martha Stewart's home office at Christmas. I offered to take two people to get their health cards, but they were really worried about collecting enough money to make rent at the end of the month so they asked if we could go the following month. I offered to take Paul to get his stay permit renewed, but he asked me if we could put that off until he pays off some guy to let him use his address. I asked him if he knew that the people who agree to live in the tents and be followed by the Red Cross get some kind of stipend so they don't have to beg, but he said that he has a friend who does that and he only gets 70 euros a month, about 20 euros every eight days. So ... no.
Notice the cool, furry chair F made.
T had her photo taken by a professional. The photographer is from Boston and has been living her for three years. She is doing a portrait project using a different volunteer model every week for 52 weeks. It came out stunning didn't it?

T has given me an education about other forms of social media like Instagram and Tumblr. I find it to be a world of inflated lips, over-contouring, and a lot of effort to look carefree, which are all forces from the dark side (what is it with all of these Star Wars references invading my brain? I never saw past the first two films.) anyway there are also pleasing opportunities for voyurism, creative design, and a giggle that I am going to experiment with for now. At the very least, it has upped our photography game for the blog.

p.s. Without sounding too american politicsy or bible-belt, T helped me come up with a name for my immigrant rights organization. We are temporarily going with Acta Non Verba which means deeds not words. So hashtag that you old bureaucrats!