Saturday, February 18, 2017

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 06, 2017

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

Saturday, February 04, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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