I am drinking Iraqi chai without sugar and we are discussing W’s recent diagnosis of diabetes and my desire to lose weight. She has already stood on the scale for me, and then invited me to do the same. (I declined) She has also placed a homemade macaroon in my hand and later will attempt to force another one into my hands, although I manage to decline the next time round.
In spite of this long discussion on losing weight, by the time tea is made and I sit down to drink it, W has heated up 4 samosas and placed them be fore me. Despite my diet vows, I capitulate and eat one, more for her sake than for mine. It’s delicious, but that was a given.
W’s husband, Mohammed, is sick. They tell me of how he had to go to the emergency room because he was shivering with a very high fever. Today he’s much better, and we all watch “The Price Is Right” while I explain the rules, how if you go over at all you lose, how my mother loved this show. “Why haven’t you and Donn been on the show?” they ask. You can see their minds spinning at the thought. Here in America, all you have to do is go on a show and you will get a boat, a car, a trip to Ireland.
I am racing across town to get to the Souri’s apt. I was supposed to BE there by noon. The appointment is supposed to be about 20-30 minutes. They are moving, only partly voluntarily. Their apt story has not been a success, and a month ago I found myself arguing with their manager that the black mold forming along all their exterior walls was NOT their fault. The manager said that it was because they didn’t keep their windows open to air things out, but I pointed out that I didn’t either and that my house was mold-free. That it’s better built was obvious. They’ve had other arguments. I know that this family in particular has some issues; for example, they didn’t understand the concept of recycling and even after it was explained to them kept putting their trash in the wrong place. I also know that this apt has taken advantage; trying to charge them for mold till we stepped in, charging them to replace a very old and broken stove before we knew about it.
They want a friend there for the pre-inspection. I arrive as the asst mgr is walking through the place, writing things down on a clipboard. My friends follow her, concern writ large across their faces. She and I chat. She claims to be on their side, although I notice she words things carefully. According to her, they could and even should get at least part of their deposit back. I smile and agree that we will leave the place spotless (cleaning party next week! You’re invited!) but I have heard many stories of nicer apartments managing to keep all the deposits and my hopes aren’t high. I hide my doubts and reassure the family. I also waste my breath trying to persuade them not to use a bleach dilution on the mold stains. They are worried, but the manager warned me to be careful of bleach spots on the carpet.
I watch the two youngest children sit on a towel spread on the balcony and eat peanut butter with their fingers, dipping it out of the jar, eating bread as an accompaniment, and I laugh. It just seems such an Arab way to eat this new-to-them food!
They are already mostly moved out, and they insist I follow them to the new place so I’ll know where it is. It looks like a much nicer place and even has a playground and a pool. When we get there, their older kids are standing outside, upset. Turns out the oldest just had an altercation. It takes at least 20 minutes for me to figure out what happened, although his English has really improved since I first met him. Someone came up and cursed at him and shoved him down, made clear his issue was racial (he was Hispanic himself), then leapt into a car and drove off. He had the foresight to write down part of the license plate.
I go off and meet the new manager. He is helpful, and encourages me to make a police report so they’ll have a record. In an amazing coincidence, the city was there that morning tagging cars parked illegally and they tagged the same car. He’s able to supply the rest of the license plate. I have a long phone conversation in which I describe the incident and then we all traipse off to see the new place. The boy is very quiet, obviously still very upset.
I am finally about ready to leave when my phone rings and it’s a police woman. We all go down to meet her and describe again what happened. She is brusque and efficient. The manager comes back and it turns out he has figured out who the perpetrator is. A. describes him as 17 or 18, but it turns out he’s only 11, but carrying an adult-sized chip on his shoulder. He not only lives in the same very large complex, but he’s a near neighbour. The manager of the neighbouring complex called police on him today too; she found him wandering around trying doors to see which ones were locked. Sigh.
Since the Souri’s new place is right near Suzi’s apartment, I decide to drop in. I haven’t seen her in over a month. Every time we’ve tried, something has come up. Like many of these refugee families, they have gone to using something called a Magic Jack which is like skype but plugs into an actual phone. Since it uses the computer to make phone calls, it is free, but if the computer is not on it doesn’t work. I call and call but there’s never any answer.
She is thrilled to see me and thanks me profusely for coming over. I keep the visit short but we set up another time to get together soon. She tells me how she’s been and I teach her the word “depressed,” which pretty much sums it up. She tells me her husband has about 30 applications out, and they are both frustrated and worried at his lack of work.
As I’m leaving, I see one of the women from my English class watching me out of her window. I wave and we chat for a minute as curtains stir around the courtyard. My visits are very public.
I’m home with a raging headache in time for a cup of tea. Ilsa needs to be somewhere by 6 so I have to get her fed.
We have another appointment! And on it goes…