Safe At Last
It was a very fine day for Ali and I, we searched for apartments Wednesday morning in Albany, we finally found one that was perfect for Hawah – three bedrooms, a Halal Market a few doors down, a good friend living in one house over, a clean, roomy, a big refrigerator, a safe and comfortable space.
I believe Hawah's long and very painful journey may be over, or at least beginning to be over.
The rent was just under $800 a month, we are still doing a bit of haggling about the exact amount, but I wrote a check for the apartment deposit (deposits are one of the things that most plague the refugees, they work hard to pay the rent, but hardly any of them have $500 or $750 lying around.)
Hawah is moving in on Tuesday, we are calling churches who collect furniture for people who need it to see if they have enough for Hawah and her two children. I gave the landlord my e-mail and phone and said he ought to call me if there is ever any difficulty. He said he would.
I felt great joy and satisfaction today, I have never seen Hawah so happy, or her smile so warm and broad. It has been a long time, she said, before she smiled like that.
We had gone to look at an apartment that was very different and in a very different neighborhood and she kept signalling to me almost desperately that she didn't like it. I told her she did not have to live anywhere she didn't wish to live.
She took my hand after we signed the rental agreement and asked if I would go the hospital and visit her husband Hassan, who has spinal cancer and is not expected to recover. She said that as soon as Ramadan ended, she wanted me and Maria and Ali to come for a dinner of "many different dishes."
Ali has warned me not to "do the diabetes thing," but to eat whatever she serves, or there would be big trouble. I can do that.
We have done a lot of things for a lot of people, but this one felt special, important, very sweet and uplifting. I gave Ali a big hug and said "we did good." We did, thanks to your generosity.
Hawah in her dining room
Hawah was living in Libya with Hassan, a large crane operator and their eight children during the Libyan Civil War. For 14 years they led a comfortable middle class life.
Soldiers came to force their sons into the Army, and they fled to a U.N. refugee camp near the Egyptian border. Their house and savings were confiscated.
She and her family spent five years in a refugee camp and then got to come to America with Hassan.
She lives with two of her children now.
She says the family was shattered when Hassan collapsed and was taken to the hospital. The doctors say they do not expect him to come home. The county welfare agency cut her rent subsidy to pay a small portion of Hassan's health care, and she was unable to make up the $150 difference. She was locked out of her apartment with all of her belongings and evicted.
She ended up in a homeless shelter. Every morning, she got up at 4 a.m. to collect bottles to cash in at the supermarket, she made $5 or $6 a day.
She called the shelter the "dirtiest place on earth," and when her children missed a curfew, the manager called the police and said she would have her children taken away. She believed him. In a panic, she called Ali, who called me, and we got her into a temporary apartment owned by the father of one of Ali's friends.
This is the perfect apartment and location for Hawah, she said it was more than she expected. We drove all over Albany to find it.
She didn't hesitate for a second, she broke out in a wide and deep smile and nodded. Home, she said, it felt like home.
She was happier than I had ever seen her. She was even eager to pose for a photograph, she balked and grumbled the first time I asked her.
"Today, I feel like crawling into your camera for you," she said, and that was a lovely thing to hear.
So Hawah is moving in on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. It is a safe neighborhood, full of Muslim refugees and immigrants, people who speak her language and can support her. She will have plenty of room and a big kitchen in which she can cook.
She is going to start looking for work Monday or Tuesday. I plan to give her enough money to cover the monthly subsidy shortfalll between what the county will pay and what she needs to make up for the difference taken away for Hassan's care. I also hope to be able to give her enough money to be safe and secure for a year in her new home, the first real home for her since the soldiers knocked on her door in 2011 to take her sons.
That will take about $700.
She ought to have at least a year to feel safe and have the time to acclimate to America.
Now, we are focusing on finding a studio or one-bedroom apartment for Omranaso, who I wrote about yesterday. She was tortured for months by Syrian soldiers and lost her family in Syria after her husband left to join ISIS. She is living in a tiny apartment with several other people who do not speak Arabic and who torment and ridicule her. Her story is a horrible one, hard to hear.
The landlord thinks he has an apartment for her that might open up next week, we will work quickly to get her in a safe place that is her own.
I want to thank all of you for the support you gave Hawah through me. She will get every penny of the money and need it, and it has already helped her to start a new life, the goal of every refugee. The Army Of Good is really shining tonight, I believe the angels are giving us a round of applause.
I believe she is sincere about dinner, but life is frantic, and I don't know if I will even see her again. She is on her own now, and I wish her Godspeed in this life, no one can hurt her now.
Ali was a star today, wheeling and dealing and cajoling with landlords, city officials, pastors. He is a remarkable person, I am lucky to have him as a friend, and the refugees even luckier to have him as a fierce advocate. We are just getting started, next week, the young woman from Afghanistan who fled her house rather than marry someone she didn't love. She needs some help.
If you wish to support this work, you can send a donation to The Gus Fund, c/o Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, [email protected] I thank you.
Ali and Hawah