it is almost impossible to get Lisa to smile, except when she mentions her late husband or is with her two very charming and lively sons, Mudasir, 7, and Baseer, 5. You may recall that Lisa is a 27-year-old Afghan refugee, her husband was killed by a roadside bomb as he was driving food to American soldiers at an Afghan airbase.
Her comfortable life went to pieces.
You may recall the heartbreaking story of Lisa.
She became a target herself, as did her sons, and she fled her village to a United Nations refugee camp in Pakistan, where she spent several years before coming to America. She and her sons are living in a filthy, roach-infested apartment in a rundown part of Albany, and she has little money as she learns English and looks for work.
Lisa is shy and independent, she very much hates to ask for help, in fact, Ali and I have to pry out of her what she needs. We believe we have found her a new apartment that is clean and safe, but it will be a month or so before the paperwork is processed and she can move in.
Ali persuaded her to come to me for help, and he also persuaded her to agree to be photographed, this was very difficult for her. She is getting more comfortable with it, especially when Mudasir agreed to pose with her and Baseer.
He is going to do very well in America, he’s got the sparkle in his eyes.
She may need some help with the deposit, and we discovered today that she needs just about everything – money for laundry, for clothes for herself and for Mudasir and Baseer, soap, deodorant. There is a gaping hole in her sofa.
She admitted for the first time that her food stamps are not enough for her and the boys, she needs help with groceries. I gave her $500 last week, and $400 today.
We found a state housing authority that will pay all of her rent, we believe, in the new apartment. She also hopes to have work by then, her English is getting very good, she and I were able to talk to one another throughout our meeting today. Soap and deodorant and food are tied to dignity and peace of mind. A rational government would have helped her by now.
Mudasir reads my blog and says he will make sure I don’t misspell any of their names. He misses nothing, and is fearless. We connected pretty quickly, and were thumb wrestling by the end of our visit. I won.
I gave each of the boys $20 to get a toy or anything they want. Lisa nearly cried when she thanked me for that, she said it has been a very long time since either of them had a toy.
Her sons were remarkable, bright and courteous and lively. I got them each a “blue” donut, which they happily gulfed down and they made fun of my big black camera and suggested I get a smaller and lighter one. I told them I just got this one. I’d like to get to know these two boys better and help them if I can.
Lisa very much wanted me to meet them, her eyes remain the saddest eyes I have seen, and she misses her husband dearly, she said he always made all of them laugh. I hope we can help return some laughter to her life.
So our plan is to meet with Lisa weekly and help stabilize her life with personal items like soap and clothes for her and the boys. We will see her through the bureaucratic hurdles involved in getting to her new apartment, the one she is in is dreadful, tiny and poorly kept. That is not her fault, the entire building is a mess.
She and the kids need to get out of there. If you wish to help Lisa get through this to an open field – we are close – you can help by continuing your generosity by sending a donation to the Gus Fund, c/o Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., or via Paypal, firstname.lastname@example.org. Small donations are welcome. Bigger ones too, of course.
Lisa and her family are quite special. She is bright and honest and eager to work and find independence. Asking for help and receiving it have been very difficult for her, but she and I and Ali are getting much more comfortable, she even gave me a warm handshake today and a smile when we said goodbye.
Thanks for helping her, this will take a month or so, but Ali and I talked about it, and we agreed she is very much worthy of our help. We will stay with her and help her get where she needs to go, and she will do the rest.
This family needs our help, they are our brothers and sisters in America, no matter what any politician says.