Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Santa Success Story
From last year at the Red Cross to this year at a group home, Moro has been a constant source of positivity. He was the one who helped us distribute winter scarves that the children had made to the refugees in the tents, even though he himself had been newly transferred to a group home. All of the coats were too big for him, but he helped us to keep people from squabbling over the stuff we had to offer because, unfortunately, we did not have the right sizes or enough coats for everyone that night. We got him started studying Italian from my same first Italian book, and now he is taking part in a pastry course as part of his job training. It has not been easy for him by any means. Some months back we had the sad news that his infant child had died back in The Gambia. Nevertheless, he keeps fighting for a better life and is clearly someone whose success will touch a lot of lives. He is very short in stature, so it was amazing that Geraldine had given us a whole rainbow of different colored shirts and sweaters that were just his size and a beautiful red winter jacket! Courtney gave us three giant bags of groceries and toiletries that were very much appreciated by everyone in his house. 

 That was last year. This is now:

Santa time
The brownies were too crumbly to cut into shapes. We opted for holiday light themed cupcakes. It seemed simple enough, if you don’t mind separating out a dozen bags of M & Ms into their separate colors and unwinding licorice twists into single strands. And I don’t. The first batches went out without a hitch. The next day went to bring them to Jennifer and Wisdom and Tina and Peace, but I didn’t notice that the rainbow colors had melted right off the M & Ms leaving little naked chocolate blobs everywhere. It was too late for some, but before the second shift of deliveries, F and I replaced every single M & M and went out into the cold night. We visited Paul, did a drop off for Emmanuel, and drove out to Porcari to visit Patrizia. Luckily, we also had donated clothing for everybody in the group, so we came out with a full sleigh.

I was so tired at the last stop that when I got out of the car I neglected to notice a potted cactus in front of a beauty salon. I brushed up against it. Twenty minutes later, as I was sipping tea with Patrizia, I brushed my hand down the side of my stockinged leg and had the sensation that I had forgot to shave my legs. But then I remembered that I haven’t had any hair on my legs for over ten years, and that is when I realized I was full of dozens and dozens of prickly cactus thorns.

I am sorry to have sad things to report. It was not easy bringing Christmas to Jennifer and Wisdom. Their once lovely house is in shambles. We couldn’t even go in the usual back entrance because it was boarded up. There are at least eight people living there in the dark. They owe a thousand euros for electricity. Cool is in Denmark where he has been unloading trucks each night to earn money. Jennifer told us he never got paid and is now stuck there waiting for back pay. Wisdom had the flu all week and looked miserable. He didn’t seem to recognize us and has full on stranger anxiety. Luckily, a friend had donated some money to the families that I could pass on to them because they were out of groceries. It was truly awful. If anyone can help them out, please let me know. Emmanuel is also begging for rent money. If he doesn’t collect enough, it is possible that the owners of his house will finally evict everyone. I am so upset that they didn’t opt for the jobs I had found them. I don’t see how they would not be better off.

Today we are going to Viareggio where I hope to see Courtney, who has food to donate for our last stop, and then a visit to Emmanuel’s ex landlady who seemed a little lonely, and, lastly to Moro, the guy who helped us visit the Red Cross Tents last year and who now lives at a group home outside the city walls. Here is the good part:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

vague on purpose

I went to a dinner the other night where one of the guests delighted me by proposing a completely renegade solution to the Italian requirement that refugees possess a passport from the country from which they escaped. I can’t share it with you in detail since I certainly do not want to implicate any of us good folks. Unfortunately, upon further investigation, my nefarious plan to get a new Nigerian passport is not going to work because word on the street is that their consulate is even more corrupt than I am. I guess Gabriella won’t have to get the oranges with the jail cell keys in them ready after all. (Just kidding, official people reading this.)

Today F and I filled out a sample kit of the application for renewal and sent it to the judge to have the lawyer look at it. We will plan to go for step one of the renewal process right after New Year’s: the dreaded Ufficio Postale. 

Meanwhile, both of our families are getting inflated electric bills. I suspect it is because of their foreign names on the statements. One family owes more than 900 euros in utility bills and the other is also heavily in debt. I could scarcely get them to focus on the legal issues because I happen to call them while they were making a desperate attempt to get the Enel, the electric company to send out a technico to check the actual meters.

T has tests all week long.

The stress is real. 
Enjoy some of our tree ornaments:

Friday, December 08, 2017

Lots of Good Wishes
I met with a new lawyer yesterday to try to resolve the Nigerian passport dilemma. My student, who is the mom of a boy in T’s class, a law professor, and a judge, was kind enough to take me to Pisa with her where she teaches at the University. Her assistant, a very polite and kind law professor named Niccolò then took me to meet this colleague of theirs who specializes in international law. I started out by asking Niccolò if the lawyer would have the obligations of a privileged relationship even though the woman in question is not his client yet. He assured me that in Italy, the privileged relationship begins from the time you walk in the door. I then felt I could freely share the whole story about how this woman had to change her name on the passport or risk being raped, and how her ability to renew her stay permit in Italy was now uncertain.

Unfortunately, the lawyer confirmed my fears. It is a practice, although not a law, that the Italian titolo di viaggio which serves as a passport for people seeking asylum who cannot get one from their countries of origin is usually only renewed three times. I don’t know why. He thought that eventually she would have to risk going back to Nigeria to get a new passport just to fulfill a bureaucratic need, even though it could have dire results for her and there are no guarantees that the embassy will even give her a new passport. It is likely they will ask for an insane amount of money to do it, if at all. He will be letting me know, hopefully within the week, if she can even renew the permesso this time around before the expiration date on her valid documents, and what if anything she can try to do in the future. It is a dismal, confusing, and unjust situation.

After the meeting, there was this nice moment where these African students were at the blackboard in the classroom where I was waiting for Brunella, solving a really complicated chart filled with mathematical equations. They were speaking what sounded like French and one of them was guiding the other in filling in the answers. Eventually a girl showed up that was friends with them and started laughing about the hard time the one guy was having deciding where in the chart to put the solutions. I got a flash of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as Africans at Pisa University and it made me smile and feel hopeful for everybody. I mean, hopefully they will turn out better than that, but you know what I mean.

On a happier note, we celebrated Paul’s birthday today. He is 27 and still working the job we found for him as a dishwasher. He works long hours and does not get paid on time or in full, but he uses the money he does get to pay his mother’s annual rent in Nigeria. He let us know that two of his mother’s children, I think they may be half siblings of his, stole that money to come here and got here right before they started blocking refugees in Libya. The male has tuberculosis and is receiving medical treatment here. The female is also at a camp in the South of Italy. He is angry that they stole the rent money from his mother and did not listen to his pleas not to come here, but he is happy that they are even alive. His birthday wish was incredibly beautiful. You can listen for yourself, but get some tissues ready. If you can’t understand his accent, the gist is that he hopes to be able to help others this year.

We also invited this woman Donna who had been helping him out behind the scenes since last May. She is a fast talker, so I think she understood him better than he understood her; but it was nice for them to finally meet in person on this really uplifting occasion.

I feel stressed, but grateful that we’re all here. My wish is that everyone in my group gets to stay here legally and goes on to live long and happy lives. It is going to be a real nail biter at the post office and the police station in January, so stay tuned.

Plus also, Gabri is back outside the ortofrutta and things seem to be going okay for him now. Diana, his wife, has gained back some of the weight she lost; and he seems to have gotten official permission to drive a taxi within a certain zone around where he lives (as long as he paints his car taxicab-yellow.)