Off to London!

london3Here I go. Off on a trip back to my teenage years. Tramping through town for four days from one tourist trap to the next, hopping on and hopping off, eating at Subways and sleeping in a bunk bed at a youth hostel. Counting to twelve over and over, yelling “Look RIGHT!!” a lot, and answering the same question seven times in a row. My only breaks being a beer at the hostel bar with Barb after bedtimes. Don’t be surprised if I return to this blog a week from now sounding a whole lot older younger. Wish us luck!



I realized something major while sitting in the H&M fitting rooms today. I really hate shopping. Have for years. Maybe even decades. I took a picture to commemorate the moment.

H n M

Dinner Guests

Although our 30 new (refugee) neighbors have been here since Easter, I have had no real opportunity to meet and talk to any of them beyond greetings in the grocery store. My husband has allowed 8 of them attend his school and he also goes running with some of them, but I have had no pretext so far to initiate any kind of contact or acquaintance. Today the chance finally arose.

There are about 10 families in the village involved in the effort to help these young men integrate, and each of us were “assigned” three to focus on. My husband decided to make a kettle goulash over an open fire in the yard and invited “our” three over to join us. They pedaled their bikes up the steep hill, arriving fashionably late. I shook their hands and then mentally kicked myself for not doing some prep work on their names. I couldn’t even pronounce them correctly, much less remember them.

They were quiet and shy at first, politely answering my small talk questions – “Where are you from?” (Afghanistan) and “How long have you been here?” (a few months). Conversation happened on tiptoes and teetered a lot. There were uncomfortable silences. Inside, what I really wanted to know is “So . . . do you hate Americans? Is it our fault that you had to flee? (Please say ‘No’!)” They struggled to find the words in their mental piles of broken German to formulate answers. At one point I asked them if they were getting German lessons, and the one who was most proficient answered “Yes” – but in such a tone that we all started laughing. The ice wasn’t exactly broken, but it got its first big crack. I commiserated with him about how hard it was for me to learn German grammar. (I have been at it for 43 years and still make my husband proofread all my emails before I send them.)

dinner guestsAfter a half hour or so of this, my husband – who thinks sports are the answer to most of life’s problems – sort of coerced our guests and our daughters into a Ping-Pong tournament. They had fun. Meanwhile the goulash bubbled toward the edible stage and I started setting up a patio arrangement and hauling dishes down from the kitchen. The circle of chairs was slowly occupied, one after another with our guests interspersed among us. The conversation turned toward their refugee experiences and . . . something happened.

They became people to us. And, I think, we became people to them.

I learned that all three of them were Shiite and they were here because they had had to flee the Taliban. Both Rohulla and Shaban had lost their fathers. In their words, their fathers had been “stolen” – or “kidnapped” – by the Taliban, but there was something more to it than either of those words could convey. Heyaz had a different story. His parents had fled Afghanistan before his birth (in Pakistan). He was eventually imprisoned there and then deported to Afghanistan – a country he had never known. Rohulla had also experienced imprisonment in Iran and then deportation on his first (failed) attempt to flee. Heyaz and Rohulla had both made one of those treacherous sea crossings on a hopelessly overfilled boat. Heyaz’s boat had capsized and he ended up swimming to European shores. Shaban had come over the land route and, on entering Austria, was sent directly to the notorious refugee “center” in Traiskirchen. (Designed for about 800 people, but housing several thousand.) His one comment about it was that the portions at mealtimes were so small that he never got enough to eat.

We talked a lot about the Taliban and I finally got the chance to ask if the American and European troops there were a good thing or a bad thing.  All three were emphatic in their answers of “Good!” The thing they feared most was the Taliban gaining control over the entire country again and if the foreign troops left, that could still happen.

We talked about their situation now – what stage they were at in terms of seeking asylum. They showed us their ID cards – Heyaz and Rohulla were in relatively good shape with their white § 50 cards, but Shaban was worse off with his green § 51 card. (I might have those numbers reversed. They refer to different sections or paragraphs in the Austrian laws concerning asylum seekers.) We talked for a long time about what the difference is. Their answer was that white card holders were believed when they said they were under 18 years old. Green card holders were not believed completely.

When asked about their futures, they all said the same. They wanted to build a life here so that they could help their families back in Afghanistan. We asked if they hoped to bring family members here and they shook their heads. Their own experiences had taught them about how hard it would be to accomplish. The best they hoped for was to be able to send money home and maybe, someday, be able to return.

Other things happened during this conversation. We all leaned in. I discovered that Shaban spoke the best German after only three months here and that he had a terrific sense of humor. I recognized that Rohulla spoke impeccable English, but refrained because he understood how important it was to learn German now. Before fleeing, he had been in his last year of High School and intended to study Engineering. Heyaz, the Boxer, also spoke great English but had the tendency to mix up the languages completely – German words appeared in his English sentences and vice versa. His favorite school subject had been Chemistry and his dream was to go to New York. All three of them liked being at school again – but Shaban said the teachers all spoke too fast. He sometimes asked them to slow down, and they did so, but – he held up one finger – only for one minute. That made us all laugh again. (I thought about my own teaching – how I told students to alert me when I was talking too fast. I added that I would slow down for one minute and then speed up again. They would simply have to listen faster.)

The goulash was finally ready and we all moved to the tables to eat. Rohulla took the most extreme of my husband’s dried chili pepper mixes and doused his plate with it. We all watched him take his first spoonful and waited for his head to explode. All that came was a happy smile. Skinny Shaban stopped after the first plateful and declined when I offered seconds. I objected, saying “What’s this?? What you ate was just a Traiskirchen portion!” He laughed and accepted seconds.

As the visit wound down, my husband started making plans about when to meet up the next day for sprinting training. He suggested early afternoon and the boys countered with 7 am (because they get up at 6 am – typical teenagers!) We also asked them if they would like to come over again. As they answered “Yes!” their eyes lit up in a way that simply can’t be faked. They got on their donated bikes and took off down the hill to their new home.

This all may be incredibly boring to readers, but I can hardly express the emotions and revelations I went through today. Take some abstract concept like “refugee crisis” and it sounds frightening. Meet three refugees, hear their stories and see their smiles, laugh and share a meal with them . . .

It changes the world.

Goodbye, Mass Hysteria

A whole bunch of stuff . . . just . . . somehow . . . righted itself today.

I went to bed last night with all sorts of issues looming over me. I could almost feel their cold and creepy shadows on my skin as I tossed this way and turned that way and adjusted the pillow for the 10th time . . .

There was the undecided election. Would Austria be the very first country in Europe to elect an extreme right (“freedomish”) candidate to the Presidency? And if that happened – what would it mean for my daughters? For my life here? It was not the first time that I wondered “How do you know when it is time to go?”

Then there was the (possible, mild form of) rubella outbreak in the school. One worried mother had set a rampage in motion – words like “quarantine” and “birth defects” and “no fly list” and “dereliction of duty to report” were being used in a flurry of phone calls among parents and staff. How much would this complicate our trip to London next week?

And then there was the fact that I had waited too long to arrange our trip to the Vienna airport. By the time I got around to it, I realized that our school’s train discount card had expired and there wasn’t enough time to request and receive a new one. My discussion with their customer service guy last Thursday didn’t make me hopeful. I would either have to break the budget or go with the bus that arrived uncomfortably close to our departure time.

After a fitful night, I woke up strangely . . . fit.

Only three of my twelve students came to school, but we talked through the situation and decided that the whole thing was overblown. We skipped the planned English lesson and made a cool “Welcome” banner for our upcoming Summerfest.

During the break, the postman arrived with the new train cards.

After school, I stopped by my doctor’s office and explained the situation to him in detail. His professional opinion was, and I quote, “Go to London.”

I then went to pick up my daughter from the bus stop, and having an unexpected hour to kill, I knocked off one thing after another on my To Do list, some of which had been in the procrastination holding pattern for quite some time.  Check! Check! Check! It was all so . . . easy!

In the final five minutes of my wait, I checked the news headlines and heard that . . .

vdbAustria has elected its (and I assume Europe’s) first Green Party President!!

Don’t you just love days when everything goes left?


Historic May 22nd

Today is an important day. Maybe even historic.

Not because I went to a community meeting to help plan a big “Welcome! Let’s Get to Know Each Other!” party for our 30 new refugee villagers (along with the mere 20 other villagers who actually welcome them).

And not because one of my school kids has caught some mild childhood disease and, today, hysterically sent out a WhatsApp to all the other kids that our London trip is going to be called off. (That kept me on the phone for several hours. The bright spot: I now know what “Slapped Cheek Syndrome” is.)

And not because today might turn out to be, in the words of cabaret artist, Christof Spörk, the last day of Austria’s 2nd Republic.

And not because the closest election I have ever witnessed happened today – the results of which are still not in. (The winner will be determined by several thousand absentee ballots to be counted tomorrow, one of which is from my friend Lyart.)

fifty fifty

No, none of those things are why today is so important.

Happy Birthday, Ly!!

Truth Teller

I know words. I have the best words. But unlike the presumptive Republican nominee, I am not averse to using them. So, here we go:

Donald Trump is a floccinaucinihilipilificating hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobic pseudopseudoantidisestablishmentarianist.

How is that for a crushing denunciation?

Wait . . . back up . . .

When I was in the 3rd Grade, I learned that the longest word in the English language was “antidisestablishmentarianism”. Being a young school kid and having no Wikipedia to fact check, I just assumed what my teacher told me was true.

All of the recent political talk about “the establishment” made me remember this childhood lesson, which, in turn, got me google researching (or “research googling?”). I discovered that either Mrs. Peterson was wrong, or that her choice for the longest word has since slipped in the rankings to 9th Place. On closer examination, though, there seems to have been a lot of cheating going on.

I hereby reject Numbers 1-4 for being too absurdly scientific, not to mention “coined” for the purpose of making it into the charts. They are the linguistic equivalents of a boy band. Number 6 (“supercalifragi . . .”) gets the boot because you have to sing that one, not say it. Number 7 invalidates itself by beginning with “pseudopseudo-“. Mrs. Peterson’s word is now in third place. The two above it are both facetious, but not enough so to be tossed off the list. One of them even passes muster with my Spellchecker.

“Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia” is, ironically, the fear of long words.

“Floccinaucinihilipilification” is the act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant, of having no value or being worthless.

Which brings me back to Donald Trump. Both of these words seem to apply to him – to his clear preference for using words of the four-or-five-letter variety to declare everyone other than himself as unimportant or worthless. If anyone doesn’t believe that, they can ask Little Marco, Lying Ted, Crooked Hillary, Pussy Bernie, the Stupid State Department or the useless editorial board of that old rag, The New York Times. So, two of the three longest words in the English language apply to Trump. The question remains if he is also an antidisestablishmentarianist.

I think so.

For all his establishment bashing, he did join a party and is currently making nice with its members. All that other stuff was window-dressing. He will not be changing the “stupid” system now that it is working for him. On the other hand – all this making nice is probably opportunistic – so a “pseudoantidis . . .”. And seeing as how he has proven to be a pathological liar, I’ll add one more “pseudo-“ for good measure.

There you have it.

Donald Trump is a floccinaucinihilipilificating hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobic pseudopseudoantidisestablishmentarianist.

the best words

What is the conclusion of all of this? Well, if you judge a thing’s value on the basis of its length – and I think he does – then Donald Trump truly does own the three best words.