Thursday, September 28, 2017

Where we stand
I think it might be time for a recap here. 

It has been seven years since we moved to Lucca.

 T with Peace now.
Us two.
Our daughter T.
T with Peace when she was first born.

T has made it through middle school and has entered her senior year of high school, known as quinta. When we got here, I could only dream that she would be able to stand -- not only next to Italian kids and be interrogated in different subjects, law school style, as they do -- but that she could really put two feet firmly in knowing herself in our adopted home. And she can and does. 

It has been just about two years since we started the "group:" six Nigerian adults, plus two toddlers who we got to know from birth. 

Jennifer and Cool are the parents of two year old Wisdom. Jennifer took a long time to warm up to me, but we got there. She does do things like tell me Cool didn't make any money in Malta, while Cool told F that he made good money in Malta, but that is less of a trust issue and more of the fact that she is a kick-ass business woman who can cook a chicken for 15 people for lunch, while getting a travelling weave expert to do her hair, and launching a secret tailoring and design shop that I only found out about by accident. Their house is filled with mosquitoes and even the bat house we got them didn't work. It also has serious sewer issues and has no working hot water heater, which is going to be a disaster this winter. Cool lives under the shadow of the invitation he made to his three (or more?) brothers to come and find him In Lucca when the begging was lucrative. Now begging is officially illegal and his brothers are barely making it and ask a lot of him.

In fact, Cool's unstable brother Stanley may or may not be in Sweden while he left his wife and infant son Freedom in a Montecatini house for which they never paid rent. Stanley's wife just asked me to help her get 1600 euros for a new house in Borgo Buggiano she found, since the current one is going to be foreclosed when she is evicted at, you guessed it, Christmas. Except she is not in the group, and we are personally out of money to donate to the group anyway.  And it is rough to get anyone to want to donate to them, although for baby Freedom's sake, I hope someone does.

That house has seen a lot of shit go down, though. That is the house where group members Job and Tina lived when Tina was pregnant with their daughter Peace. I met Tina when she was begging in front of the bakery by our house. Job got into the group because he crashed one of the first group meetings, and at that point I didn't know that he was Tina's baby's father. I actually told her I thought he was rude and overly insistent until the day they approached me in an alley, holding hands and pointing at her belly. Anyway, we bargained with the crazy house owners who do not live in Italy and are, luckily, terrible financial managers, and rennovated the house ourselves so that baby Peace would not be surrounded by squalor. Emmanuel still lives there by his own choice, but we helped Job and Tina get a better house in Pescia. 

It is hard to imagine a time when we didn't have Peace and Wisdom in our lives. Yes, Nigerians give their kids names of biblical virtues, but I mean that in every sense of the words. 

Both couples are still unemployed and the men still have to beg. I did eventually find them jobs in restaurants, but they did not take them, after which I gave up a bit. A lot of that had to do with Job's brother Emmanuel, who I did not know was Job's brothers for months after the group was formed. And to think, I started helping these guys because we all spoke English and I thought the fact that they had no official help from any Italian association or charity was all a big mistake.

I came to find out, sadly, that it was not a mistake. Three of the six, if I remember correctly, Tina, Paul, and Job report being offered a five hundred euro bribe by hotel managers put in place by local Italian government who housed them in 2012 when they first got off the boats. They didn't understand back then that by taking the money, they would be relinquishing their ability to help from established charities like the Red Cross and Caritas. Jennifer and Cool were also outside of the official systems for refugees and after they got their permessi they mostly survived on their own terms. At any rate, we found out that even if they had the official welcome and had been followed by charities at the beginning, most African refugees end up in the same situation: unemployed and begging on the streets.

Anyway, Emmanuel really tugged at our hearts because he is a widow and because he can't reunite with his seven year old son Precious due to the fact that he was denied a permesso di soggiorno from the start by the refugee committee. We worked for weeks on end to get him a job, a new house, and a new chance at a permesso, but he got fired from the job after only two weeks because he felt it was too physically difficult for him. To be fair, it is a job that requires 12 to 14 hour shifts at the sink during high season; and while the contract is very useful, the pay is not great.

Last but not least, Paul is also in the group. He had no one here and was the youngest of the guys. He desperately wanted to stop getting hassled by police and to have a real job. He is a hard worker and he now has a job we searched out for him as a dishwasher, an official residence, job contract, and, soon, also health care. 

We were able to help everybody out financially, but that only could last for so long. Our teaching incomes in Italy are very small in respect to what we used to earn, although life here is much cheaper than life in New York, even seven years ago. Now we just do things like translate for them because they have never had Italian language instruction. We used to shuttle them to doctor and lawyer appointments, but they have become a lot more independent. This year we will still have to get them their flu shots so we all don't spend the holidays in the emergency room. I already got someone to donate the money to buy the vaccines. Our main work now is just collecting clothing, book, and toy donations and delivering it to them.
It is not the success story that I wanted for them, but they are still here fighting for a better life. And that is a lot.

1 comment:

Jill said...

I think you guys are amazing and I constantly follow your story in awe in what you *have* been able to do even though you are constantly going upstream. The world needs more people like you! Cheers!