Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Players gonna play

So I have like three ulcers, but the meeting with the lawyer from Caritas went very well. I take back EVERYTHING. Or at least PRACTICALLY everything. It was another sleepless night for me. Then this morning I am pretty sure that I woke up and also scared everyone in the group into being on time. I was sure they would be half an hour late, but they were adorably on time and sleepy looking. It was the lawyer who was late. We thought she wasn't going to show up because the head of Caritas and I realized at the same poignant moment that she had never confirmed. We had confirmed to each other, but not with her. Anyway, me and the group were pretty happy about the situation because we could get credit for coming without getting yelled at or having any legal retribution of any kind. Then ten minutes later, in she walked with her associate.

I quickly took the wheel. Before the meeting, I prepared the group that Tina was going to have suddenly forgotten how to speak any language but Nigerian and when she remembered Italian and English, I kicked her every so gently under the table. I decided the best road to go was to say that I had been very angry at Tina for not wanting to stay in the shelter and the lawyer laughed and said in English that they had seen the dark side of me. Then I said that I had to talk myself into understanding that she probably had valid reasons for her trust issues and that the rest of the group was still hoping that the lawyer was not mad at them and would continue to help them. She just laughed it off and said that it was her Calabrian temper and that we shouldn't worry about it. I wanted to say that I had not slept in about six days because of her little sfogo of letting off steam. But I then realized that I loved her. Then the head of Caritas went way out there on a limb for us and explained that they were really not baby stealers and that even if you had doubts about social services it was not cost effective to have to care for these babies if it were not really necessary due to situations of abuse or neglect. I love her, too.

The lawyer went around the table and helped every single person and Even called the staff of the camp in Calabria where Emmanuel is holed up and made an official gesture to become his lawyer and try to save him from being deported. She got Jennifer her permesso, and, if that was not enough, after the meeting she called around to the police stations to verify the dates that the permessi or stay permits would be ready for Cool, Job, and Jennifer to pick up. We all left feeling sleepy and elated. If you any of you have children, since my fertile days are almost offically over, please name them Manuela after this lawyer. They will cause you problems, but it will be worth it. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Pasqua Nigeria   
Well, our new friends invited us to their church - so we went. Today was a big bonding day for me and Tina. We understand all of each other's words now and we sound like each other. So much so that when I spoke to Emmanuel today from the camp in Calabria, he understood me, too. Camot! 
Here goes my Nigerian dance tutorial.
F made two trips in the car. First he took the men over and I waited on Tina and she waited on the line in her house for the bathroom and one hour later, we were all ready! As Tina moisturized and primped, I watched a famous Nigerian pastor from youtube on her big screen and learned all of the five dance moves that I needed for the day. 
Everytime some walks upstairs, it seems their foot will appear through the ceiling, and that blue lightbulb shudders like an aftershock.
This little boy was a great dancer and he wore a thick gold chain around his little neck.
I know how Tom Cruise felt when Katie wore heels.
The Happy Couples
The man in the plaid suit is helping Tina with housing so I am thankful for him.
Baptism birthday party, Let's just celebrate everything!
There was a lot of cuteness present in church today.    
It was the primary colors box of crayolas up in here.  
I will have memories about today and I will think I dreamed them up. I have seen it all. I saw a wedding celebration. I saw a baptism. I was part of a dance line. We gave the offering envelope the first of the five times we were called on to donate during the service. We saw twerking and testifying. We listened to people talking in tongues and prophecizing. We saw a pastor prostrate himself on the altar. People wore full on glitter and lace, camoflage and sports coats, flowered dresses and corsets, head wraps, and pointy white loafer shoes, high heeled sneakers and everything inbetween. We saw a birthday party and were offered malt drink and sandwiches in tinfoil. We sang praises and we heard bible verses read in a harmonized echo from individuals who could read from their bibles in the pews. Some people ignored us, some people stared at us, some wanted to know who we were, and some did not want to know. That's pretty much how we roll.
We are exhausted.

Jennifer and Cool   First comes love, then comes . . . marriage!
We had time to sort through some clothes from Maria Paola at Brooks Running company for the moms and babies because, as Tina informed us, we had used white people time.  I thought about explaining that I am just anal because I am a daughter of a therapist who used to treat patients on the hour in my childhood home, but I refrained. 
Alas, it turned out that the Italian guy who was officiating the wedding was also punctual, so we ended up only catching the very end of the ceremony. It was like the scene in a rom-com movie where somebody like Drew Barymore or Sascha Baron Cohen stampedes into a wedding scene. At least 90 percent of the people there thought we were lost or were rushing in to object to the holy union. 
Tina didn't come over to the ceremony in the car with us because she had to wait her turn to use her house bathroom and they ran out of water. When she showed up, I hardly recognized her. She looked like she belonged in Beyoncè's Formation video. The three of us actually have a stomach virus. So in my defense, I woke up not like this, but like, well, that. T and I had no idea what to wear, but the general vibe turned out to be that we looked like the behind the scenes crew for a nineties music video that we weren't quite cool enough to be on camera for.
We brought the wedding couple some baby clothings, some women's dresses, an envelope of cash, and a bag full of yams, which if the internet has not mislead us, a traditional wedding gift. We checked out that last fact with Job in the car on the way to the ceremony. When he finally understood what we were saying he started laughing and was like yeah, that's traditional alright, did you also bring a goat?
I got so much side eye at the party that I could pretty much get a sponsorship deal from Visine. T asked me if we were ever going to have the kind of life where the people in the room with us have the same set of life experiences. Then we laughed and looked at each other like Nope. We cracked up a few times when we realized that not only was she the only one in her class at a Nigerian wedding this weekend or ever. A bunch of her classmates were dying eggs and polishing their hardly used church shoes, while we were the odd duck wedding crashers pissing off various parents at a house party by unequally distributing the balloon decorations amongst the child guests, thus setting off a series of tussles and crying jags.        
I was happy to see that Jennifer liked the bouquet we picked out.
We loved it when some female guests basically moved me over so she could get some snaps. Everyone kept saying, let me get a snap. This was the best snap!
Hanging out in front of the Comune of Montecatini.
Jennifer and Tina are true beauties.
On the left is Osas and then comes Job with his collar all turned up and the shades staying on.
Paul and Stanley
K, Tina, T
Lining up at the window for plates of food.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What? No? NOooooo!  
I got mad at adorable, pregnant Tina. She went behind my back to the police station to get her stay permit by means of a hospitality letter written by some friends who said she could crash with them for a short time. I had spent countless hours getting her a lawyer through the catholic charity, who, in turn, had worked tirelessly to find her a clean place to live and take care of her documents for her. I felt embarrassed and did not know how I would go back to the director of the charity and the lawyer to tell them that she was rejecting their help. I had noted that both the women of the group were a bit hostile and distant at the meeting. I, for my part, had been so exultant at having finally found Italians who wanted to acknowledge the existence of the Nigerians with stay permits but without any help to exist such as health cards, job training or placement, or even money to buy food or pay rent. The only attention this group gets is from police who give them tickets or threaten to arrest them or send them back to their country for begging on the streets. 
In my unfilteredness, I told everyone in the group that things like not telling me who are related to each other by blood --like the brothers which different versions of the same last name, Emmanuel and Job-- and who is going to the police station to file documents that go against the documents that I am getting filed on their behalf is counterproductive and also a little infuriating. I told them that I spend half my days making phone calls for them and that I can't do my job if they are not honest with me. They told me they wanted to come together and meet with me in person. I took everyone out for coffee. Tina would not even look at me. I just waited her out. I told her that I did not understand why she was this upset about the catholic charity's rule that she sleep without her fiancee at the shelter for women temporarily. It is not nice at all to stay separated at night, but since she lives in a slum and her partner has to return to Nigeria for a month without her to take care of his sick father, wouldn't it be nice to stay somewhere clean where people could help her and she would not have to be on her feet all day begging for rent money? That is when she told me what she was scared about.
Some people from her church, including her pastor, told her that if she gets care from the catholic charity that charity will have proof that she is impoverished, does not have a home, and that her partner does not have a job which could be grounds for social services to take away her baby from her and possibly put it up for adoption. I was so ashamed that my face got hot and I cried. I had no idea. I promised I would not pressure them to take any help they did not want or run any risks they didn't want to and I listened to her plan. It was a crazy plan, but it could work. She has friends who could give her the letter she needs to get the permesso renewed on her own and then her pastor will help her pay half her security deposit if she finds a cheap house and I can get Job, the baby's father, a job. And that is a big ask. 
I had several heart attacks and lost a full night's sleep before calling back the catholic charity who still don't know that she has decided not to take them up on their offer. I think the director and the lawyer are really good people who want the best for my group, but I don't know how social services enters into these situations or how they make their money so I am not in a position to guarantee anything. The director told me she would have a Nigerian woman call Tina to talk to her about how it is to stay with them. She did -- and the kicker is that the Nigerian woman told Tina not to accept the help if she had any other choice.
 I was supposed to do telephone lessons today but I had to field about two dozen incoming calls from the group and the charity. Some of the calls came in while I was out at the mercatino buying Jennifer her wedding bouquet. The lawyer has helped a lot. Paul got his permesso renewed today and they even got a permesso for Jennifer who is getting married on Saturday and whose baby is due in just one month. They also got Job his permesso which will allow him to fly home to see his father. I had promised Emmanuel that I would try to get the lawyer to help him to and I don't know if she will still want to help if the pregnant ladies decide to reject their offer of shelter. . . It will be an interesting test of their commitment, I suppose. 
I do wonder how they thought Tina would have gotten her permesso renewed if I had not paid for it and for her passport renewal which cost 65 euros. She had two euros and fifty cents as all of her earthly riches at the time the bills came due. Also how would she have known that the police station might not be a good place to be on Good Friday and to get her health appointment before her health card expired? I shudder to think about it. 
I hijacked F's phone and called his contact who publishes an elegant food magazine to beg her to find dishwashing jobs for the men. She promised me she would come to my house on Easter Monday and so F has to bake the colomba to end all colombas and I have to convince her to get this going so that the babies don't risk being taken away from their mothers. Speaking of mothers, the people in my group call me mother even though I would have had to have been 16 years old when I birthed them. I am like the menopausal Angelina Jolie of the Nigerian community. About eleven people ask T how her day was when she is on her way home from school now.  They are all Nigerian. She has no idea who they are.
Brooks gave me shoes that fit over my swollen toes and I got memory foam orthotics so I should cut a stunning figure at Jennifer Lawrence's wedding on Saturday. God help us all. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Fits and Starts
This week was a crazy week for me and for the group of six.

The magnificent lawyer for Caritas named Manuela got Job's permesso to be expedited and he got his fingerprints taken so he can pick the documents up in time to go back to Nigeria to visit his sick father.  

Job's brother Emmanuel found out that his appeal to have the right to stay in Italy was denied. I had a really awkward conversation with some man named Bevilaccqua at his camp in Calabria who seemed too laissez faire about the whole thing in a way that scares me. I tried to impress on him that Emmanuel is not alone and that he has people who care for him and that want him to stay in Italy and one of them is a lawyer. I hope that we can transfer his case to Manuela who is a real miracle maker.

Speaking of which, Manuela and the head of Caritas Pescia are also working so hard to get Tina into the new residence where she will also have a stay permit and a means of getting medical treatment for her pregnancy.

I tried to get a read on Jennifer because it would be a shame if she did not take advantage of the help Caritas is trying to give her, but she really just wanted to talk about her wedding next week. I asked if she had everything she needed for the big day and she told me that she wanted fake flowers. Then I got an urgent call from her which made me worry about the baby, but it turned out that she had just changed her color scheme and now wants white and purple flowers instead of white and red ones. She's not named Jennifer Lawrence for nothing.

Happy Customers!

T and I had fun giving away the sneakers that Brooks Running company donated. In addition to our usual guys we also met Jude who is another Nigerian who has some friends in the group and is in the exact same situation and a young guy named Khalid who is from Sierra Leone. It seems like my reporter friend Nadia now wants to do a story on the group which would be a great way to thank Caritas and shed light on the issues.

Goofy grin alert mid-frame (can you spot me?)

The other night we took Patrizia to the fashion show event at Dinelli & Rossi, my favorite furniture store in Lucca. Half of the fancy gym was there, including the DJ and the drummer. I was awkwardly situated at the exit point of the runway so I felt I had to clap and smile goofily at each model as she passed by. This one old creeper that I recognized from Ego kept stepping into the runway to take photos of the models. I shudder to think of what he will do with them. 

T has been working so very hard in school; and, even though the testing and grading methods seem profoundly unjust to me, she has been an incredible trooper about it all.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


Who would make this commercial? Who would star in this commercial? Who the cavolo would want to buy yogurt after watching this commercial? The message: Men are stronzi. I can't. The joke is on them because women buy the yogurt for their families in Italy and only the super masochistic would be convinced by that kind of advertising. The father's gaping at the gams of the dead icon in front of the children is particularly gross.

Good news: We think Caritas has found housing for the two pregnant women of the group of Nigerians we are trying to help, Tina and Jennifer. They will have rules to follow and they will be separated from their partners for a bit, but it is a huge step up. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

More drama than Un Posto Al Sole
Paul, Tina, Job, Me, Cool, Jennifer L
Today we had the meeting with Caritas and their lawyer to try to straighten out the myriad of legal difficulties facing the Group of Five plus One-- the Nigerians we are trying to help. F had done a test run to find the location of the main church in Montecatini, but we still arrived 15 minutes later than I would have liked -- or as I like to call it -- SHT (Standard Husband Time). To be fair if I had married an Italian, I would have had a worse acronym and I would have arrived even later.

All of the group members made it to the meeting, except for Emmanuel who is still holed up at the camp in Calabria. We conferenced in the one person we found that could talk about his legal situation in Italian. As we sorted out everybody's documents, the issues seemed to multiply. The Caritas lawyer was finally able to Scooby Doo the situation and track down the name of Emmanuel's original lawyer so that we can be informed of whether he will be able to stay in Italy or not when that individual arrives with the decision on his appeal this weekend. 

Tina, who is now almost five months pregnant, got turned away from free health care because she could not prove her residency. She was asked to pay 400 euros. She can't renew her permesso which is about to expire because she can't get a letter of hospitality. I can't even host her because I am in Lucca instead of in Montecatini. After a quick review of our rental contract, the unoffcial legal strategy, as I understand it, is for her to arrangiarsi da sola or take care of it the way Nigerians whose housing has not been provided for them are forced to do. Basically all of us in Italy understand that she is going to pay out a 200 euro bribe to get a fake hospitality letter from a Nigerian who is in possession of residency and a job perimt and who may or may not just take off with the money. However, this is the only option that Nigerian immigrants who do not receive welfare have left. 

Cool and Job have both lost their high level stay permits from their own open pockets and only Cool has managed to get his reissued. Job runs around from police station to police station being told that he is in the wrong place. He would like a letter to encourage the good folks at the police station to find his kit and reissue his documents. He kept nudging me the whole meeting and shoving his useless plane tickets to Nigeria under my fingers. His mother is dying and he wants to go back to say goodbye. Well, she may not be dying, but she is very sick. Well, it is not his mother; it is his father. . This is how the meeting went. It reminded me of sitting  at Community Access on the lower east side of Manhattan with old Mr. McCallum, who was a blind, veteran, amputee, while he watched Days of Our Lives and roaches literally rained down on our heads from his ceiling. Good times. Anyway I kept hissing at Job to please not make me have to tell the lawyer about his unused plane tickets. He could not take the plane because he lost his documents. I understand that it is sad, but he has a pregnant wife with no home and expired documents and no health care and I was trying not to make the lawyer's head explode as she realized that Jennifer whose last name is Lawrence has no permesso and is going to give birth in less than a month and a half. 

The situation became so absurd between all of the fake hospitality letters, false addresses, desperate circumstances, and illegalities that I had to make an admission to the Caritas representatives. I told them that when I decided to help six Nigerians who were buried in Italian bureaucracy and trapped in an unjust living situation, I had no idea that they would have more drama that Un Post al Sole, the famous Italian soap opera. Imagine my surprise, when the head lawyer broke into a huge smile and said that the unused ticket was just the excuse she needed to put pressure on the police to release the reissue of his stay permit. Ms. Lawrence and Tina both implored me to let them choose their own housing and get the catholic charity to pay for it, but I had to tell them AGAIN that that possibility was not even on the table, as it does not exist in Italy. Jennifer asked me to leave the meeting so she coud ask if she would still have to beg for money after they gave her a place to live. I explained to both women AGAIN that we were doing all this because if they are in the care of a charitable association they will not have to beg anymore.    

Paul on his part always looks sad and helpless at these meetings and I always pass him off as the young one who is completely alone. He is only 27, but he is hardly a child. However when Maria Cristina came out with a donation of fried plantains from Africa in plastic snack packs which she distributed to the whole gang, he ripped into them like Cookie Monster from Sesame Street on a bender and chewed them up smiling from ear to ear and spraying plantain crumbs every which way. It is hard not to love Paul. 

The last surprise of the day was that Cool and Jennifer Lawrence are getting married the day before Easter and we are invited, even though I have no shoes. That should be blog-worthy. There's a movie that is very popular in Lucca right now called Perfetti Sconosciuti where a bunch of old friends have a dinner party and agree to leave their cellphones on the table in open view. Most of the couples' relationships unravel in the span of one evening and you realize that people's lives are more complicated than you think. Well, that whole film looks Disney in comparison to the drama we watched unfold today at Caritas.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Limping along

Last Saturday we had a truly lovely time with some new friends who happen to be from Boston, but who live in Lucca. The super brave Annmarie had her son here which means her she has balls that would take up at least three seats on a NY subway. Her husband Antonio is a retired State Trooper and her son Antonio is an adorable two year old with almost professional pasta fork twirling skills. We loved how he walked around with full diplomatic immunity, trailing after T like a baby duckling, and translating all the while for those of us who are Italian language challenged. You go, Italian nursery schools!

We had a little Top Chef meltdown that involved putting together an appetizer in 4.2 minutes (feta cheese with olive oil, lemon, peperoncino, shredded arugala, surrounded by the sad looking shredded jalapeno poppers we were going to serve and fried artichokes). Unfortunately, ahimè this got served with saltines. Nothing is sadder than an Italian saltine because those little flat squares don't even have salt on them. Sorry, folks. The rest of the dinner turned out well.

Group of 5 news:

Paul: I forged him a letter saying that the head of the charity demanded that the folks at the police station renew his permesso without postponing another three or four times. And that bad boy worked so I don't care, sue me.

Emmanuel: He called me from Calabria because he was excited that the jacket and toys we sent to his 4-year-old son Precious in Nigeria fit. That sweetie happens to be a perfect size 4 years. The courier service cost us 50 euros, but I say it was well spent. Unfortunately, his lawyer has yet to show up. He wants me to call Precious so I am working up the courage to do that phone call. 

Tina: Her stay permit expires this month and I told her to wait for the meeting with lawyer on Wednesday before she gets pressured into being blackmailed again in the hopes that 200 euros would buy her a letter of hospitality. The catch 22 that not being allowed to get welfare and housing means that even though she was given a permesso for humanitarian reasons, she can't legally renew it. Welcome to Italy. Her partner Job has a sick mother in Nigeria and a plane ticket he has postponed several times because he managed to lose his stay permit when he did not close his pocket while bicycling around. We needed that new development more or less like a hole in the head.

Cool: I got up early to bring Cool's brother to Guamo to get his codice fiscale which he needs to get a job in Italy so that he can pay taxes. He did not return my calls all day. I reached him at night and he said that his brother had told him I canceled which is the opposite of what I said. I told him I would see him in the morning. In the morning I found a different Nigerian guy in front of my house who turned out to be another brother of Cool and who told me that the one who had an appointment with me had fled to Germany the night before. This brother tried to convince me that he understood enough Italian for me to get him a security job, and urged me to give him a pretend job interview to prove the point. When I asked him what job experience he had, he answered yes. So I convinced him that he should take some free Italian lessons with me or at the high school. Then he started saying a bunch of stuff about his begging being a sin. A word which I find to be a real energy suck and which for me has no place in any discussion that does not involve dessert.

Jennifer: I am glad she has so many medical appointments because it means she is getting care throughout her pregnancy, but her schedule has made it a challenge to make the meeting with the lawyer which for now is set for Wednesday. I hope it happens because I had to reschedule 7 phone lessons and write 6 emails and make 37 phone calls to set that up.

The above gorgeous person used her trigger finger on the overwhemed Harvard enrollment site to get her top two course choices for the summer, housing, and financial aid. Watch out world, this girl is taking public speaking with a much loved professor and great political speeches with a professor who was popular back when F was in school and who is badass. The sunset is not bad either.

In limping news, I may have just nerve damage in my feet and not a broken toe. I made this discovery when all of my other toes started hurting and not just the one I assumed was fractured from the pain level, although I didn't do anything to it. Look up menopause and nerve pain if you don't believe me. I went to every shoe store in Lucca outlet week and I discovered that the salespeople could give those who turned up their noses at Julia Roberts when she was still hooking in Pretty Woman a run for their money in an overall snotty attitude competition. This is another joyful symptom of low estrogen during menopause. The internet also let me know that it could take months to recover from the German Barbie dermatologist's acid peel. I know this will come as a shock, but so far, perimenopause sucks.