Just after noon Wednesday, I got a text from my friend Ali (Amjad Abdulla), coach of the RISSE soccer team and a good friend. It was an SOS.
"Hey Jon, they are doing a small tournament at Afrim's Sports (near Albany) for Thanksgiving, it will be a great experience for the kids because they haven't played a game in a while and it cost $285 for the team to play. Do you think there is anyway you can help us with that…and I'm so sorry, I know we been asking for a lot, but you are our guy, we have no other choice…"
I am always in awe of Ali's dedication to his kids, to the soccer team, almost all refugees. How could anyone decline a message like that?
He never stops thinking of these kids, he drives them around seven days a week, watches over them, teaches them how to behave. And they behave beautifully, they are great people.
Ali is a godsend to them. He tells the boys he loves America, and this time is a temporary time, and they will see the true heart and soul of America again.
He is like a father to many, there are a lot of single parent families in the group. When I got his message, I was heading over to the Mansion to teach my poetry class.
I called Ali back. We had to do some brainstorming. No bank would be open in the morning, we had to figure it out right away. I asked him when he needed the money, and he said today, the deadline for registering is the morning, when the tournament starts. And they only took cash.
"How am I supposed to get this money to you, Ali?," I asked. He had no idea. His bank has no branch near me. We went back and forth and I proposed meeting him halfway between Albany and my town, Cambridge.
It was about a half-hour ride for each of us. It was a rainy and gloomy day, but Ali always has a smile on his face. It is always good to see him.
I love the big heart of this man (thanks to the restaurant owner in Albany who recognized him from the blog and refused to take his money for dinner.) It is a gift to be able to help.
After his call, I left the workshop early and drove to Schaghticoke and I was only there for five minutes before the familiar white van cruised into the parking lot. We hugged and I gave Ali the check. I made him pose in front of the diesel gas pump at Stewart's, I liked the price screen in the background.
Ali is my brother and I am proud to be his emergency go-to guy for the soccer team, that is a promotion. After all, they chose to name themselves the "Bedlam Farm Warriors," over my objection.
I understand the importance of this tournament. It's getting cold and Ali is looking to rent some space in an indoor soccer arena for the winter, like the wealthy suburban teams do, he is checking out the cost. This will enable the team to practice all winter and stay off the streets, and keep their very close community together. It will also keep them in shape when the Spring games begin.
I plan to try to help him. I feel this is an important message about the real America, the one I love. These young people are no threat to us, they belong here and have suffered enough in their lives.
I wish I was rich, I'd send them all to Disney World.) I did have the $285, thanks to the Army of Good.
Ali told me his mother is coming from Egypt for a visit in a few weeks and the first thing she wants to see in America is Bedlam Farm. She is quite welcome here. Ali is my brother from a different mother, as my pal Ed Gulley likes to say.
When I first put his photo up on the blog, Ali sent his mother a link and she panicked, calling him up and asking if he needed a lawyer, she couldn't imagine why his photo would be on the Internet from America, and she didn't think the possibilities were good.
She's gotten used to it, and she wants to cook for me and Maria at Ali's house when she comes. That would be delightful.
Again, thanks for your support. You made this possible. If you wish to help these children and support my Children's Refugee Fund, you can send a check to Jon Katz, Post Office Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, [email protected] Small donations are very welcome. Please mark payments "for refugees."