13 April

Portrait: Missing Kelly

by Jon Katz
Missing Kelly

I missed Kelly and her smile. The Bog was closed last week for some kitchen renovations, and it was good to see her tonight.

The Bog is an idiosyncratic and much loved place, the owner Pat does things his own way and people love the place.

One of his quirks is keeping the big wood stove burning hot even when it is 80. Tonight the Bog was full of diners, the bar full of drinkers. Kelly was alone, working in a very warm room all by herself, tending bar, waiting tables, cleaning and bussing and bringing food and taking orders.

It is always amazing to see her manage a crowd like that, she moves effortlessly from bar to kitchen to dining tables in a smooth and genial stream. Her smile is never forced or fake, it is as natural to her as breathing it is who she is. I missed Kelly, it was good to see her again tonight.

When I first began taking her picture, people looked at me strangely in the Bog, now they all chime in, kid both of us and ask to see the images. Kelly’s smile is beyond her own existence, it radiates out into the world, which is in need of it and more like it.

13 April

When Kids Can Be Kids. And Hearts Can Turn To Stone.

by Jon Katz
Kids Become Kids

Our world is in turmoil, facing one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history, more than 70 million people, says the U.N., are now refugees, fleeing their homelands or facing war or great danger. Many millions are children, they face starvation and violence.

It is clearly not possible to take in them all, the world is struggling to decide what will become of them and how we will respond as human beings.

I wonder if we can once again take in some, at RISSE, I see their promise and value, we are taking about their lives and our souls, our capacity for empathy, the hallmark of the noble spirit, the path to reaching our highest human potential. Every child is precious and deserving.

At RISSE, the idea is to keep the refugee children together, until they are strong enough to join the wider world. Their life and sense of community is palpable.

In America, kids are free to live and become kids, something new to many of them. They love to be photograph and vamp for me.

They are no danger to us, to me, the great danger for us is that our hearts turn to stone, and we turn our backs to them.

I don’t wish my heart to ever turn to stone.

13 April

Ali, The Kid Magnet, Gets Some $250 Sneakers

by Jon Katz
The Kid Magnet

Smiles don’t lie, and Ali is always beaming when he is around his kids. His mother freaks out every time I put his face up on the blog, she lives in Egypt and assumes he is in some kind of trouble. He is not. Ali is a kid magnet, there are always kids hanging off of him and around him.

He has been fighting for some time to get some of the RISSE kids to the Great Escape Adventure Park, and he is about to pull it off. I like him more and more every time I see him, and I have met few people as dedicated to his work as Ali is, or as loving and open.

Yesterday, he said, the owner of a top-line sneaker store came by and dropped off two boxes of $250 designer sneakers, which all the boys were very proudly wearing today at RISSE. It was a much appreciated gift.

I am happy to know this good man and call him a friend. I think they will all have the best sneakers at the Great Escape.

There is much back-slapping in America this week about saving “God’s Beautiful Babies” in Syria. All of the children in this photo were beautiful babies and are now beautiful children.

There are many more beautiful babies and children all over the world, many of them suffering horrible injuries and death.

Many of the beautiful children at RISSE are alive because of America. I wonder if we will ever evolve in our humanity, and save the children with something more than missiles – love, compassion, sanctuary, safety.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions more like them, calling out for help.

13 April

Art Books For Sakler Moo

by Jon Katz
The Artist

Sakler Moo, the young artist at RISSE, is quiet and courteous. He holds open the door for everyone coming behind him. He has a ready smile, but doesn’t talk much. We brought him two adult art and drawing books – his teachers say he has outgrown the children’s books, so I stopped at Battenkill Books in Cambridge, and Connie, of course, had some impressive adult art and drawing books.

I think Sakler liked them and found them useful, I asked him to tell us if they were not. He said he would. I am interested in knowing Sakler better and seeing if he needs or wants help at all, and if so, thinking how to provide it.

Sakler is another of the many faces at RISSE that give the lie to the idea that these children are dangerous and should be banned. They have not come to harm us, and are no danger to us.

I don’t wish to push anyone into anything, Sakler’s future is up to him and his family, not me. There is a temptation always to step into another person’s live and try to alter it, especially a child as interesting and kind as Sakler. But boundaries are boundaries, his life is up to  him.

I can only help if I am asked and needed.

He has impressed a lot of people with his art. It will be interesting to see what he has to say about it when he gets more comfortable.

13 April

A Great Escape

by Jon Katz
A Great Escape. Bruno at RISSE.

I met with Amjad Abdalla (Ali) Muhammed yesterday at RISSE, the refugee and immigration center in Albany, New York. We plotted the Great Escape visit, but on the way in, I saw Bruno, a therapy dog with his admirers and friends in the school yard. It was the melting pot, for sure, the thing that helped make America great. Bruno got a lot of loving, I’m thinking of bringing Red for a visit.

Ali and I went over all of the options. I am still dickering with the Great Escape tour department, but Ali lit up at the idea of some extras: the souvenir re-fillable soda cup ($9.99), the catered lunch (all you can eat, ($13.99), the photos on rides option ($3.99). There would be 16 kids at around $50 per person with those add-ons and options, and five adults, including me, and possibly, Maria.

All told, and subject to some negotiating with Sandy, we figured the trip would cost around $1,000 dollars. It isn’t like the old Merry-Go-Round in the park. I suppose the kids will get a real lesson in the ingenuity of American capitalism, and have fun in the process. I know kids love this park.

We’re skipping the Comet Cash option, wherein the kids are given redeemable special money to buy more things.

Kimberly from Minnesota, an angel, has offered without my even asking to foot the bill for most or all of this trip. I am not going on the roller coaster, for sure. I can always claim heart disease, it’s even true.

They don’t know me well enough yet to want to kill me.

I’ve asked Kimberly to think about what she wants to give and make sure she is comfortable with it, and I’ll ask for help with the rest if it is necessary. I hope to buy the tickets this week to get the lower rates (these are the lower  rates)  and also to meet Ali and his crew at the Great Escape Amusement Park and spend the day with them, he is going to pick a day today or tomorrow.

Ali is happy to avoid having to handle details or deal with any bureaucracy, his or theirs.

Next week, a van of refugee kids will be coming to the farm.

We hope to give them a beautiful day in the country and show them the farm and the donkeys and dogs,  take them to Pompanuck Farm and Retreat (there is a pond there) and also to the Gulley’s dairy farm, an adventure park all of its own. They are coming next Thursday with Ali and some other teachers.

The Great Escape trip will almost certainly be in late June, when the rates are lower. If I need help, I will ask for it, so far, so good. This feels very good to me.

These kids are impressive, loving, generous with one another, eager to learn. I have heard some of the harrowing stories of their lives, and am full of admiration for their courage and resilience. I am grateful to live in a country that has welcomed them and saved them, we are a beacon to the world,  even now.

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