Some people refer to Mickey as a street person, the only one in our town. But that is not true. He has a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear. Mickey wears more or less the same thing every day – a winter flap hat, a sweater, a heavy jacket and a flannel shirt.
He walks up and down Main Street every day of the year in all weather and in all-weather clothes. He and I have an understanding, he is my only paid subject. He gets between $3 and $5 for every photo I take for him, he does not pose and I do not ask him too. He always asks me to say hello to my wife.
I am s truck by his piercing blue eyes, I am rarely able to capture them in my pictures.
I ask him if he has eaten, and if he has not I give him enough money for chili, which he loves, or some other kinds of soup. I know he spends much of it on coffee and cigarettes, I don’t consider that my business. I know when Mickey was young, he had a tragic response to some drugs, and ended up in a hospital being treated for schizophrenia.
He is a gentle soul and has never harmed anyone and the police here know him well and watch out for him. There is a great advantage to police officers knowing the people in their community. Mickey has come to me for help several times, that is reassuring to me. He has many friends in town who watch out for him, bring him food, give him good clothes.
It is better, I think, to be Mickey in our town than in a big city, where he was.
I was in my office working today when I heard some rumbling and grumbling from the porch I went outside to see what was happening, and I was startled to see that Maria had re-arranged the porch, got up on the railing and put up some new outdoor sunblinds I bought, and hauled in a table from somewhere and some chairs.
In just a few minutes, she had created a whoie new and quite private dining area (we share it with Flo, who hangs out on the porch in the summer.
I’m not sure where all this furniture came from, or how she moved it all by herself, but I love the space and we had dinner out there tonight as the sun set over the hills across from the farm.
In the afternoon, the sun is strong on the porch, at night, there are cool breezes, it’s a lovely place to sit and read and talk. We weren’t using it much at all, and now, there is yet another gracious and comfortable space for us to use in the warm weather.
There is really no space between art and life in our home, and it find it exciting and creative and wonderful, even if I am often surprised and taken aback by the energy and drive it takes to create it.
Life is like this with Maria, I sometimes feel as if I am an awe-struck spectator from the heartlands visiting a busy and innovative art gallery in the form of a farmhouse. In the blink of an eye, things change here.
No animals grasps the idea of heat better than a barn cat. The border collies will run around in the sun like fools if they aren’t stopped, but cats go into a spiritual trance, they are still for hours, stirring only to kill something when they can.
Anyone who wonders about the impact of climate change should sit with some farmers for a day or two. Or even better, just watch a couple of donkeys. Donkeys, like horses, are prey animals.
They never lie down unless they feel completely safe and can see in almost e very direction. Their big ears are always up and swiveling. listening for predators.
And if there are two or more donkeys, one is almost always standing guard and watching out for the other. When I moved to the country more than a decade ago, the climate was almost shockingly different. We wore blankets at night up to July, and then again in late August.
Today, the temperature was 86 degrees, and the animals were still, almost lethargic. The sheep were in the pole barn, still and breathing heavily (the shearer is coming June 9.) I looked out and s aw Lulu and Fanny lying down in the sun, conserving their energy.
The Native Americans always said when two donkeys lie down together, it means a heat wave or big storm is coming. I think that is true.
Omranaso’s life as she knew it ended seven years ago in a small town in Eastern Syria, not far from the border with turkey.
Her husband began to disappear at odd hours, and one day he left her, she suspected it was to join ISIS something she did not approve of.
When she went out looking for him, fellow militants captured her and dragged her back to her home and warned her that she could never leave her house again uncovered or without a man to escort her.
They told her that her husband wasn’t coming home, that she would now be the wife of five or six fighters, and care for them in any way they wished.
Omranaso is not a person to accept humiliation or domination, she dressed in her husband’s clothes and fled at night, only to be captured by Syrian soldiers, who believed she was a rebel, and imprisoned and tortured her. We talked to her last week, when we talked with Hawah, her friend.
She cannot tell this story without weeping, she will never forget the day soldiers brought her mother to see her while she was hanging naked from a prison cell ceiling. They told her mother the same thing would happen to her if her daughter didn’t confess.
But Omranaso had nothing to confess.
Her mother and her friends gave the guards their gold jewelry. She was freed and went home only to find her mother dead.
She fled through the cemetery towards the Turkish border and made her way alone into the mountains where she was found freezing and starving by Turkish soldiers, who brought her to an Istanbul hospital and turned her over to the United Stations, and then to a refugee camp, where she lived for years.
Everyone she ever knew and loved is dead, she got to the United States with no money or support of any kind.
I feel obliged to say that when Omranaso first came to the United States, the government provided continuous subsidies for people like her until they could acclimate. They don’t now, the administration in power has made its contempt for refugees unmistakably clear, to our government, they are not welcome in America.
I hear people talking about the refugees and immigrants on the news all of the time, and I hate to join the national pastime of grievance and rage, but most of what is said about these people is false.
They have not come here to harm us or steal our jobs and services, they want the same thing we want, to build safe and comfortable lives for ourselves and our children. The refugees in America now face many new dangers, including hatred, ignorance, bigotry and poverty.
So the refugees are refugees once more, desperate in some cases, along and in great need. The truth is Omranaso is traumatized by her experiences in Syria, and I haven’t repeated the worst of if. Ali and I have spent many hours trying to understand how to help her without making her helpless and dependent, or to make her situation less tenable.
Here is where we are. She is living in a small apartment with several other people, and she is clearly not comfortable there. But some of these problems with her roommates appear fixable and we are going to try to do that. Clearly, Omranaso has some trauma symptoms that might bear treatment, she is wracked with pain and awful memory. You can see it in her face.
If we got her an apartment, a studio or one room now, she could not sustain it, she has a job but it doesn’t pay enough to cover her rent and food and car. Lots of refugees, I see, are desperate to buy cars because that way, they can drive to better jobs, but the cars are often used, and break down, and there are insurance and other costs, including gas and service.
So first, we will ask her if she wants some counseling to deal with what has happened to her. She often cries when she thinks of what she has lost.
This is almost an unheard of thing among the refugees, they expect brutality and suffering, they aren’t shocked by it the way Americans are. I think it’s worth a try.
We find that Omranaso is in debt, mostly because of her car and insurance and the fact she has had no money.
So I am giving her $700 to pay off all of her debts (thank you, Kathleen). Ali and I believe – and Omranaso agrees,and so does Ali, that the first priority is a job that will cover her monthly rental costs, we estimate them to be between $500 and $600.
We know it’s a trap to pay people’s rent if they can’t afford to pay for it themselves. It just sets them up for more trouble down the road. So one step at a time. I have enough money available to get her counseling (and she speaks little English), if she wishes, for PTSD, and if not, to pay off all of her debts and give her an open field.
She understands the key to our assistance is her finding a good job, and if she is not able to do that for any reason, we will act as her advocate, even hire a lawyer if necessary, and try to get more aid or assistance for her. It’s up to her, she surely has good cause.
What she wants is to work and have her own place. So we’ll take this step by step. She agrees her current living arrangement are tolerable for now.
First the debts, then some help if it is wanted or possible, and then a small apartment that she can sustain and be comfortable in. She said the relief from not owing money to people will be enormous.
For the refugees, now and always, there are no great choices, no easy solutions. Only what is best and what is available.
I learned also that the Department of Social Services is balking at Hawah’s rent for her apartment, they insist much of that money must go to pay for her husband’s nursing care home, he is unable to move, he only communicates by blinking his eyes.
I want to give her six months of paid differential (between what the county will pay and what she can afford to pay, now that her subsidy is cut to pay for her husband’s care) so she can get things together for herself and her family. Looks like that will be about $210 a month or $1,260 for six months, about $2,500 for a year.
I don’t have enough money to do that all at once, we have to manage the donations carefully. I will try to do it in chunks.
Help for these two deserving women is welcome. You can contribute by sending a check to The Gus Fund, Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mark your donation “Omranaso and Hawah.”
Thanks! We are doing good, in the most direct and important of ways.