Introduction, August, 2015
Dear readers: writers of satire, are not always understood by their readers, as not everyone understands what is satire; so be it. This is the first chapter of what I hope will become a book. I have written in English as I believe that more refugees speak English than Italian, correct me if I am wrong and I will translate my work back into Italian. I started writing and making films about the immigrants and refugees of our planet in 1966. As a repeat offender I have continued for the past forty nine years.
As the world turns, so do its people
One thing is clear about the Presidio Permanente No Borders: in keeping with their diligent attempts to integrate their initiative into the Italian territory, they too do not have a building permit. Just like half the other constructions along the coast of the Bel Paese. They too are doing their part to keep what is known as 'edilizia abusiva' from becoming extinct. Of course they are novices, so it will take them a while to get up to the level of towns like Civezza and Loano; it takes great wealth to create unsanctioned construction on a grand scale: with limited means one cannot compete with the majestic villas whose existence has never grazed a building permit. But no one can accuse them of not attempting to do their part.
Not that they did not try to get a building permit. I'm sure they drew up detailed plans of where to put the tents, how to align them so as not to block anyone's view of the sea, what would be the best location for the plumbing system. But you know how it is in Italy, the bureaucrats have been stamping permits for a couple of millennia, since they invented them during the Roman empire, so just at the crucial moment they ran out of ink. They had also worn down their rubber stamps to the bone. So much for permits, the inhabitants were forced to improvise.
However the Italian government has a bit less of an excuse. The first wave of migration arrived from Africa on this coast, fifty meters down the road at the caves of the Balzi Rossi about thirty five thousand years ago. So the government should have had time to get their act together to receive these newest immigrants in a more elegant style. They could have chosen a better architect to build the border control structures. The original caves of the Balzi Rossi were duplexes and were large enough to house the original elephants and rhinoceri, as well as hominum erectus; (it was warmer in the pleistocene era.)
But in the third millenium only an anorexic elephant would be able to slide through the border from Italy to France, and that's what they call progress. However quite thoughtfully the tropical vegetation that Italo Calvino's father imported from the Caribbean just after the First World War has had a whole century to grow to an adequate height to provide shade for the inhabitants. Take a look at the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Sicily, Kenya, Chad, Pakistan and few other countries I may have forgotten to mention, that house the other four million refugees of this decade. Shade is important.
Writers are vultures, always trying to swoop down on other peoples' stories, and gobble them up. I don't pretend to be an exception. But my first visit to the Presidio, was what the Italians call 'a hole in the water.' I spent seven hours observing the territory, and looking at the faces of the fifty inhabitants and I froze up. Faces of people who have seen death, and terror and uncertainty and endless waiting, followed by terror and death and more uncertainty and endless waiting.
Who am I to say to these people: 'tell me your life stories, and I will tell the world about you.' How can I tell these individuals ' I too have been a 'sans papiers' forty three years ago in France when my companion had to leave my country for political reasons....I too have woken up with terror for months on end, every time I saw a member of the CRS and was not sure if my French accent would allow us to pass. I too have seen my fellow students imprisoned and spent months writing articles to try to save my college friend from the twenty five years she spent in America's finest jails.’ I too...blah...blah... what can my experience mean to someone else, a half a century later? What on earth?
But vultures too have to eat, even very shy vultures like myself, even scribbling vultures, nearly devoured by their own shyness. And so I will return, in a few days, and hope that next time will be better. Maybe someone else will be less timid than me and will understand one of my five languages. Maybe someone else will wish to tell me where he has come from and what the has been through to reach the elegant shores of the Riviera dei Fiori. Maybe someone else will imagine that words on paper can serve some purpose for the world. I hope so. Jane Rose Speiser
December 12. 2015
Dear friends, dearest relatives and above all dear long term friends from the seventies in San Francisco:
I am writing you a group letter, something I do quite rarely, but the times being what they are...anyway I wanted to tell you about my recent activities. For the past three months I have been working with the refugees in my area of Italy.
These are the people rescued from the boats off the coast of Sicily this summer: those who survived the crossing, those who did not drown, those who traversed the Sahara without dying of thirst, those who camped out in Libya for months without being knifed or beaten to death by the Libyans who are not too warm and cuddly these days to non-whites arriving from the far side of the Sahara, those who at times spent months, or even years to get from their countries of origin: Senegal, the Gambia, Mali, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, to the shores on our side (my side) of the Mediterranean, in search of a better life.
They are by and large escaping from di facto dictatorships, whose leaders are making war on their own population. Eleven of them are housed in emergency housing in a village neighboring my own, as they wait for their hearings and appeals to confirm or refute their refugee status. I have been teaching them Italian, writing legal depositions and trying to solve some of their logistical problems, about thirty hours a week.
Here, predictably, the plot thickens. The fact is that Italy, (and by extension Europe as a whole) has not figured out what to do with these people. Because the Geneva Convention on refugees was drawn up in 1951, as an answer to the tragedy of the Second World War, and the times have changed since then. And so, what is defined as a refugee, political or not, is a very narrow funnel through which only ten percent can qualify, via the 'letter of the law.'
The other ninety percent are in the situation of the six million Jews whom Europe turned its back on between 1935 and 1940, when they needed to leave Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union. Six years after they went up in smoke, the Geneva Convention was drawn up. In the meantime six more decades have passed, and those eight hundred thousand immigrants who have arrived in Europe this year are not welcome. So this generation of Europeans have turned their backs, just as the preceding one did on the eve of the Second World War. The result will be that the majority of those on these shores will be obliged to 'evaporate' if their status is turned down, evaporate into the nearly slave labor under the arm of the mafia, the shadow labor market of indentured workers, those who shore up the gross national product of Italian industry.
Anyway I have been trying to help these people create a future for themselves. It appears that my experience as a writer and my modest legal skills can serve some purpose. Finally after three months of essays, telephone calls, meetings with political authorities, bishops, friend and enemy lawyers, I finally will have the opportunity on Monday to negotiate directly with the Prefecture (the Ministry of the Interior) regarding the project I wrote up to create a base for economic self sufficiency and wide range integration for my eleven 'protégées' .
If the project goes forward and works out as planned it will give them training as alternative energy technicians, for Europe and for their own countries, if miraculously the situations in their native lands ever improves. It will give them training as specialized building artisans, in the tradition of the work I myself have carried out for the past five decades. If the project goes forward it will serve as a prototype, a model for the rest of Italy. My colleagues from the film industry have offered to film the initiative, so it will have some national and international visibility. But as usual I need some working capital as seed money. A sort of modern day 'space bank' as those of us from Project ONE would call it. A gamble on the future self sufficiency of eleven people, given the proper linguistic and technical training. A tiny model for economic development that may be expanded on a larger scale. A fund for their legal defense in the courts.
If any of you would consider contributing to this initiative, there is a bank account in the United States, (my own) whose coordinates are as follows:
I will be contributing my own properties, (along with my time) to house and train these people, as they are at present housed in a situation of near apartheid, with almost no contact with the Italian population, in an abandoned school whose temperature is in the low fifties, with barely any hot water, no internet connection, and no viable plan for their future. The public authorities have conveniently forgotten the existence of the refugees, as in my area, the organizations that are formally responsible for them, are at the moment sunk in the muck of major inquiries about graft, corruption, misappropriation of public funds to the tune of dozens of millions of Euros, major inquiries regarding pedophilia, major inquiries about fraudulent bankruptcy of the provincial port....and so on and so forth.....on occasion they do remember that the refugees exist, when one of them gets knifed or beaten up by the local population, as Italians are by and large about as multi-cultural as the inhabitants of the deep South were in the thirties.
And so you may inquire yourselves why I am putting out all of this effort for eleven lives. The answer is very simple. As a group, they are the most interesting group of human beings I have known, since those of you I met, worked with, lived with and loved, at Project One. They have the enthusiasm, the focus, the determination that I rarely see among the 'chattering classes.' They have the energy to contribute to the renewal of the so called 'old world' where I have lived for these thirty eight years. More over they need help.
I don't do well on soap boxes. Those dizzying heights from which most people pontificate give me vertigo. So I will climb down. Nine paragraphs are already too long to be up in the preachery stratosphere. But from the 'terra ferma' of my local cafe I ask you to help me carry out this project. If I can put together even a tiny amount of seed money I will be able to pay for materials, food, heat, and form a legal entity in January,--all legal registrations are on hold in Italy for the holidays until January 6th -- with the most rigorous accounting of every cent spent. With your help we can make a bit of change.
The recent events in Paris have not only killed a hundred and forty people. They are wiping out the future for the eight hundred thousand refugees who have arrived in Europe in the past two years. I cannot give you an idea in an email of the backlash in Europe, against which even Donald Trump fades into insignificance. All I can say in a brief postscript is that one of the eleven refugees was threatened with a loaded pistol last month by a local villager, and I have been catapulted back into the sixties when I worked in Virginia in the civil rights movement.
The project which I have presented to the Ministry of the Interior for their ‘nulla osta’ is attached, below, for those of you who might like to practice your Italian.
I will keep you updated.....happy holidays......Jane
January 15, 2016
Just writing to bring you up to date on the latest developments of my project with the refugees. My first meeting with the Prefect (Prefettura di Imperia) went well. I spoke to the Vice Prefect, the second in command, for about an hour and she asked me to write up my training project in greater operative detail, so that we could discuss it right after New Year’s and if all goes well she will send it down to Rome to the Minister of the Interior, in hopes that they will be able to pass it as an ‘experimental’ project so as to get it off the ground right away instead of having to wait until the Summer for the next call for tenders…isn’t bureaucracy wonderful….as they say. (For those of you who may not have received my first letter a week ago, I have copied it below, so you won’t miss out on the suspense….plot development is important in these complicated stories.)
Actually getting this far, is almost a small miracle, considering how hierarchical the Italian society is. It may all turn out to be polite- radical chic-blah blah, but given how hard it is to be received by these folks, and how hard it is to not be thrown out of their offices in one New York minute, I am starting to feel hopeful.
So in the past few days I have written up the proposal in greater depth, and it will go out tomorrow morning to the Prefect, so their office will have time to digest it over their holiday dinner. I have also started doing practical work with my various teams of refugees, and last week we cast the mold for a large parabolic mirror for the future solar ovens, and began to build some extra furniture to accommodate what I hope will be sixteen inhabitants of my properties.
I have just managed to set up a Paypal account, so if any of you should at some time wish to make even a tiny contribution to the success of this initiative it should be simpler than via my endless bank numbers. Finally after only an hour and a half of pressing enter in the right places and a couple of days wait for my bank confirmation, my Paypal account has been activated. To use it to transfer a gift to the refugees, a person can input either my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or my cel phone number: 0039 3483130774. When I think back to the year 1993 when my friend from Melbourne first showed me how the internet worked to connect with the university in Australia....it seems that a long time has passed since then, but maybe it's just a New York minute on the evolutionary scale.
I do have one question for you: several people who wrote to me suggested that I should be nominated for ‘sainthood’, a suggestion that has confused me greatly. Saints don’t have much fun in life. They have a tendency to be burned at the stake on their way to sainthood. Not even on the dry straw that kills them almost instantly, but on piles of wet, moldy straw that stinks to high heaven and takes ages to burn. That way the plump angels already up in the clouds will know that the new arrivals have earned their place in the heavenly stratosphere. Now you wouldn’t want that, for your dear friend and relative….or would you? …quien sabes. What I would really like is to nominated for one of the front rows in the fifth circle of Hell, the one reserved for heretics, where the best armchairs are and the rum and crab salad are superb. …anyway…
On a more serious note, I’m trying to describe in words that others can understand what motivated me to undertake this activity. About three years ago in February of 2012 my brother and sister-in-law and I went to visit Taliesin West, the architectural community that Frank Lloyd Wright built in the desert, outside of Pheonix, starting in 1939. For me it was a form of pilgrimage, as his work has so very strongly influenced my own vision of architecture, and of how it can change the lives of those who inhabit certain kinds of structures.
As it happened Wright made this choice in the darkest moment of the depression, on the eve of the Second World War, when there was just about no work to be found, certainly not for visionary architects. He took with him a group of his students, who previously lived in Wisconsin, and in the midst of a rather desolate landscape they set out on this great adventure. They did not quite know where it would lead them, but they persevered. Frank Lloyd Wright was seventy one at the time. He lived to be ninety one and built the Guggenheim museum when he was ninety. So as I have a few more months of being seventy one myself, I think I am just in time to do something of the same nature. The time is right, the circumstances are quite similar.
I wish you a merry, merry, happy, happy, with lots of good food to eat and wine to drink to the coming year. ………………….love, Jane
January 22, 2016
and in particular the seven samurai who have so generously contributed to the legal fund for the refugees. Your contribution is about to have an important use, as I have managed to find a specialized immigration lawyer to assist Sulayman Gassama in his second appeal.
I am writing to you to update the situation a bit belatedly, after a very dense three weeks surrounding the turn of the year, including, but not limited to temperatures in the forties inside the school where the refugees are presently lodged, and close encounters with the forces of order, who miraculously supported the refugees against the huge cooperative who wanted to move the whole group to the head camp where it is even colder.
I am writing you from my ‘bunker’ in the midst of my small war zone in the lovely Valle Arroscia. I’m writing in English as it is a bit quicker for me than writing in Italian, and in my native language I can describe ‘Bosnia in casa’ with more humor than I can in Italian. The plot thickens and things are heating up.
We have all started to look out of our foxholes to take stock of the enemy. As it turns out the enemy is US. The main opposition to my proposal/project comes from the Mayor of my delightful village, Gianni Fossati.
I still have diplomatic relations with him even though we are on opposite sides of the firing line. We each sit on our side of his desk, sharpening our weapons: his arsenal consists of near absolute power over the fates of the inhabitants of my area, mine consists of my wit, which I continue to oil.
He continues to tell me that though the proposal is a beeeoooouuuutifullll project, (bellissimo) as the Mayor of Pornassio he cannot support it, because he cannot allow one more refugee on his territory, other than those already housed in the neighboring village of Nava. He will only accept my project if the Prefettura ORDERS him to accept it. But he is willing to receive the Priest Don Antonello Dani, who is the founder of the Cooperativa Goccia, the small, honest cooperative that wishes to adopt the project and has already negotiated an agreement with the Faggio to ‘trade’ the group of refugees in Vessalico with the Cooperativa Goccia.
This all reads like the ‘tratta dei schiavi’ and is disgusting to put on paper, but so be it. Listening to people discuss how much money they will rake in from the government off of the tragedy of the refugees, turns my stomach, and makes me wish that my hearing was failing as badly as my mother’s did at my age. At this point the Goccia, and its President Liliana Gladuli, have the not very enjoyable task of convincing the Prefetura, (Dottoressa Lazzari) to apply the law, over the head of the Sindaco Fossati of Pornassio. The Prefettura as well is dragging its feet as it does not want to take any responsibility for a decision, so it is saying paradoxically that the decision rests with the Mayor. A lovely situation, all told.
In the midst of this, most sadly, the hearing at the Court of Torino for Sulayman Gassama came out negative, so his right to remain in Italy will shortly be taken away from him, unless he can find a loophole through which to appeal the decision. I have found him a private immigration lawyer in Genova, (Giuseppe Tortorelli), sent up all of the documentation, and we have an appointment next Wednesday....I think that about covers the territory of the past two weeks.....oh I forgot to add that my main computer seemed to be having a heart attack the other day, but I saved it in the nick of time. The ‘sportello’ to fill my car with gasoline got stuck last night and it took a half hour to pry it loose so I could fill the car, and this morning I just discovered that a mouse has taken up lodgings in the guest room area that is supposed to house my film maker colleague Ciro Abdel when he comes down from Genova to film the situation. I hope to lure him, (the mouse that is, not the film maker) into a trap filled with the best Italian bresaola ....never a dull moment.....so if any of you feel like making a contribution to the unraveling of this plot in the making, the address through Paypal is email@example.com.
un grande abbraccio, Jane
On 12 feb 2016, at 08:00, Jane Rose Speiser firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Now that we are wading through the quicksand of the dead of Winter, I just wanted to keep you updated on my activities with the refugees. We are at present in a holding pattern with the authorities. actually, to be precise, the authorities, which include the prefect, the two mayors, the two cooperatives etc. have decided to stay in a holding pattern for the next century, that is the best they can come up with to shoot down my project, after so, so so, many compliments and discussions and good wishes and expresions of their sincere desire to help the project take off etc.etc. blah blah.....essentially they have thrown me under the bus, as they say.
This is not the best of news from a practical point of view, as it means that the whole project rests on my own financial resources, which are not excessive, BUT it also means that I am doing the right thing, otherwise these fine people would not have gone so far out of their way to throw me under the bus. And so I have decided that I am going to throw all of them under the herd of three hundred cattle that Sulayman's family used to own in Gambia, plus the herd of a hundred and fifty camels that Hamza's family used to own in Lybia. And these great herds will trample the fine well meaning authorities into the ground, figuratively speaking. In the next week or so I will be forming a legal organiziation to represent their rights, (in Italian this is called an Associazione di Promozione Sociale) and to sell the objects relating to alternative energy production that I hope to produce with the gròup. I have so far found work for several members of the group for a few days at a time, and broken down a bit of my villagers reticence in their regard, as they witness the near magic of overgrown former gardens beings cleared, after decades of neglect, and prepared for new planting.
I have started to set up a specific support group for the refugees of Gambia, and on Sunday we should be starting to build the first solar panel. Yesterday we cut down a huge tree which will provide firewood for the four wood stoves in the various houses. Last night I spoke to a specialized artisan who has a small company that may be able to act as distributor for what we can produce. And so life goes on. Of course we still need capital for legal aid for twelve people, so if any of you happen to pass by Paypal and your credit card and my email email@example.com all at the same time, it would be tremendously appreciated. take care, alla prossima, Jane
February 14, 2016
On this lovely Valentine's day, it has been snowing in my valley, turning the entire landscape into a Chinese scroll painting, complete with magical fog and mist that make some of the mountains disappear, and others turn into glistening cristal trinkets. beautiful to look at, but the side effect is that the delapidated schoolhouse where my group of refugees is housed now has a temperature in the high fourties, and at most about fifty two degrees, when the pellet stove is working, given that there are only pellets for eight hours a day, given that the cooperative that is supposed to take care of the refugees has gone bankrupt, and is being taken to court, for it's four million dollars of accumulated debts. And so I have started moving, somewhat surreptitiously a few refugees at a time for a few days at a time to stay in my own properties, albeit the fact that the authorities have not approved my proposal and will not enact it. Actually the reason that the authorities have refused to enact my project is that it would mean admitting that the corrupt cooperative has failed and has defrauded the central goverment of a large sum of money, and it is embarassing for the regional prefect to admit this. So be it.
Anyway, to facilitate my group's ability to move back and forth between my home and the neighboring village of Vessalico where they live. I have started to look for bicycles for them and have acquired the first used one last week for fourty dollarss. But we need ten more. The stronger members of the group have been walking the five and a half miles from Vessalico to my house, and I have been chauffering them as much as I can. But with bicycles it would be much easier. Need I say more?
Suleyman Gassama, the refugee who has been staying in one of my houses full time, was telling me the other day about his former life in Gambia. Before he had to leave the country, it was he who feed half of his village, as he came from a family of significant means. Before his life flipped over. From one day to the next. This is the story that I am trying to write up into a serious book, in the still of the night when I have a bit of time to write, generally between four and six in the morning. I'll keep you posted. Happy Valentine's Day, Jane
February 23, 2016
I am forwarding to you an excerp from an email I sent recently to a very generous contributor to the legal and bicycle fund for the refugees. I hope not to be misunderstood, as I do not wish to complain about my own situation, as it is certainly more privileged than the greater part of this world. But as I have discovered in the past week that the work I am doing with the refugees has produced certain results, which it is logical to inform you of, as follows:
As it turns out, most predictably the good citizens of my area have started to defame me, in the most predictable manner that women have been defamed for millennia. I should be flattered that still at my venerable age the men of my village have started circulating their opinion that I am a whore, because as we know, anyone who hangs around with people of another race/religion/place of national origin etc.etc. must automatically be a whore. You would think that they might have a bit more imagination, but evidently they are going for the tried and true. It would be fairly amusing were it not for the fact that this has happened to me on various occasions for the whole of the thirtyeight years I have spent in Italy, and I am a bit tired of it.
But much more importantly it has come to my attention that one person in particular, in this case a woman, has been insinuating that I am economically on the skids and that I am using the refugees as an excuse to ask for money that I use for my own needs, just like the corrupt cooperative that is being indicted. This is a much more unconscienable calumny, and a disapointment that someone should want that badly to damage me. Human nature seems to offer not much to write home about these days. So be it.
So I wish to explain as clearly as possible that every cent that has been offered so far is sitting in my Paypal account and has not been touched as it will serve to continue to pay the capable private lawyers in Genoa, to represent the entire group of twelve refugees I am dealing with. I wish to explain that I am not broke, that I have to date spent three thousand dollars from my own bank account for initial lawyers' fees, computer installations and a series of expenses that I undertook with the expectation that the refugees would actually be allowed to move to my properties with the approval of the Minister of the interior. This hypothesis appears to have been 'postponed, due to the fact that the whole region is being indicted in every area from the port to the eclesiastical authorities for a series of fraudulant activities on a grand scale, and this is keeping the hands of the Prefect quite full.
But as you can imagine, I am a bit ill at ease this morning, and much grateful for your moral as well as practical support. On the positive side my filmaker coleagues should be coming from Genoa to start to film the situation next Monday, if all goes well.
There is much to do between now and Monday. keep the faith,Jane
February 25, 2016 ........from the train back to Imperia,
So here we are in the 'life goes on' department. Except when it does not. Joseph's son died today. Joseph is from Ghana. His son was seven years old. The child had been taken to the local hospital near Oda several weeks ago. He was sent home after a few days. There was no money for his wife to buy medicine. The Cooperativa Faggio was supposed to give the refugees their seventy five euro pocket money, at the beginning of the month, of which Joseph sends back fifty to his family. The money has not yet arrived. It is now the twenty fourth of the month. His wife brought the boy back to the hospital three days ago. They gave him two blood transfusions. But it was too late and he passed away this morning. Suleyman and I drove down to Vessalico this afternoon, and we sat in its freezing squalid living room, while Joseph tried for an hour and a half to call his wife, from skype on my ipad. He finally got the line for a minute and a half, before it dropped. There is nothing sadder that I could imagine happenng to a person than to be sitting far from your own family and to be informed that your son has died. So be it.
This is the kind of stuff that is on the refugees' minds. Jane
April 3, 2016
I have been meaning as usual to write the Spring update for many days and nights now, but too many events have filled up too many hours of the recent days. My main guest with intestinal flu of which it seemed he was nearly dying. As it turns out those people who live in equatorial climates and have not had years of the flu, do not have the antibodies that those of us in the Northern hemisphere have developed. Not a good situation to witness. He finally came around, just in time for an absessed tooth. Easter and emergency dental appointments. Waiting out the four day holiday on painkillers, waiting for the appointment. My wonderful dentist and long term friend took care of him on Tuesday. He is finally coming around.
I have been learning a lot about sunshine recently. Absorbing sunshine promotes the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D promotes mood enhancement. At the end of Winter most everyone has run out of Vitamin D, because there has not been much exposure to the sun for five months. Pale white folks, (most of us that is) have pale skin to absorb as much sunshine possible in our Northern sun-forsaken hemisphere. In other equatorial continents, people have darker skin because the sun is much stronger and over the millenia of evolution they have needed to be protected against too much sun.
What this means in practice is that if a person who has lived elsewhere, come up to my side of the Mediterranean he is not getting nearly enough sunshine to produce vitamin D sufficient to be in a good mood. So this partially explains why the morale of the refugees is generally terrible at the end of Winter. It is hard to measure these things, but I would say that it is about at twenty thousand leagues under the sea, as Jules Verne would say. It is not so easy to bear witness to this level of depression, detachment, apathy and outright despair. Particularly when one cannot change the objective facts that have led to this situation.
In the meantime I have embarked on several projects with some of the refugees. We have rebuilt a garden for an English client. Endless mountains of jungle were cut down and burned to clear the land. Endless tons of stone were moved to create and rebuild stone retaining walls. It worked out rather well and hopefully in the course of the summer the client will have more funds with which to continue the project.
In my own house I opened up an archway in a three foot thick stone wall, to vastly enlarge the ground floor apartment of the largest house. It was a complex structural project that gave work to another few people, briefly. It is now in its final stage and the floor is being tiled.
And last but not least a new agricultural irrigation line was put in for the village. More back breaking labor but small amounts of money for those who desperately need funds to send back to their respective families.
On the 'administrative' side, I have written up a rough draft of the documents to form a non-profit association, which finances permitting I hope to be able to register in the course of the month. Attached is the draft in Italian followed by English. I have also negotiated for a group of buildings in my village in moderate to very ruinous shape that can be used for the home base of the Association, if I am able to do the closing in May. The buildings should serve as a laboratory, to familiarize individuals with the Italian building techniques. Actually more than half of the refugees I deal with have quite extraordinary building skills that they developed, in their native lands or in Libia. All they need is documents and work permits to lift their mood.
Time for lunch, more soon, Jane
April 25, 2016
So now we have real Spring, tulips in glorious bloom, dozens of fruit trees flowering away, some of the vegetable garden planted with peppers, squash and lettuce, and the police who swooped down upon me a few days ago to interrogate me, after our local neighborhood fascist reported me as a possible criminal who is ‘possibly’ giving illegal work to people who are not white. This is par for the course.
After three long and dreary phone calls and one endless interview at the local police station complete with my twenty three pages of documentation on my teaching and research project on alternative energy, I finally managed to convince the Maresciallo of the local Carabinieri that teaching refugees is not actually a crime. As happens more often than not, the individual who reported me did not make a formal report, as he had NO actual criminal evidence to report, except that I have guests at my house who are not white, but he made a semi anonymous phone call to the local police hierarchy to complain about my activities.
Predictably, as he bragged extensively about his heroic action it was extensively referred to me by my own secret agents, who haunt the village square in search of gossip. But it is disconcerting that the police now act upon any informal accusation, whether it is calumny or not. Never a dull moment.
It is not easy to carry on a project with this kind of harassment, but it is no different from when I was teaching in 1966 at Hampton Institute in Southern Virginia. I don’t know if being catapulted back in time keeps people young…quien sabes. History repeats itself. There are times when one senses that one must continue doing what one has been doing no matter what, even if there seems to be small progress, but one must go on, just to show that people like my villagers cannot presume to intimidate me.
Anyway my lawyer came down last week to speak to the three additional refugees who wish for him to represent them when they go to their hearing at the Territorial Commission, so I have been writing their biographies and researching their countries of origin, Senegal, Bangladesh and the Tuareg area of Libya. Not to mention hoping against hope that one of my houses will sell this season so that I can cover their legal fees.
The news about these places is not good. The terrible paradox is that the worse the news, the more likely it is that they might get a humanitarian permit. If one reads about a fourteen year old girl who is raped in a village of Bangladesh, then accused of adultery to cover up the rape, then lashed to death by the villagers, in the town where the refugee from Bangladesh lived, this helps his cause, though it certainly does not help the girl who was killed. So goes the world.
I’ll keep you posted, alla prossima, Jane
Eleven Lives, July 12, 2016
Eleven weeks of May, June and part of July have galloped by since I last wrote you. As sometimes happens, the roller coaster of daily, practical life got the better of me, spcecificly the still to be concluded sale of my next to last house, in order to recapitalize and move forward, economically speaking. (The houses I have built over the years are essentially my pension fund, but the crash of 2008 has punched quite a hole in my hopes and aspirations in that area…enough said.)
Anyway after two and a half months of bureaucracy, five thousand dollars of fines, permits, administrative expenses, etc.etc, it appeared that I would do the closing tomorrow with the predictable buyerfromhell, but as fate would have it the bank transfer from his bank in France is done by the descendents of Hannibal’s elephants, who have a hard time crossing the alps in hot weather. So everything will be postponed until the end of the month. So be it. It takes much patience to live in this world.
To get back to the actual subject matter of this letter, my devoted lawyer for the refugees has been working diligently to give them counseling as to how to talk to the Territorial Commission. We have been travelling back and forth to Genova to see him which gives people the happy occasion to be in a big cosmopolitan city for a day or two. After too much isolation in the country. I and Sulayman have been training the others to not panic at being interrogated, in our various languages. Three have already had their first hearings. Unfortunately none of the hearings have gone too well, as the eye of the needle through which a person has to pass these days to get refugee status is getting smaller and smaller, and most likely everyone will need to go into the first and second appeal.
On top of which Sulayman’s second appeal was postponed at the last moment for another three months, as the judges have to go for two days of ‘professional training’, (read vacation, according to my lawyer.) This is a devastating setback for a person who has been in Italy, in limbo for more than two years, and away from his country, Gambia, for seven years. It is terrible to see the kind of melt down that overtakes people in these circumstances, when their future is being churned into gravel. All of my energy, imagination, humor and practical assistance can do little to relieve the objectively grim situation they are in in these moments.
However, on the positive side, the garden we have planted together is flourishing, we are eating cabbages, squash strawberries, luscious lettuce, the corn is three feet high and promises a big harvest. I have taught several of the refugees to lay tile, and we are finishing tiling the reservoir for irrigating the gardens which will be expanded in the Fall. I’ve also taught them to install insulation and lay tongue and groove roofing planks for double insulating my roof, (of the big house on my property which I have moved back down to.)
Paying them through the bureaucracy of the vouchers is finally working out as it should, and they are happy to be earning some cash, which they mainly send back to their families in their various countries of origin. When Fallou tells me that he has sent money to his brother who is studying in Dakar to become a teacher, and Opoku tells me that he has sent money to his sister in Ghana so that she can attend computer school, and Sulayman tells me that he has paid the fees for his four children to go to the better private school in Essau, I feel that what little I have accomplished is doing some good in a wider circle than just here in the local territory.
I will keep you posted more often than this last time on how things proceed, and I wish to thank, from the very bottom of my heart, those of you who have helped me with the legal fees for the refugees. I just paid another thousand dollar installment to my lawyer last week.
keep the faith, stay cool, (warm in Australia), Jane
Let's begin with something optimistic: our garden has produced a large number of huge pumpkins, most of which will probably be carved and decorated for Halloween, as my protegees don't much like pumkins, food wise.
We have two new members of the community, both from Gambia. One of them, Bai, repaired printers and installed IT networks before he had to leave the country. He most fortunately was able to get documents and refugee status after various appeals. I don't know if the others will be so fortunate. Bai, and another Gambian will be my additional guests.
I am still wending my way through the Italian bureaucracy to form my non-profit association, and sign the closing for the properties I am acquiring. (The Italian burocracy is still honouring the reknowned proverb that Rome was not built in a day, so everything one has to get done in this country takes an exasperating amount of time, patience, endurance and diplomacy....so be it.)
.....what else is new?.....four days ago Hamza showed me in his cel phone two pictures he had just received from his relatives. They were close ups of his best childhood friend. The first was of the bullet hole that entered his skull. The second was of the back of his skull, the exit path of the bullet and part of his brain. Twenty years old. He was one of the hundreds of very young desert drivers among the Tuaregs, assaulted by one of the rival gangs, the Ghedadadfi, pulled out of his car, and killed in twenty seconds. It is after events like this, that the newspapers write that they are making progress stopping the flow of migrants. ....by killing in one week eighty of the weakest links in the chain....eighty nearly illiterate young men who know how to use the steering wheel on the desert sand....but the newspapers don't mention that they are not touching the top of the command chain, the so called contact men who make the actual money out of the migrant flow. I am learning a lot about current events in the course of writing legal promemorias for my protegée's appeals. One needs a strong stomach to digest a lot of what I am learning, from direct testimony, particularly when they show me the pictures.
Very often my friends and acquaintances ask me why I am doing what I am doing. They say 'why are you wearing yourself out trying to solve other peoples' problems? ' It is at that time that I think about the pictures Hamza showed me. Then I know why I am going to bed at one thirty and getting up at seven, to look after needs other than my own. I think about what Fallou said to me the other day, when we were talking about tolerance, he said ' God does not see whether a person is a Christian or Muslim or Jew, whether he is white or black. God only sees whether a person is in need.' He said it with a conviction and simplicity that makes one realize that we have a lot to learn from people who arrive in Europe from other continents.
In case any of you are wandering in the vicinity of Paypal and your hand slips over my email, my legal fund for the refugees would much appreciate it.
until, next time, Jane
November 29, 2016
so what do I have to be thankful about, other than the fact that I am not a turkey?....well.....I'm alive to tell the tale; as follows: a week ago my racist villager/neighbor carried out his threat to denounce me to the authorities, for giving work to non-white people, a threat he had made publicly to several people over the last six months. As a result the labor inspectors descended upon our worksite a week ago, terrorized four of my refugees, interrogated me for several hours, summoned me to their offices where they bequeathed me fines that may range from fourteen thousand to thirty eight thousand dollars. I don't know yet how this scenario will play out, on Wednesday I will see my two lawyers in Genoa, ...as it happens the minutae of the letter of the law is on their side, although one might say that the spirit of the law is on my side. From their point of view teaching a group of refugees how to use a cement mixer is equivalent to teaching them how to use a kalashnikof. If I were to explain all of this to you in detail, it would fill up your hard disks so I will spare you the particulars. From the point of view of most people, who hear about the misfortunes of their friends and relatives, the response is often, 'she stuck her neck out, in the direction of the chopping block; had she not done that her neck would still be intact'. That's what most Europeans said about their friends and relatives of the resistance, who returned from the concentration camps after the war.
I have spent the past week seriously thinking about how to proceed with my project. The options are plentiful: 1.throw myself off of one of the lovely bridges of Ponti, as my next door neighbor did last summer, the fifth person in my valley to commit suicide in a moment of economic and social despair. 2. pour fifty gallons of gasoline on to the properties I have just bought, light a match and get on a plane to?....an as yet undiscovered continent? 3.Stay here, dig in and continue to fight the inequity of a corrupt system under the sway of a bunch of slimy worms. I have chosen the third course, as it best represents my principles, As I have eight people who depend on me it would be illogical to abandon them simply because I am running on empty at this moment.
And so today I went down to my bank and asked for a loan to proceed with the rebuilding of the five properties I have bought, and I will know in a week or so if it will be approved. Three of them will have a commercial resale value, which will more than cover the building costs, one will be used as a laboratory for the refugees, and one will become my abode, after I hopefully sell the two thousand five hundred square foot double house which I am presently living in with my four refugee guests, in order to recapitalize. These are not simple times we are living in. It is not easy to live a coherent life if, as I am trying to do, if one is living on and offering hospitality to four other people on two thousand dollars a month. (In the interests of transparency a cappucino costs less here than in the US, and I may be one of the few people, my age who does not have to spend money to dye her hair, but still....) anyway you get the picture. Hopefully the properties I have started to rebuild will serve as a model for sustainable energy savings...just spent the afternoon with my energy technician...as well as being lovely to look at.
So if any of you know someone who would like to own an unusual vacation home, in this part of the world, or would like to become a tiny or larger co-investor in this project, let me know. Thanksgiving comes but once a year, but when I read about Gambia, the country that half of my guests come from, where the dictator Jammeh has just sacrificed 70 children: abducted and killed and burned and their ashes given to feed the idols he worships, in order, as he believes, to win the December first elections, I realise that Trump is still in nursery school compared to the unspeakable horrors of this planet.
keep the faith, Jane
January 11, 2017
Predictably my New Year's resolution to write the New Year's update on New Year's day, has been delayed by the usual complications of daily life. Punctuality is a virtue, but as I have been learning from my refugee guests, patience is an even greater virtue. This is the moment of the year when I reflect on what I have tried to accomplish in the past twelve months, and what has actually been accomplished, with much effort on this side of the ocean, and with your practical help and moral encouragement, which is vital to me, so that what I am trying to do here can have some echoes in the wider world.
In the course of the past year, sixteen people requesting asylum have passed through here, (some for a few days, some for many months) and have been given a combination of hospitality, meals, legal help, medical help, training in construction skills, training in the Italian language--and in English and French for those who have had less practice in translating from their native Wolof or Hausa--and last but not least: paid work, in building the solar prototypes, creating the extended vegetable garden, rebuilding stone retaining walls, double insulating two large roofs, which is saving much on heating costs in our living spaces, and preparing my new 'neighborhood' of four houses for their in depth reconstruction.
More importantly the group is consolidating and is on its way to becoming a 'team' of the present six people who get along with each other and work well together. Three of them are living full time in my two houses, and two who have been here about half of each week for the past ten months, will probably move in full time in about a month's time, when they get out from under the claws of the Italian burocracy. I have hired a specialized friend to teach the group Italian three intensive lessons a week, and she, Yveline, is full of energy and enthusiasm, as my role is clearly to speak to my protegés in the languages that they already understand, in order to give them the legal, logistic and medical help that they need to survive in Europe.
All told I have spent roughly twenty thousand dollars on this adventure, divided equally in three parts between legal fees, paid work and hospitality/ medical fees. It has been worth every cent, in terms of my quality of life, and I wish I had more. Having acquired the four houses of my 'new neighborhood' for a Lillipution sum--separate from the twenty thousand spent for the refugees-- compared to their eventual renovated value, I have been able, just before New Year's to negotiate an equally Lillipution bank loan, with which to start rebuilding roofs and floors for two of the four properties. Of course I would welcome co-investors in this project. As my most recently sold house, the third of my five original houses, was sold this summer at twice the price per square metre as the average properties in the area, I believe I have made an investment that will eventually bear fruit, from a practical point of view. It is an incentive to live a long life.
The visit from the labor inspectors is still winding its way through a legal labyrinth that would make Kafka feel proud, and it will be a while before I know what the outcome will be. I now have a labor consultant, a work safety consultant, my long time technician who signs my architectural plans for me for the past two decades, and two lawyers, all working as a team to try to contain the damage. Understandably the stress of all of this waking nightmare takes a toll on the health of the protagonist, (myself.) Four days after the labor inspectors bequeathed me my mega fine in their sliding scale of between fourteen to thirty eight thousand dollars I had a minor stroke. Tomorrow, after a six weeks' wait I will finally have a magnetic resonance test to access the damage. If I was already underground in a coffin they might have gotten me an appointment in three weeks instead of six, but as I am still alive to tell the tale, they figure what's the hurry.
Being able to still vaguely remember when the brain was an instrument used to think with and store up new information, it is disconcerting for me to sense that it has been reduced to a mere platform to hold up my voluminous red hair. But having had to rebuild it in the past, after two serious concussions, I suppose that is what I will have to do this time around. The distressing thing about strokes/ischemic attacks, even the transitory kind, is that their effects are not always visible on the outside to the public at large. This fact, though it may paradoxically, superficially preserve the dignity of the person in question, makes one wish for an old fashioned broken leg with a cast on it, that friends could sign. Then one would not have to explain to them why one's psyche is at half mast, while staring into the great void that used to be one's own reasoning powers. 'Life is not easy' as my refugees often say, with deadpan stoicism.
keep the faith....alla prossima, Jane
First we’ll start with the good news. Alagie, from the Gambia, who has been living in my home since November, was given refugee status after his appeal last month. I did the follow up research on his case and wrote his statement, along with finding the key articles, that indicate that the regime in that unfortunate country has changed, but many of the laws have not yet changed, (including those regarding homosexuality, in his case,) along with translating for him during the hearing in court. This is the third home run in a row, and I feel great relief, and joy for him. He, and his family and friends were jubilant when they heard the news.
Now we have the situation on the ground: my racist villager down the street sent the police to visit me for the third time, nearly getting me arrested, for transporting materials to the properties I just bought, with the help of my protégées, without having the proper documentation. Even standing outside a building site with a tool in hand seems to be a criminal offense, if the local authorities have it in for you….shades of the deep South in the sixties. This would not be so bad, had it not been followed, by the same person. along with a group of his friends discussing on Wazup how much they would like to see me arrested, including his comment, ‘let’s burn’ (not sure if it refers to me or my properties or both. Anyway the rest of the details are too discouraging to relate, though fortunately there was one courageous person in the village who stood up to them , (she was the one who informed me of the ‘chat’ of which I took screen shots. Maybe they’ll come in useful in court…we shall see. )
In this context I am having to make some hard decisions. Very hard. The first one is to look for an apartment to rent in Genova, in hopes of recreating a base in a more congenial city, in which I will not have to live in fear for my own safety; and my five protégés will not have to live in defacto apartheid. I should know whether we will be able to move, in a couple of weeks—everything takes longer in Italy, including checking on a potential tenants' financial solvency. I have put my own large double home on the market, on an international portal, it may take many, many, many months, before it is sold, and probably at a great loss but I cannot, after twenty two years, continue in this area, given the ferocious antagonism of the local residents, and the cowardly passivity of those few who purport to be ‘on my side.’ The properties which I have just bought will also be put on the market, as soon as I have paid the first section of the fines to the town and the renovation taxes and done the absolutely minimum amount of work to make them saleable.
No one wants to admit that they have not achieved the critical mass with which to move mountains. No one wants to admit that mountains can be moved, but often by an amount of about three millimeters, generally in the opposite direction of where one wishes them to go to. No one wants to admit that the racists have won this round. But after the second transient ischemic attack, which occurred to me two weeks ago, I recognize that if I do not make some changes, I may not be long for this earth. Extreme stress seems not to be good for human beings. To add to the stress the labor inspectors have officially and formally bequeathed me twenty three thousand dollars of fines, for informally employing four non-white individuals for one and a half days of work. I will have to appeal in court and hang out with my three lawyers for quite a few seasons. Not much fun. I am trying to recount all of this in the measured tone, which New York Times reporters are famous for…journalistic impartiality. I will leave it to you, the reader, to imagine what my state of mind actually is at this moment. Something like the famous Peanuts’ cartoons, when Lucy loses it completely and goes: aaaaaaarrrrrrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!!! Enough said.
I have started, in order to prepare for the coming season, to put together a crowd funding request on a portal called Startsomegood , which I hope to ‘launch’ by the end of this month. It takes many hours of preparation to do these things well, and there is no guarantee that they will bring any result, unless one has a coterie of Facebook acquaintances that stretches from here to the planet of Jupiter. But I will have to locate some additional funds in order to keep what I am doing afloat, about twenty thousand dollars, in order to not go under, if it takes a year or more for my property to sell. Twenty thousand dollars is a phenomenal sum of money for my refugees, who come from countries where their average earnings range from two to six dollars a day. It is enough, in our present life style in Italy to keep the bills and expenses paid for the six of us for six months. It is a lesser fraction for those more affluent than myself. Every time I do the math…forty generous people times five hundred dollars, twenty people times a thousand dollars, four hundred people times fifty dollars, etc. etc. etc. I feel nauseous, as the whole concept of money is the best demonstration of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Back in the old days, when all a human had to do to determine his financial assets, was to move the rock in front of the hole in the cave and count the mammoth and dinosaur bones in his possession, it was much simpler.
In view of a future move to Genova, I have started to make contact with some encouraging people I knew from the past, who can help me set up an actual, official non-profit there and reestablish my activities to train refugees in the principles and applications of solar energy, and give them the legal, logistic and linguistic help they need. I still believe just as strongly that the this kind of economic model can work, to promote a future for those who have arrived here from elsewhere, that can give them a future. Slowly. As most things in this world. But I want to continue to try.
keep the faith, Jane
June 23, 2017
There are ragdolls on the street corners of the major cities of Italy these days: limp, with large vacant button eyes, their swollen feet turned outward, immobile, but breathing. They do not move much, for even begging in ninety degree weather is a energy consuming exercise. These are the times we are living in.
After a very long and eventful seven weeks, I am finally trying to write a coherent update. It is not easy for me to compress this month and a half of my existence on the printed page. Europe in general, Italy and my area in particular seems to have become a war zone of intolerance and grim, mean spirited reactions towards whoever can serve as a scapegoat. Public opinion, egged on by the mass media, is swinging dangerously towards a level of generalized ostracism of anyone who was not born in Italy. This includes lots of people's parents and grandparents.
The practical results of all of this is that I am now living in a very modest apartment I have found to rent in the multicultural, immigrant, historic center of Genova. After twenty one years I realize that it is no longer possible for me to stay in my area and deal with the pressure and hostility. I have put the property on the market, and just have to hope that it will sell for not too great a loss, before my savings run out.
In the meantime my filmaker colleague Ciro, has finally had time to shoot the short video of my fundraising request, that will be posted on the humanitarian crowdfunding site, Startsomegood. We started editing it today and will finish it and add a bilingual version hopefully next week, so that I can submit the project to the site for appraisal in order to launch it. The video has lovely images thanks to Ciro, and a concise text. Though I have no great expectations that it will reach its goal, I feel that I have to try. When it is finally launched I hope all of you can send the link around to your friends and colleagues. I have been making contacts with the two large relatively honest Cooperatives in Genova, in hopes of combining my efforts with theirs, to continue the work I have been doing under some form of institutional umbrella.
A few folks I know from the past in my neighborhood in Genova have expressed some interest in learning English, and in my teaching them building skills, so I will probably set up a carpentry workshop for women, at the end of the summer, and some English classes in hopes of bringing in a bit of income for myself. There seems to be hardly any employment to be seen on the horizon, either with a Hubble telescope or an electronic microscope. The one exception are the transexual prostitutes on the street corners surrounding my apartment who are still doing a brisk trade. The head of the group is a militant lady in her sixties, who has run a literary salon for decades when she is not practicing her profession. She was delighted to know that I lived in San Francisco, during its Golden Age. These are also the times we are living in.
My five protégé refugee guests are scattering to the winds, as the landlords of my building threatened to evict me if I bring them to live with me, and I can no longer afford to support them in the country, where they have been living for too long under a state of siege. You don't want to hear the details of this horrific story, and I don't have the heart to write them, except to say that racism has won this round.
Fallou. has gone to the agricultural South of Italy to look for work. Sulayman and Hamza have miraculously managed to slide into Germany two days ago, but I don't yet know if they will be sent back. Alagie is waiting next week for his last dentist appointment for his absessed tooth with my kind and competent dentist, then he and Amara will look for other pastures. Prosper has gone down to Rome, fortunately equiped with legitimate refugee status which I helped him obtain, so if he is lucky, as he is the most capable of the group, maybe he will find some paid work.
I feel like, at this moment, the protagonist of the film, Titanic, when at the end she is sitting on her rubber raft in the freezing sea, not knowing if help will come but seeing the man she loved, and those around him starting to drown. The feeling of having done everything possible to try to save a small group of people and not being able to, is not a feeling one would wish even on one's worst enemy. Parenthetically it does not improve my own physical health, but that is a detail in the larger picture.
There is much else to say, but I am trying to put all of that in the book I have started to write about these two years. I just hope my strength will hold out.
Let me know how things are going in the States, England, Ireland, Australia, if you have time to write. take care, Jane
September 12,2017 Dear Everyone, After a torrid Summer in Italy, where most everything goes on hold, and the month of August seems to last for fourteen weeks, it appears that the wheels of activity have started to turn again. Despite the pretty unpleasant practical aspects of my own personal situation, I am continuing and reactivating the work I have done up until now in my country properties. I hope that this large city of a million inhabitants will be more propitious to my efforts.After settling in to my apartment in Genova, I have managed to ‘relocate’ most of the nineteen people whom I have helped in the course of these two years. They are geographically spread out from Hamburg in Northern Germany to Foggia in Southern Italy, but fortunately they are all alive and one step up from starving. Six of them have slid into Germany, where their situation is, momentarily a great deal better than Italy, as they are given serious language training, and decent housing, and the general population in the larger cities is less intolerant than in the Bel Paese. Those dozen who are here are eking out a precarious existence, even those with permits to stay, as work is so scarce, (thirty four percent unemployment among Italians under thirty five!!) In the meantime various friends of friends whom I’ve helped in the past with their permits are starting to contact me. So in the past month I have been training people from Nigeria and Senegal, so far to deal with the interrogations of the Territorial Commission and the appeals in the Courts, doing more legal research to write their biographies in terms that the judges can understand.
I have also designed the prototypes for my line of multi-layered cardboard furniture for which I hope to set up a production laboratory and sell to stores, as a sort of ecological version of Ikea. I’ll have pictures next week. In order to continue this work, form a nonprofit in Genova, plus train refugees in building to create a cooler climate, I have finally prepared the launch of a crowd funding initiative, with the portal: www.startsomegood.com with the title HELP FOR AFRICAN REFUGEES IN ITALY. It will be launched in three days on September 15th. It is accompanied by a lovely video that my colleague Ciro Abdel shot and edited for me, which can be viewed on youtube under ZANGO GABAN (in English) or ZANGO GABAN ITAL (in Italian.) All of this will take off for a month, in three days from now, but I need your help, in order to spread the word to reach enough people who can contribute even a tiny bit of money to reach the eight thousand euro goal, a modest amount considering that I have spent about twenty five thousand euro of my savings to help the nineteen refugees I have been in contact with since the Fall of 2015. So I hope that perhaps you can forward, post and share this letter far and wide, along with the website I have set up: www.zangogaban.org that documents these efforts in depth. I will be immensely grateful for all the help you can give me. Keep the faith, JaneEleven lives October 2, 2017 First a piece of good news: another refugee, from Nigeria,--the sweetest, saddest young man I have worked with so far--whom I trained for his appeal and wrote a biographic pro-memoria for the courts, called me the other day to say that his request was accepted and he received a full five year permit. He was ecstatic over the phone, and as he continued to thank me, I felt, as I do occasionally, that what I do is actually benefitting a few people.
As it turns out almost half of the African refugees I have been helping recently have been gay. They come from countries with horrific laws such as Nigeria and the Gambia, that alot them life imprisonment, stoning to dealth or if they are lucky fourteen years in jail The gory part of it all, is if they have escaped with the skin of their teeth from their native lands, and have barely avoided being beaten to death in Libya, when they finally arrive in Italy, the judges on the Territorial Commisions have been instructed by the Minister of the Interior to assume that everyone of them is lying, and making it up, and to give them the thrid degree to dismantle their accounts. I spent a whole day last week listening to what happened to him, training him on how to answer the judges who try to humiliate him and pry into the intimate details of his life, and writing up an affidavit for him in Italian that the judges hopefully can understand. I just hope for the best for him. So this is how I fill my days when I am not sitting in front of the keyboard.I have another three young men from Nigeria whom I’ve been training for up and coming appeals, and one from Algeria, just arrived a few days ago with a broken shoulder from the tortures in Libya. This most recent arrival is a goldmine of information about the collusion and kickbacks between the Libyan ‘sharks’ and the European community money that in theory goes to their government to keep the refugees corralled like cattle, on their side of the Mediterranean.
This afternoon I’ll take him to see my lawyer, who hopefully can defend him in an appeal against the ‘accusation’ of being a ‘migrante economico.’ In modern times it seems that to be poor and wish to better one’s lot in life is considered more and more of a crime, particularly if one is not a White person of the Northern hemisphere, in which case it is considered a virtue, for which, if one is aggressive and greedy, enough the Almighty will reward you….enough said. (Pardon my cynicism, but I haveseen such an enormous amount of despair in these two years, despair that could be avoided if the laws were more humane.)In the midst or all of this instant communication, which chirps and tweets and barks and chimes and miaows and moans, on my various electronic devices. Setting up a crowdfunding adventure once again, in the midst of all of my legal and economic hassles, has not been a simple task. It is not easy to write PR that is not self-aggrandizing, self-involved, self,self,self as we have all been funneled into the selfie generation, even if I am too old to be born into it. I can imagine that times are in equal upheaval in the USA England, Ireland, Australia,etc.etc.as here. Actually I don't have to use my imagination, I have the New York Times on line that feed me all of the dismal international details every day. But I suppose that this is what courage is all about: slogging through the mud without giving up when everyone else is about to do so. I would just like to state that my crowdfunding campaign atwww.startsomegood.com/help-for-African-asylum-seekers-in-Italy is at its half way mark, time wise. As you probably already know if I do not actually reach my 8000 euro goal, (about nine thousand dollars) I will not receive any of it, and all of your generosity so far will go down the drain. It will not be billed to you who have pledged, and what is collected so far will not go to me. It is an all or nothing affair. So if you were thinking of contributing, even a small amount please consider seriously doing so. Now. I am aware that most of our pockets are nearly empty, with a lot of fresh air blowing through them. But we, in the developed world are living a life that is infinitely superior in quantity and quality to that of a person whose family of four subsists on a hundred and fifty dollars a month, as does the wife and three children of a family in Gambia, whose father, one of my protégées, had to escape and leave them behind seven years ago. Those million and a half refugees in Europe are in such a desolate limbo, dealing with the courts, with the increasing racism, with unemployment, with terrible living conditions, a waking nightmare that is hard for people to fathom if they haven’t seen it with their own eyes. The stoicism with which the people I have been trying to help, deal with their situations, should make all of us humble. So please, if you can, go to my link and pledge, before it is too late. And tell your friends about the initiative. All we need is sixty four people with a hundred dollars, or six hundred and forty with ten dollars. It all adds up. Thank you, from the heart,