Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Nice 2016 - La Croix Rouge

La Croix Rouge

I came across La Croix Rouge (The Red Cross) when I was walking to and from Rivi's school trying to get her registered for school. There was a sign on the door offering free French courses. I inquired and met Helene an older very kind grandmotherly type. She helped me register for the class and then told me I was allowed 5 food items if I brought in a bag and that there was a social in the mornings with free coffee and food. Of course I explained to her that I did not need social assistance and then asked if I could volunteer my time. She signed me up and I started the following Monday.

My schedule: volunteer on Monday and Thursday, take the class on Tuesday. Those three days I spent 2 hours learning a little French, but more importantly meeting people and helping them. 

Le lundi: The Monday crew changed midway. It started with Helene as supervisor, whom I adored. I worked with Christiane and Claude handing out drinks and food. Cristiane is a 79 year old Niçoise, who speaks Niçois, French and Italian, but very little English. She is full of life and wears golden spiked Converse to work and keeps everyone smiling with friendly insults. Claude always found a reference to life by bursting into classic musical dance numbers (Singing in the Rain, My Fair Lady, etc.) or George Clooney commercials (the French version of course). Once I could handle the task, Claude moved to stocking the storage room and helping with take away food/laundry/and other social services. I loved this crew. Karine, my English speaking cohort, and Françoise were often around on Mondays too. Françoise always worked at the computer scanning the items we used or gave out. Then Elizabeth #1 took over as "le chef" and everything changed. All of a sudden we could not let the people choose their bread and we had to wear gloves and keep our distance from the clientele so there was less interaction with the people. She treated them poorly and with disdain. I never came to like her. She pissed off Claude one day about how to run the organization and I think he told her off. He'd been there a long time and had a routine that she tried to change. 

Le mardi: On Tuesday I attended the debutante French class. Nathalie and Niloofar taught the course and were fantastic. Nathalie was the most welcoming and helpful to me at La Croix Rouge. I always felt comfortable asking her questions and she pushed me to work hard speaking French. Niloofar is an Iranian French woman with a big personality and great sense of humour. She always kept the class relaxed and laughing. Other than myself, Matz from Norway, and a small Chinese group, the students were immigrants or refugees to France. Some where sleeping in the streets, others were just getting by, but everyone was pleasant and so very eager to learn. James, a Liberian refugee whom I befriended, travelled three years through Africa to get to Europe. In the class were others that I saw regularly at the Monday and Thursday social like Sene, Yu, Alipath, Yv (whose name I love), Andre, Rana and Mais.

Le jeudi: Thursday was my fun day. I worked with Carole (le meilleur chef), Nathalie, Jacques (efficient, except he was terrible at making coffee, and he tolerated my lack of French well), Laurent, and Karine. They were all patient with me when I tried to speak French and when I couldn't communicate in French they would attempt English. They corrected my pronunciation, taught me new phrases and made me feel welcome. If we had stayed longer in Nice, I probably would have dropped Mondays and just volunteered on Thursdays. 

Food Drive:  I was invited to a Food Drive, but mom and dad were visiting so I declined. The day after the food drive, I went in and instead of social service (bread and coffee) we did inventory and organized the storage shelves. It seemed like so much food! The food drive was in October and all of the shelves were packed, but by the beginning of December the shelves were bare.

I feel good about my time there. I offered assistance where I could, I met a lot of great people, and I learned a little French. I also got used to la bise (the French peck on each cheek as a greeting). 

Here are some of the people I met while serving coffee and tartine (day old baguette with butter and jam):

Marcos - gypsy mom, Bangledeshi dad, grew up in Slovakia. Sometimes coffee, but usually tea with one sugar. Would eat several tartine with butter.

South American crazy guy - Argentina, I think. Short, chubby, often beat up and bloodstains on his hoodie, talked to himself, propositioned women, laughed sporadically, earphones in but I'm not convinced they worked, often the last to leave. 

Willie Nelson - From a town near the French Disney Land, in prison in Australia for working without a visa, protected in prison by "Friday". Long grey hair with a beard he kept braided and banded. Short pants and sandals, orange reflective vest, backpack, happy.

Niçois older man who asks for "especes pour manger" - few words, kind eyes, always asking for just a little change to buy food, got along well with Christiane and Claude.

Illuminati Lithuanian - Paranoid, conspiracy theorist who talked of black magic and the complete control by the British queen and his trip to Rome. Brought with him a German Shepard, talked of Cerberus and armageddon. Saw signs in everything. Strongly believed in God, but also in magic. 

Small gentlewoman (natural look, shy) - I liked her look: straight cut Levis with durable leather shoes, a jean jacket and a grey tuque. I think she was very timid. Would often pass up food, but liked cookies. Always had her coffee black.

Denis - Figure skater when young, travelled to Canada for skating camps. 

Du Lait man - sometimes had a coffee with one sugar to start the morning, but then would switch to milk. Liked the viennoiseries with powdered sugar and joked that it was cocaine.

Milk man - would come in with an empty coke bottle and ask for it to be filled with milk.

Tunisians - Green jacket man, rotting teeth, offered to carry my groceries from Carrefour when I saw him.

Young man who would reluctantly have three sugars in his coffee.

Peewee Herman - always came in late, had cafe au lait with one sugar and really liked when we opened the butter cookies when we ran out of bread.

Older Algerian man in grey sweater, asked to come to Canada with me. 

Tea and Coffee couple -man toothless and jokester, woman probably abused.

Thin, shifty, but clean-cut man (Eastern European maybe) - I'd see him on the steps with the really drunk team. Saw him grab food from a vendor unnoticed and walk away. 

Woman with a beard - talked to herself, but always super nice and would talk to me in English if I didn't understand her French. Heavy. Bushy, black hair.

Woman with short skirt - thin, dressed well, but often in the same skirt and blouse, perhaps a prostitute? Yelled at crazy South American for touching her (2 separate times).

Old woman with dog - always asked for a coffee, one sugar, then came back and asked for a cup of water for her dog. Would get frustrated with me when I didn't understand what she wanted.

Old woman with sores, hunched over, missing teeth - I couldn't understand what she said, but she liked to talk. She would order her coffee and then tell a story and hang around the coffee bar. I tried to explain that I spoke very little French, but I don't think she noticed or cared. Witch like.

Man with earring and hat - quiet and almost invisible.

Bald grouchy Texas business man (tea au lait avec 2 sucre) - Always looked like he was scowling, but pleasant when I talked to him one day while cleaning the tables. Asked questions. Told me he used to travell to Texas on business.

Woman with red headband - Always had matching clothes and was clean and wholesome looking. Grandmotherly.

Italian man in intermediate French class - He seemed sheepish. Slight smile upon recognition of me in class and on social days. Didn't say much. Looked a little lost.

Short fat Portuguese man - always smiling and gentle. Always accepted food with a smile.

Tall toothless Portuguese man - vacant expression, reddish orange hair from peroxide (or something similar). Missing teeth. I often saw him while I was out. Once sitting in Place Garibaldi begging. I tried to talk to him and ask how he was but he looked at me without any recognition. Another time, I saw him at a bus stop. Again no recognition. He stopped coming to The Red Cross, but I still saw him around town.
Gentle shy men (clean cut, young) two or three of them - there were a few gentle shy men who were regulars. They didn't talk much, but they were kind and seemed like they were just going through a rough time. One I saw in Place Garibaldi one day reading the newspaper. He always carried a backpack and wore a cap low making it difficult to see his downcast eyes.  
Bald gentleman (bonjour) saw along promenade, seems a bit simple. - Very tall and large for France. He never really acknowledged me at the red cross until I said Hi to him one day while walking along the promenade. After that, he always went out of his way to say hi when he came up to the stand for coffee. 

Pirate - A very large black man wearing a long leather coat and had gold earrings. Just missing the parrot. Very pleasant and easy going. 

Old man panhandling on stairs on way to Rivi's school - Older man, quiet. Looked like he had mental issues. Always sat near Rivi's school panhandling. Asked for money at first, but stopped once he recognized that I was at The Red Cross. I always greeted him with a bonjour and got a smile back.

The corner alcoholics - These guys hung out near the swimming pool or on the steps near The Red Cross in Place St. Francois. Sometimes they came in for social and always smelled like booze. They spoke very little French, but were always pleasant. They turned down food - motioned that their stomachs couldn't handle solid food. 

Simple, heavy, young man that said I was nice - Darker complexion. I saw him sometimes in Place Garibaldi talking with a group. 

Senegalese - very clean cut. Very pleasant and we talked about Senegalese music. He joked that he would teach me French if I taught him English.

Sene - In French course with me. Very quiet and seemed embarrassed. He learned faster than the rest of us. One of the volunteers (Nathalie, I think) said she found him camped out on the stairs of a church and he had nothing. Directed him to Th Red Cross and he was very grateful for help and worked hard to show it.

Yu - Japanese speaking Korean who left the US and was not allowed back in and so was stuck in France. Complained a lot and made a fuss when The Red Cross didn't help him as much as he wanted. Talked to a lawyer about support, but sounds like it didn't go well because he continued to be sour. Sometimes came to the French class, but didn't really participate.

Young black men playing scrabble - they would come in, accept a coffee and tartine, then pull out a Scrabble game and play at a side table for the two hours of the social. 

Old man with the nose drip - He had a terrible fall in Place Garibaldi. Ori and I could hear the crack when his head hit the pavement. He was leaving a brasserie and the employee tried to give him something, which made the man hunch back and that's when he fell. After he was on the ground the employee put the paper (looked like a map) into the man's pocket, but didn't offer him any kind of service. I was going to go over and help, but a response team of some sort arrived - the brasserie probably had already called in to report him as a vagrant.

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