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Snow, Soup and Shoes

Rome has had record snowfall this month — not hard to imagine in a city that only gets a dusting every quarter of a century!  A few inches of snow, combined with days of ice, shut down the city.  A driving ban and canceled buses left us with only the subway and food from our own kitchen to bring to the homeless Afghans camped out behind the train station.
With the help of some other workers in the neighborhood, we made some creative “stone soup” and carried it in thermoses on the subway.
The guys were more than thankful, as it had been their only meal in below-freezing weather and basically no shelter.  We, too, were thankful for the loaves and fishes experience, but our little offering felt painfully small in light of the needs.
Since taking pictures in the tent encampment is not usually advisable, we want to share some of our mental pictures with you:
* Imagine 60 or 70 boys and young men, huddled together sipping their soup and tea from plastic drinking cups.  Several of them make a point of expressing heart-felt thanks on behalf of the group for their only meal of the day. 
* They are wearing cast off clothing: some with nice jackets, others with just a sweatshirt… and one boy with bare toes hanging over the edge of the ill-fitting sandals on his feet.  A couple of Italian women arrive with some clothes to donate, sensing the urgency of the situation.  Chaos ensues as Tim and the others help “organize” the distribution.  Many are pleased at the chance to add a dry layer, but sadly there were no shoes for the boy with bare feet.
* We recognize one boy from our sports outreach last summer.  He was full of life and enthusiasm as he played soccer with us in the heat, always alongside his best friend.  Today he is standing by himself, leaning on a wall and chewing on some kind of narcotic leaf in an effort to dull the pain.  His friend has moved on, and he can’t hold a conversation.  The others just shake their heads and say he’s “crazy.”
* One man with almost perfect English spouts his story, angry about the bombs and political tug-of-war that have destroyed his country.  He says, “I can’t go back, but I can’t stay here.  They won’t give me documents, but it doesn’t matter anymore.  I’ll just keep wandering for the rest of my life.”
These were a few of the wounded and lonely faces at the station on Saturday, but for all their uniqueness — each precious one made in the image of God — they represent a constantly renewed stream of the forcibly displaced who have passed through this same place for years.  Only God can meet their deepest needs, but in the face of the overwhelming pain we want to be present with them in His Name.  We choose to not look away.

Roller Coaster

Do you like roller coasters?  I used to… maybe I still do.  It’s been years since I’ve been near one, but it’s the best picture I can dredge up for the last year of our lives.

One year ago today our precious girl had her second seizure, which led us to the emergency room after a few hours of weird symptoms and teeth-clenching uncertainty.  The local “911” didn’t work, as we’d always heard rumor it might not in this fine country, and the moment of final decision to make our own way to the ER happened while our house guests were preparing to share with the 20 people who had literally JUST piled into our living room.  Nice to see you all… dinner’s on the stove and in the oven — literally — but we’ve got to go.

The roller coaster took off downhill at break neck speed for me.   There are so many things about that moment, that week, that will forever remain etched in my memory and won’t profit anyone for me to line out here.  Let’s just say it was definitely a first-order trial of my character, stamina and faith.

That painful week was followed by a few months of severe sleep deprivation, drug trials, and a revolving door of doctors.  I think that brief season may have taken months or years off of our lives.  Joy’s health was certainly not the only stress, not even the only major stress of those days, but it was the centerpiece.  Tim and I were handed one of those stress indicator surveys this summer — you know the one, where you get points for all sorts of life changes, good and bad — and we were well off the chart, close to the moon I think.

The ride is not over, though it has definitely slowed pace.  These days a significant chunk of my everyday swirls around researching and experimenting in order to feed our princess, who has a diet too strict to believe, but wow — am I grateful to be a year away from last October 24 with a happy, bouncy, healthy little girl at my side.  It’s a landmark day for sure, and we are looking ahead with hope and the expectation of good things!

Lost at Sea

According to this ECRE weekly bulletin, more than 40,000 new immigrants have arrived in Italy since mid-January.  An additional 1,400 (at least) have died while attempting the journey.

Protected: Three Years

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Who’s Ready to Ride?!

The Vancouver, BC ride is a month away!


In language school I learned that many Italians would not say, “I love you” as in “Ti amo” outside of a romantic relationship.  Even between family members (parent to child or whatever) it is more common to use, “Ti voglio bene” which might be translated, “I want you well.”  It seemed really strange and kind of cold to me to avoid saying, “I love you” to your family members, but over time it’s grown on me a bit.

I want what’s best for you.  I’m seeking your good.  That’s truly what I mean when I say, “I love you” from the heart.  In fact, it has a more clear and decidedly others-focused, not self-seeking tone to it.

Two Steps Forward…

We recently decided to exercise our right to join the Italian public health system.  If we pay a small annual tax, we can get most any available health care for peanuts.  It didn’t take much thought to realize our annual fee is less than the cost of two vaccines or a small portion of our private insurance’s deductible for other visits.

After a full morning last week of researching how the process works, we finally found which of the health offices covers our district and how to get there.


10am – photocopies of every imaginable document in hand, trek to health office by bus and foot

11am- helped by (surprisingly) kind and competent young woman on the other side of the glass window who tells us how much to pay at the post office for the annual fee

12pm- after five failed attempts at using ATMs to withdraw said fee and a few miles of extra wear on our shoes, we return home to our neighborhood to go to the most reliable bank we know

1pm- money in hand, stand in line at post office to pay the fee.  Stop at home to make extra photocopies just in case, and travel back to the office.

2pm- learn we’re missing a document (a fiscal code — something like a SSN in the US) for Joy


9am- search on internet for office in the boondocks where they issue said fiscal code, print directions and take friends’ borrowed car in search of said office.  Our arrival is delayed by a missing link in Google Maps, lots of one-way underpasses and unmarked rural intersections.

11am- find office and receive forms to fill out and three numbers (one for each of us, since we needed to make sure our address was listed correctly anyway)… told office closes at 12:45.  Find out we may not have an adequate number of copies of our belly buttons (or whatever they’re asking for), but copier is broken and we’re in the middle of nowhere.

12:40pm- sigh a heavy sigh of relief to see our first number called just in time before closing.  Papers processed after satisfying the lady with our pile of photocopies, and we’re on our way.

1pm- return to health office with new fiscal code in hand only to find them closed for the day.  Groan.


10am- fourth trip by bus to health office in three days.  Submit new fiscal code, only to learn it’s ummm… wrong.  The code indicates Joy’s a boy.  Sigh.  Same kind worker decides to override the system and mark her as a girl anyway.

11am- we’re sent upstairs to room 8 with papers covered in bar codes to get our health cards printed out.  Computer system is down.  No go.

12pm- after following the worker’s advice and getting a coffee next door, we come back to find a line forming of unhappy people in the same dilemma.  Eventually worker advises us to come back another day.


Hopefully we’ll have our cards.  Then we can actually go meet the doctors we chose off a list at random to see how the system really works.  Thankfully the lady with the broken computer gave us a form to fill out delegating one of us to be the other’s representative so we don’t BOTH have to spend a fourth day on this chase.

Then next week we can wait in line again at the office on the edge of town to get Joy’s code fixed to indicate she’s a girl.  🙂

Since in Italian words (and names) rarely end with a consonant, some Italians who speak English will instinctively add a vowel sound to the end of English words.

Evidently Joy’s ears are tuned in to Italian these days, since she couldn’t seem to give a native English pronunciation to the name of a recent visitor.  Tom always came out as “Tom-ma”, complete with an Italian double consonant.  It was great.  🙂

Jesus and Angels

Joy is always asking us to read from her children’s Bible.  Predictably it’s full of illustrations of people in flowing robes and head scarves.

A  while back we were walking down the street and passed a group of middle eastern women in full veils.  Her response was to shout and point… jumping up and down… “JESUS!!! JESUS!”

Meanwhile at home she regularly dances around with a white blanket on her head, proclaiming herself an angel.  🙂

In an effort to heighten awareness about the contributions made by foreign workers to the Italian economy, the promoters of the first strike by immigrants in the country invited workers to stay home and to boycott shopping for one day.

Similar protests took place in other European countries on Monday (the initiative started in France and found supporters in Spain and Greece, as well). A comparable boycott, “A Day Without Immigrants,” championing full rights for immigrants living in the United States, took place in 2006.

But demonstrations Monday had a particular resonance in Italy, where anti-immigrant rhetoric has increased recently in anticipation of regional elections at the end of the month, and where foreign labor makes up nearly 10 percent of the work force.

While introducing one electoral initiative last week, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi accused the left of “wanting an invasion of immigrants,” only to strengthen the opposition’s electoral basis.

Around Milan, electoral posters for the anti-immigrant Northern League party depicted a Native American Indian chieftain with the slogan: “They put up with immigration, now they live on reserves.”

But various studies suggest that immigrant labor has become a fundamental component of the Italian economy.

“Many Italians are convinced that immigrants are a burden, but in fact they have a very positive effect on our welfare system,” said Maurizio Ambrosini, a professor of the sociology of migration at the University of Milan, pointing out that Italian families have become increasingly dependent on foreign caregivers to look after their children and elderly parents. The construction industry, too, is heavily dependant on foreigners, particularly from East European countries, he added. “If anything, Italy constantly needs new waves of immigrants,” he said.

Statistics published last autumn by the Catholic Caritas Migrants foundation suggested that the 4.5 million legal immigrants in Italy (about 7.2 percent of the population) contribute about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, often in jobs snubbed by Italians.

…And studies suggest that racist sentiments are rising in Italy, especially among the young. Research commissioned by the national and regional governments and presented to the lower house last month found that nearly half of Italians between the ages 18 and 29 express varying degrees of xenophobic or racist sentiments. “Young people themselves say that they perceive racism as increasing,” said Enzo Risso, the director of the SWG research institute that carried out the survey.

from the NY Times