Sunday, March 26, 2017

Team spirit  
I feel pretty guilty for saying that we did not have a team of angels because this week Marina gave Peace luxury baby clothes; Brooke gave summer clothes to the adults; Simonetta gave baby food to the babies; Courtney brought groceries to the families; Courtney's father proposed that I apply for a grant from his rotary club and is helping us with lots of advice and contacts; Courtney's mom is the one who came through with money for Jennifer's passport, Donna gave some financial support to Paul who hasn't been paid in over a month: and so we are hardly working alone. In fact, you can hear the wind tunnel made by the beating of all their wings. 
To prove my point, here are some photos of Peace repaying Courtney with some actual baby kisses-- the first that I know of that she has offered to the world at large: 
adoring gaze
I can share ..
although this was a bit romantical ..
and we won't even talk about this deliciousness
In a further show of universal justice, F and I went to the mall in Prato instead of the courthouse in Firenze because I did indeed receive a telegram from the fancy gym demonstrating that my testimony was not called for, as they had settled with the tax office out of court. 
Plus, all of my and F's students passed their TRINITY English exams with flying colors thanks to their excellent level of preparation, and our bosses are super happy with us. Until we do some stupid shit like not fill out the attendence books perfectly or mess up the accounting of our hours next week. But still. They really, really like us.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Maximum Caffeination Achieved 

We went to a surprise birthday party for my friend Francesca last night. It was stressful because I was convinced that we would not find the pizza place, or get there in time, or that I would be forced to use a knife and fork the Lucca way which causes me to renounce my proud NY heritage and bring scorn from my people, or ruin the surprise in any of a myriad of ways. We sat in the car outside the restaurant for 25 minutes. I blame the fact that my mother is a therapist and I am not wired to be late to anything. It was also stressful because I have to fight to eat small portions while very passionate people try to force things that are so fried and fattening into me that just seeing the grease soaked paper cone of appetizers, my thighs whimpered and tried to hide themselves from potential future damage. We got home late.

I was distracted through the whole party, whose theme was childhood illnesses and cats, because I knew all the while that this morning was the meeting with the chef. We ended up being early enough for me to beg the use of a bathroom at a nearby bar (because I had already drank a cup of coffee and an enormous mug of green tea) and early enough even to sit in the car for fifteen minutes before the scheduled appointment time. We came to find out from the chef's sister that we were, indeed, in the wrong location. I was almost relieved because, as you know by now, for something to go right in Italy, something first has to go wrong. We left the sister with a loaf of F's homemade rosemary and salt sourdough loaf, and took the gorgonzola one on to the chef. We eventually (17 sweaty minutes and one panicked phone call later) met with the chef who had a lovely Babbo Natale twinkle in his eyes and who mistakenly thought I had said that I wanted coffee. He chugged his espresso down in one gulp, so I did the same. Flash forwards to me speaking the fastest Italian that I have ever spoken in my life due to a caffeine-fueled, heart thumping, energy surge. F looked fearful of me. At the end, the chef said he would considering hiring all three guys, but he has to speak to his accountant first. He is a Michelin star chef and his gourmet store is really impressive. Emmanuel's lawyer says that if the chef were to write a letter with his intent to hire, Emmanuel's legal situation could be resolved. And what a great New York Times article that would make! I'll try not to get ahead of myself. Although, it is hard not to think about the fact that I would have to come up with housing for three families in Camaiore, it they do even get the jobs, not knowing if they would keep the jobs or if the restaurant will do good business. Whatever, I believe in young Santa Claus. 

When we got home, a different accountant called. The one from the fancy gym. When he said the court case on Wednesday was cancelled, I thought he was punking me. I pointed out that I could not take his word for it because it could cost me a thousand euros in fines. He told me to call INPS the Italian tax office which sought legal recourse. I eventually tracked down the lawyer on the case who told me that I should get a telegram; but that if I don't get it in time, it would still be useless of me to make an appearance. I trust no one and have a tremendous Amanda Knox complex, so I have come up with several caffeine infused plans from taking selfies in front of the court -just in case!- to my sensible friend Ian's plan of requesting an email from the lawyer that excuses me. Then I spoke with F's student, and Lucca being the most incestuous place on earth, we think that his mother is the judge. Take that fancy gym! Meanwhile, I cancelled my lessons that day, so I feel like the universe is happy with me, and things might be taking a turn for the better. But that could also be the caffeine talking.

and this is me without caffeine ... so you do the math! 

 I also got word for Tina of when she could go to the food bank at Caritas to get some baby formula for Peace who is out of it. Tina was worried about communication issues, but Peace chatted for five minutes straight while we were working out the details; so, in the end, we laughingly agreed to let Peace do all the talking.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I was supposed to call Chef Torcigliani on Monday. Well, I was supposed to text him to tell him I wanted to call him. I sweat it out until he eventually texted back that I could try calling him after 4:30 PM. I could not swallow food or relax all day. I tried calling him right after my lesson with the middle schoolers at 4:40 PM and again at 5:15 PM. I was anxious all through my Italian lesson for Emmanuel, until finally the chef called me while I was in a store where there was no campo (or whatever you call that in English) and my phone wasn't working. He agreed to meet me in person the following Monday, provided that I confirm a day or two beforehand. I have not really taken a relaxed breath since. Apnea: six days and counting. Today we got a confirmation. No big deal, but if he gave work to Emmanuel and possible to Job and Cool, as well, it would be one of the biggest successes of any of our lives thus far. 

We ended up throwing money at Jennifer's passport situation, and, like wet spaghetti, it stuck. We got some financial assistance from Courtney's big hearted mother Dinah and from our friend Shilpa, as well. It seems like now both Jennifer and Cool will be able to get their Nigerian passports, which are crucial for them to stay legal and renew their stay permits in Italy. The fact that it makes zero sense to require refugees to show passports from the countries they have fled seems lost on almost everyone. 

I couldn't celebrate fully because Peace's mamma still has big passport problems. We visited today and I can tell you that I wasn't wrong about the baby books. The ones Stefania donated are a big hit. 

The books are a hit! (told ya so!)

silly faces


In other big news, Peace started crawling! Well, she really started doing baby pushups and dragging herself backwards away from whatever objective she sets for herself, but it is a very good start. 

push ups
crawling .... backwards


it's exhausting, grandma ..


My favorite Nigerian Avon lady!

Nigerian snacks for sale!

While we were there Peace's mom asked us if we could find someone to repair their windows, to be later reimbursed by the landlord -- allegedly, and find out where Job can take an Italian course for a certificate towards his carta di soggiorno, and get an appointment with the lawyers, who did not reach back out to us all week, and find out how they can get food donations from the church, and something else. I feel so overwhelmed.

My courses at the converting line company are a challenge in terms of keeping the students happy. My classroom is filled with ants. Someone called maintenance for me and now there are ants and an ant-eating lizard on the window sill, and I can't say any of that is helping me to breathe any better.

T gave up breathing weeks ago and has decided not to fully exhale until the SATs are over in June, so that's fun. 

Gabry called from Romania, where he lives is a sod house that is now buried in snow. Their only heat source is firewood. He called to ask if we could give him the rest of the money that he needs to buy his taxi cab, now that we helped him get his license. We said we would, and we are hoping that somehow the universe is going to take care of us so that we can make it happen.

Luckily, all I have to do is face down the fancy gym fiasco at the Court of Appeals in Florence on Wednesday where I have to talk about financial stuff I have no idea about or face a thousand euro fine. Easy-peasy.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A baby convention  
Today we took board books and diapers and some groceries around to baby Freedom's, Wisdom's, and Peace's houses. Freedom's mom had called in the morning to say they had no food in their house. We had two special guests. One was Stefania, who is from New York originally and who I met through the piccoli aiutanti group when her kids helped to make Christmas presents for the refugees. The other one was her friend Theresa, who is a researcher from Pace University who volunteers as an advocate for refugee children to help them make strides in getting access to education. She travels quite a lot and reports her research to various international ministries to give them feedback about what they are doing well and where they could stand to make improvements. She is a very calm presence and is providing a very valuable service to the world. The mammas were more tense than usual because of the whole passport situation, but they are really good at managing stress and stressful situations. I am trying to learn from them. 

Theresa and Freedom

Freedom is getting big - over 2 months old now!

Stefania with Freedom and family

Wisdom and Mamma Wisdom

Peace stealing the show
grandma time

grandpa time

Stefania and Peace

talking teething

This was a serious moment in the conversation, but it makes me laugh if you zoom in on Peace's facial expression -- Emma Stone had that same look at the end of the last of 50 interviews to promote her movie. Call my Uber! 

This week we had some bad news that could potentially wipe out a lot of progress that our group of Nigerian refugees has made over the last year. The brother and sister lawyer duo from Caritas, who I really have come to love, did not answer my multiple emails and texts saying that group members were not able to convince immigration officers at the police station that they no longer needed to show passports from their home country to renew their stay permits. Then I got the email. It turns out the very sensible decision of the judge in Palermo, which stated that refugees should not be required to show passports from the countries they are fleeing, does not have any weight in Tuscany. Therefore, Freedom's, Peace's, and Widom's mothers will all have big challenges to face to renew their stay permits or to get documents for the babies. 

It really knocked the air out of me when the reality sunk in. Do I have to get these folks vaccinated, get them airline tickets, get them home safely?? 

I had to call everyone. We made arranagements to bring train fare to Cool and Jennifer tomorrow so that they can go to the embassy in Rome on Monday to find out whether there is any amount of money in the world that would allow them to get a passport for Jennifer who lost hers years ago. Nigerians use a lot of different names and pseudonyms so sometimes they don't even know what name to search under or their own birthdays. Cool has been waiting for his renewal since last November, and he is hoping to finally get to pick up his passport booklet five months later. 

Peace's mom has already been turned away from the embassy in Rome and thinks that she will now have to go back to Nigeria to get her passport in time to renew her documents next year. The lawyers say that if they can prove that their requests are rejected by the Nigerian embassy they can then qualify to get the Italian equivalent, which is called the titolo di viaggio. I am sure that on paper, what the lawyers are saying is true. But, unfortunately, the reality of the situation when you are at the police station or the embassy is often quite different. 

Luckily, an American friend's mom wrote just yesterday to see if she could donate any money to the group. However, we have no idea how much this whole situation will cost financially or logistically or even if it can be resolved.

F helped me to make these photo books that my two middle school English students posed for to illustrate the use of prepositions. They seemed to have fun making the book, and I can't wait to show them the finished laminated copies. F also printed two copies for us to bring to baby Peace and baby Wisdom as their first board books. We are going to go by tomorrow with a mother named Stefania who I met in the piccoli aiutanti group and her friend Theresa, who is a researcher from Pace University that has done a lot of work in the area of childhood education and refugees. Job has had the same fever that Emmanuel had last week, so I don't know if we will get to see Peace.

We are so Type A for sandcastle builders . . . 

Emmanuel cancelled his Italian lesson with me this week because today was the funeral of the woman who raised him in Nigeria and he wanted to be alone. Paul couldn't come either because the restaurant was crowded, but next week I am going to try to do a lesson for both of them together. F brought Emmanuel to the questura/police station again Wednesday, along with some homemade sourdough chocolate bread, but his permesso still wasn't ready to be picked up. I couldn't come because I was busy getting my students at Fabio Perini to narrate a video in English that showed a converting line they used in 2005. I know more about embossing, log saws, rollers, and folding machine configurations than your normal, every day human. It is hard for me to believe I learned all of that stuff and it was not to pass a test or even to win over a cute engineering major. I can be very type A when I want to be.

T is Type A, as well. She got a 10 on her physics test this week, I'll have you know. She seems to range in happiness levels from very miserable to slightly miserable with an edge of upbeat deadpan humor. I am feeling so so about all of my life choices and their impact on people I love. But I think this is normal for families with SAT age people in their homes. Isn't it? ISN'T IT? 

Monday, March 06, 2017

Today, finally, was full of PEACE  
We saw Paul this morning. The clothes from Geraldine fit him perfectly and the donation from Donna made it possible for him to pay his light bill, since he hasn't been paid in a while. He is doing pretty well, but I was sad to hear that a guy at his work is really kind of bullying and baiting him to try and get him to lose his temper. The other guy wants to bring his brother in and would like him to have Paul's spot at the restaurant. Paul had been happy to see another foreign guy in the kitchen, but it was quickly apparent to him that there was no way to forge a friendship. We gave him a pep talk and we took this photo to show Donna.


Paul & me

Then the lovely and talented Elisabetta brought her family by with some donations for the group, which gave me a perfect excuse for a visit with Miss Peace. A special thanks to Elisabetta's little son, I think he is 5, who gave away his toys to babies who don't have any of their own.

I also heard from Emmanuel who is doing better today. We also dropped off toys for Wisdom and clothes for his mom Jennifer thanks to donations from Kerri, who I had never even met before.

Try on time

squoosh face

Catching up with Peacey

Tina looking great in her new sweater

my little light

I just can't

smile of 2017

Peace, I love you.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Best Laid Plans  
And this was the day, after months of planning, that Patrizia and I went shoe shopping. I convinced her that F needed shoes, too, because I am too car phobic to relax with her at the wheel. Patrizia is one of the best friends I have in Italy. We have absolutely nothing in common. We don't like to eat the same things, for the most part. There are four things that we have found that we can both eat, if we are forced to share a meal. I can't eat for days afterwards due to the fact that they have the caloric content of a case of gatoraid. We don't have the same taste in books, clothing, movies, entertainment, vacation destination, furnishings, or hobbies. We are both mothers of girls, so we get each other on that level. She sometimes loves F more than I do, as he can do no wrong in her eyes, and this is also adorable.

But being friends with her has taught me what I do value. She is the most fiercely loyal human on the face of the earth. She took me to the gynecologist when I had an ovarian cyst and was convinced I had moments to live. She stands in her own way and is her own biggest enemy and, if she spoke English as a first language, I might enjoy our conversations less than I do trying to decipher what she is going on about in Italian. But I love her. She talks a lot about her cat and household errands, but this is also more charming in Italian than in English. I am sure she is equally bored by hearing me talk about African refugees and my drama of the week. I met her when she was virtually my only regular student at Happy Gym, back when I was a fitness instructor. It is so unlikely that she would pay money to exercise that I have to believe our friendship was destined by a greater power. Anyway, she told me she knew the best shoe store in the world, and, for some reason, I was surprised to find out it was not really my type of place. However, the prices were amazing; so, to make her feel like she didn't leave the house and get her hair done for nothing, I bought a pair of boots that I would not have bought under any normal conditions, as they are practical and comfortable and aesthetically grandma chic. 

I hate my orthotics. When will I be able to 3D print my own shoes from home?
Patrizia & me!

In the car, Emmanuel called me to say he felt sick. He refused to tell me any of his symptoms and asked if I could get him a doctor despite the fact that he doesn't have an Italian health card/tessera sanitaria. I could take him to the emergency room where he would not be treated well and where we would have to wait for at least six hours minimum. F and I decided to pull the car around and go to the Esselunga supermarket that has the pharmacy with the nicest pharmacist, who we usually give Christmas cookies to every year. Last year, we didn't because of the focus on the refugees, but now I regret it. Anyway, she spent ages with me and gave me several different nutritional options for Emmanuel, who stopped eating normally over a week ago. Emmanuel made it clear that F driving the food, money, and medicine to him was not what he really wanted. He want me, his weirdly age inappropriate "mother." So I went. We took his temperature and made him sip ginger ale and eat biscuits. We explained how he could take the nutritional supplements and then we left before I managed to catch whatever he has, pretty much the same way I did last week.

I staggered up the stairs to go home and Jennifer called. Despite my suggestions that she do so over a week ago, today was the day that not having a working toilet made her angry enough that she wanted me to call a technician for her. Her landlord should pay for the repairs, but he is refusing. She sent me a phone number to call and I made the mistake of assuring the plumber that I would pay for the work, if she didn't have the money. Jennifer who-gets-as-crazy-as-her-Hollywood-namesake Lawrence, started yelling at me hysterically. She got mad and went on and on about how it wasn't her fault she didn't have money to pay for the repairs when I innocently inquired as to how she was going to pay the guy if he actually fixed the problem. It took ages for her to realize that I am on her side, but that it isn't the plumber's fault that her landlord is an asshole and that she doesn't have money. He will still need to be paid. It is also not my fault that I have to deduct the money from that put aside for her, if the plumber does need to get paid. We agreed she will stiff her landlord at the end, after she finds a new house, like any true New Yorker would do in a similar situation. 

There goes any chance I had at a relaxing weekend. 

Did I tell you about the part where T let us know that any summer vacation plans we had that involved quality time alone with us would be lacking any appeal for her, and so I ended up proposing to take a group of girls from her school to live with us at a beach house, the problem being that three of them have never met us? Also I had wanted to go to Girona or Lisbon, but they seem to prefer to remain in Italy. And so now we are having this get-to-know-you pizza party with a bunch of girls from the class above hers, during which I have to convince them to come away with me and not have it be creepy in any way. Also the SAT stress is palpable in our house and will not be fully over until next November. T wants to do a first round this May and June and a second round next October and November. I feel like medical marijuana could become a viable option until she finds out which university she will attend. For me, ok, not for her. I know which pharmacist exactly I am going to ask for the prescription, and the Christmas cookies are going to be phenomenal this year.

P.S. Toilet is fixed and Emmanuel feels better as of 18:25.