25 January

Refugees: The Lottery Children. Are They Really A Threat To Us?

by Jon Katz
Refugees: The Lottery Children

I spent a couple of hours Thursday at the after school program at the RISSE  after school program, now in danger because federal government tuition subsidies for the refugee and immigrant children are being eliminated so that wealthy corporations can get  huge tax cuts.

It doesn’t seem like any of that money is trickling down to these kids or their parents. No one at RISSE has reported any kind of pay raise, and many have two or three jobs.

As the immigration debate gets uglier and more intense by the day in Washington, I look at these kids and can’t help thinking about how they are the targets, they are precisely what so many people and politicians in American want to keep out of our country.

If these new laws are passed, we will not see children like this again in our country, and once taken away, it can not be taken back.

They are neither white nor from wealthy, blue-eyed families. They come from the “Shithole”  World, from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the war-ravaged countries of Africa.

They are the lottery people, the people the government wants to ban and keep out of our country.

The lottery refugees are just what they sound like, they are chosen by United Nations refugee officials by lottery, most of their parents have been in refugee camps for years, even decades. Many have died there.

The system was created to be democratic and fair. The idea was America was not only open to the rich, but the poor and downtrodden too.

Wealthy and skilled people were permitted to emigrate in great numbers, but to be fair and democratic, the system would also be open to these kids and their parents: ordinary, working class, even poor people in desperate need. The process of admission to the United States is grueling and thorough. These people are not lazy or ignorant, they are the victims of war, genocide, natural catastrophes, civil war.

They did not bring ruin upon their own heads, they have suffered natural and human catastrophe through no fault of their own. As Americans in Housing and California and Florida learned this year, it can happen to anybody, even us. At such times we call on ourselves to be merciful and compassionate, that is what it means to me to be an American. It could easily have been me or you.

The anti-immigration officials make it sound as if all kinds of terrorists and thieves and rapists are pouring in, but these families are subject to extreme vetting by at least four different federal agencies. They are examined one-on-one, exhaustively and repeatedly , they are given exhaustive writing exams, their lives and social media combed over by special agents, they must fill out hundreds of pages of paperwork and wait years before coming here.

When they get here, they are given small subsidies for 90 days, and then their only assistance is agencies like RISSE, non-profit groups scattered across the country, with little money and overwhelmed resources.

There, they go to learn English, to put their kids in after school classes, learn how to look for work, pay taxes, fill out driver’s license and school registration forms, where they can learn English, get healthy food, play and work and learn computing together.

None of these kids would ever get into our country if this new Draconian legislation is passed, they would languish in dangerous and overcrowded and underfunded camps for much of their lives. Our system will – as our leaders admit – will no longer be democratic or open, it will look for wealthy and white immigrants from prosperous and “safe”  countries.The families of these refugees will be left behind, they will never be able to come her or be re-united with their loved ones. They call it “chain immigration: but to people whose lives have always been centered on family, it is  yet another horror for them to bear.

As if we don’t have enough rich people  here. How much richer to the rich people here need to get?

One does not need to be an FBI agent to go to agencies like RISSE and meet these people. To meet them is to love them and admire them.

They are intensely hard-working, idealistic, loving people, they want nothing more than to give their children good lives. It chews my heart up to think that none of the good people I meet would ever get out of those refugee camps if the so-called white nationalists get their quite apparent way and seek to make our country all white and Christian again.

So I hope to continue to meet these people and tell their stories, they are no threat to us, they work harder than anyone to make the lives of their children better, that is what refugees coming to America have done for centuries, and they have built a great, wealthy and powerful country over time.

Did I miss something? Did those generations of refugees fail us, ruin us, endanger us?

I pray to the good angels that these people and so many like them are not abandoned by the country that embraced them for so long, and saved and uplifted to many lives. That is what it’s about for me.  I hope we can see through hatred and lies and ignorance.

I believe we can. I believe we will.

25 January

Awesome Women! The RISSE Women’s Basketball Team

by Jon Katz
The RISSE Women’s Basketball Team. Team Captain Rachel in front.

These are some of the awesome women starting up the first ever RISSE women’s basketball team, to be named the Bedlam Farm  Warriors, despite my desperate pleas for a different name. Having met these very determined women, all refugee children from the bloodshed of the Congo, I am proud to have the name of our farm on their new uniforms (once we buy them.)

Risse, under awful pressure from slashed government subsidies and bitter partisan politics, does not have extra money to support the team or buy them uniforms (and equipment bags?), I met with Francis Sengabo, the director of Operations at RISSE, and he and Ali asked me if I could do it. i agreed, I said I would surely try, and I will.

If you can help, please donate to Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or jon@bedlamfarm.com. Please mark the donation “basketball uniforms” or RISSE women’s basketball.

I’m planning to take this one step at a time, the uniforms first. That will be about $1,000. As other things arise, if they do, I’ll price them and write about them one step at a time. You know the motto: We do the best we can for as long as we can.

I also am pricing basketball equipment bags, they cost between $25 and $30, but the uniforms come first. They can hold one basketball and a uniform and sneakers.

I told the girls about the Army of Good, and they were wide-eyed and incredulous. I think they had never heard of such a thing before. Ali is already building some camaraderie and unity among the team, it will be exciting to watch them. he has been working for a long time to get this  team together.

I asked the team to line up in front of me, and Rachel, the RISSE Team Captain, took the lead position, the other young women fell in behind her. As I looked into those eyes, I thought this was going to be exciting and rewarding. She is quite determined.. Thanks for considering this.

25 January

Watch Out!: Here Comes The RISSE Women’s Basketball Team

by Jon Katz
The heart of the new RISSE Women’s Basketball Team: Lydiaa, Flora, Evanie, Fanny, Rachel

I went to RISSE yesterday to meet five of the eight members of the new RISSE (refugee and immigrant support center of Albany) women’s basketball team, scheduled to hit the courts in several weeks. I can tell  you that they are feisty, energetic, funny and full of grit and determination.

Rachel, on the right, is the new Team Captain. She  has fire in her eyes.

They are also charismatic and very eager to play. I would not want to play or bet against them.

Taking their photographs, on the other hand, was great fun.

They pestered me and Ali to know the starting date, they are ready to go. They have decided – once again, over my protests – to name their team the Bedlam Farm Warriors, just like the soccer team did.  Their shirts will say “RISSE” on the back.

I agreed to raise the funds to buy their new uniforms, I suspect they will be colorful and very strong.

The soccer team’s uniforms cost almost $1,000. Soccer in America is not a cheap sport.

I hope to be able to support them in other ways. Playing will be simpler for them than the soccer team in some ways. They will have access to numerous school gyms, they don’t need big fields outdoors or expensive shoes.

They will be playing urban as well as suburban teams and will face some of the same class issues as the other Warriors- outfunded and unmanned. They will not be outcoached. Ali is wily and dedicated, and he is getting an assistant for the basketball team.

“We can’t wait to play,” said Rachel, already the spokesperson for the team. “We are ready.”

Some of the younger refugee women are shy and guarded, wary of strangers with cameras asking to take their pictures, reluctant to say much.

No such problem with the basketball team.

They posed with attitude and confidence, then swarmed around my camera to look at the photos and tell me what to use and what not to use. They have good taste, they made good choices, they will be formidable as a team, just as the soccer boys are.

This is going to be fun and worthwhile. All of these girls came from Africa, their parents fled the awful genocide and conflict in the Congo and spent many years in refugee camps. They know pain and suffering in a way few American children do. Their parents support them with love, but don’t have too much more than that.

The girls identify as Africans, but also as Americans.

These are kick-ass women, they will make for impressive Americans, they will add much to our lives and communities. They are filled with the spark of life. They are bursting to go.

They will practice hard and play hard, and they are already coming together as their own devoted community. Sports are part of the great American assimilation. So is playing against opponents with a lot more money.

So here we go, and about time.

At the moment, these young women just need uniforms, and I don’t think they  will need too much more than that, perhaps some good basketball sneakers – they have no clothes or equipment of any kind. The basketball league fees are much smaller, the leagues are less suburban than the soccer leagues. Those parents put everything into their kid’s sports.  But the basketball games are much more accessible.

Every school in and around Albany  has a gym.

They are not all that interested in soccer or retreats, and certainly not one they will share with boys. I suspect they will appreciate some other kinds of outings, I hope to help with that.

If you wish to help with the uniforms,  you can donate to my uniform fund, Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or you can contribute via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com. Please mark those donations “basketball uniforms”,  and thanks.

I hope to get to their practices when they start-up in a couple of weeks. I also want to get a full photo of the team. The other three members were still in school when I came to take the pictures.

Thanks for your support and encouragement.


25 January

Unhappy Gus. ME Journal, 1/25/2018

by Jon Katz
Unhappy Gus

For the first time since I’ve know him, Gus is miserable, at least whenever his new muzzle is on. We got a muzzle to keep him from eating things in the pasture that can make his megaesophagus worse. And he really hates it. When it’s on, he just sits down and trembles a bit.

He won’t torment Red or Fate, he doesn’t even follow me or Maria. We are hoping he gets used to it, we leave it on for a few minutes and giving him time to adapt. This might be the wrong muzzle, I’ve ordered a couple of other models and we’ll see if we can find the right one.

I didn’t know Gus could be sad, I’ve never seen it before. The stakes are  high, though, we either get him used to a muzzle or he cannot come into the pasture again.

25 January

My Maria: “You Really Are A Part Of Me…”

by Jon Katz
You Really Are A Part Of Me

I’d have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister – anything a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don’t realize it. You really are a part of me.”  – Willa Cather, My Antonia.

In the morning, I love to see Maria, always the artist in her layers and scarves and hats and leggings and beads, carrying the manure from the barn out, often in her wedding dress. Maria, like an actor is never out of character, no matter what she is doing.

The manure pile is something she has taken on, all of her own. I help her shovel, but she always carries the manure to the pile, and I always watch and give thanks for her. I will admit, I often think as I age and lose my hair and my knees hurt when I bend, that she will one day look at me in horror, and ask “what have I done?”

But I am beginning to understand that will not happen, she sees right through all of that nonsense and right into my soul, and if she ever does walk away, it will be because the fire went out of me, flickered and died.

I’ve been with Maria for a decade now, and some people lose things as they grow older, but her inner glow has never faded. Whatever else comes and goes, Maria, like Willa Cather’s Antonia, has never lost the fire of life. She never becomes jaded, or cynical, she never loses her curiosity, her wonder at the world, her generosity of spirit.

She is never too busy to listen to a bird, or love a tree,  bring a treat to a chicken,  love a rock she found, to flash a radiant and dazzling smile, or rush to help a friend. I sometimes think Maria was Antonia in another life:

But she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one’s breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things,” wrote Cather.

“She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions. It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.

Last night, i went online to re-read a chapter of “My Antonia,” it is such a beautiful book, and one of the reasons i always call Maria my Willa Cather Girl:

I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light and air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would only be sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass.”

Antonia could be moody, even brooding, but she was always happy.

Perhaps we all feel like that as we grow older and then when we die and become a part of something entirely different, whether it is the sun or the air. Perhaps, as Cather wrote, that is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep. I think Maria is happy in that way.

And that, I think, is the gift of  loving someone like this, you never lose the fire of life either, it just burns too brightly.

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