24 May 2018

Hawah’s Neighborhood. Godspeed, Friend.

By: Jon Katz

Hawah's New Neighborhood

I am happy to have won Hawah's trust and to be able to photograph her, she is not nervous about it any more, and I think she likes seeing her picture on my blog – she sees my blog somehow. I like photographing her, she always looks a bit isolated and vulnerable in some photos, but she is neither. She has a gift for making friends, and another gift for smiling through tragedy and suffering.

I took this photo fo her new neighborhood, where she will finally be able to find work, have some security and  begin her new life in America. Her Muslim landlord seems a good man with a reputation for honesty and compassion, he was happy to help her.

She is strong and uncomplaining, but as she relaxes, I see she is full of humor and irony. She misses nothing, she will make someone a good worker. She says her family was shattered after her husband Hassan took ill and slipped into a coma.

She wants to gather her family – she doesn't know where some of her children are – and begin moving forward with her life. She has seen the worst America has to offer, perhaps she will soon start seeing the best. She knows and I know and Ali knows that the road ahead for her will be long and hard.

I believe she will get there, and if she doesn't, her children will. That is the story of the refugees, they come as much or more for their children as for themselves. I think this is probably goodbye to Hawah for me, unless that dinner materializes. She is going to be very busy in the coming weeks and months.

I like her neighborhood a lot, there is a strong sense of community there, and her apartment is spacious and comfortable. She and her family will do well there.

Either way, that smile has captured a slice of my heart. I hope it is a harbinger of the happiness she might find in America, still a land of refugees and immigrants, no matter what the angry politicians say. Godspeed, friend.

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Safe At Last, Hawah Gets A Home Again. Next, Omranaso

By: Jon Katz

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

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One Week To Shearing

By: Jon Katz

One Week To Shearing

We have a new shearer this year, Jim McRae, our longtime shearer, has retired, his helper Liz, who has shorn with Jim all of her life, is coming a week from Friday. The sheep look great, they will love being shorn as it gets warm and Maria will love skirting the wool (one of our favorite farm chores) and taking them to the Vermont Fiber Mill to be turned into roving and yarn. We shear  twice a year, in the Spring and late Fall. Zelda is getting too old for much shearing, she gets shorn once a year. The four rescue Romneys have turned out to be beautiful wool givers.

In this photo, Fate is running  strong and nothing, Red is behind the sheep, moving them to me and my camera.

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The Politics Of Doing Good

By: Jon Katz

The Politics Of Doing Good

There is some debate online about whether I am political or not, and if so, what kind of political person am I.  I  don't put labels on myself, so I can't really answer the question. I suppose I've chosen the politics of good, a self-serving label of its own, but still, it's the truth. It doesn't mean I am good, or that I am better than anyone else.

It doesn't even mean I am doing good. It's just what I chose. I got a new hat in the mail today, it says "Do Good," and I like this hat very much, it sums up my political philosophy perfectly and succinctly. I was flattered to get it. In the last few years, a new experience for me: I know just who I am and where I am going.

That follows long decades of stumbling and bumbling and crashing around, a bit like Frankenstein after he escapes from the tower.

After the November 16 election, I remember thinking there is a vacuum in the souls of many men. I saw these warring political figures, the left and the right, the advocates and panelists, the trolls and establishment wise men, and I knew I didn't want that.

I saw the raging arguments that never ended and could never be won or lost because no one was actually listening, political arguments are all about talking. We seem to have forgotten how to hear one another beyond our labels, the End Of Listening Is A Great Loss.

I heard my friends lamenting and worrying, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not. I didn't want to spend the next four years like that, either being angry or afraid. I had this idea that it was better to do good than argue about what good is.

I  remember just what I was thinking on November 17.

I don't want to be arguing with people for the next four years. I don't want to be hating people.

I don't want to be checking the news all day. I don't wish to belong to the left or the right, I did not want to wake up and go to sleep angry. I didn't have the faintest idea I would be doing what i am doing now, I have long ago given up the fantasy that I am in control of my own life.

So I knew what I didn't want to do, but I  wasn't really sure what I did want to do.

In the last few years, I had toyed with using my blog, which had grown dramatically in  readership in recent years, for some good. I raised money for the legal expenses for Joshua Rockwood, a farmer who had been accused (quite falsely) of animal cruelty by overzealous police officers and animal rights activists. I raised money to help the horses of Blue Star Equiculture, a draft horse rescue farm in Palmer, Mass. When our farrier Ken Norman needed two knee replacements, we raised money to help tide him over during his long and painful recovery period.

People wanted to help. People did help.

I found that many people wanted to dog good, but didn't know how. They were wary of non-profits asking for money they received but did not really share, even when they did good work, and many did, we didn't quite see it. I saw the radically democratic charity of crowdsourcing, which put the power of donations right back in the hands of ordinary people. Suddenly, they could give what they wished to people they wanted to support.

The blog raised awareness of the plight of the New York Carriage Horses, and may have played a small role in turning back the efforts in New York City to ban the horses. The blog now has more than four million hits a year, and I was surprised at its national reach, and also by the generosity of many of my readers. They trusted me, which was profoundly flattering, and we made a powerful connection together, we called it the Army Of Good.

And it was very simple. I look for small acts of great kindness, and people donated if they liked in amounts that they choose. I posted  stories and photos of the people we were helping so people could see where their money was going. And it worked, beyond my expectations.

I can no longer count the people we have helped or the good deeds we have tonight. Tonight, I ordered four pairs of summer pajamas for two Mansion residents who are warm at night, wrapped in heavy winter pajamas. They will be here Monday. Small acts of great kindness.

So what if I just tried  to do good, I thought? It sounds strange, even sappy for me.

I was a writer, an author, a blogger and photographer, not a do-gooder. I had been a journalist for two decades, with all of the cynicism and wariness that comes with being a reporter.

I was aware of two distinct but in some ways similar groups of people in need. I was already a volunteer at the Mansion Assisted Care Facility, and saw how much help those people needed.

I was eager to make contact with new refugees to America, I knew they were also  in great need of great  help as they found themselves in a new kind of America, where they were often a source of bitter controversy.

So we  started doing good and have just kept it up. Clothes, outings, apartment deposits, boat rides, books, air conditioners, pajamas, room fans, reclining chairs, soap and toiletries – the Mansion residents and the refugees often need the same things, they both have had Wish Lists we generously supported..

This doesn't make me a saint, one of the big lessons I have learned is that you don't have to be a saint to do good, you just have to want to do good. So I am happy to wear this hat this summer. Doing good has helped keep empathy and compassion alive for me, and made me a better human. What a gift that is.

So that, I guess, is my politics, doing good. I don't ask the Mansion residents or refugees if they are on the left or the right. They are people, just like me. I could so easily have been anyone of them.

It must be a good thing, I have a hat. And it does feel good.

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For Sale: Simon, Lulu, Fanny. The Spirit Of Donkeys

By: Jon Katz

Three Donkeys

This photo of Simon, Lulu, and Fanny has become one of my best-selling photographs. It is on sale for $130 on high quality rag paper unframed. You can buy it on Maria's etsy page. It is 8 1/2″ by 12." If you have any questions, please e-mail Maria at [email protected]

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