Form Letter of Rejection


After two years of living in our village and waiting for their asylum applications to be processed, our refugee boys were just told that the home they live in is going to be closed down. Apparently it is too expensive for the government to maintain. The 18 boys still living there will have to be relocated. Dispersed. One option is a rooming house at a highway truck stop – in one half of what began as an overly optimistic brothel. (The other half will continue to be used for its original purpose.) We are working on a different arrangement for one of the boys (“H.”) who still wants to attend my husband’s school.

My husband and H. sat in the kitchen discussing his “options” now that he is about to be . . . displaced once again. They sat in their usual spots – my husband at the end of the table and H. around the corner to his left. I have seen them seated like this many times over the past months, as H. told his life story and my husband typed it into story form. They are up to page 6 now, and the story is long from over.

Mariabad – a Hazara enclave

H. was basically a refugee at birth. His young parents were already on the run from both the Taliban and his mother’s family (!) because of their honor–offending Hazara (Shiite)/Sunni love affair which had led to the birth of H.’s older sister. When the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, they had to leave the country altogether. They ended up in a place called Mariabad which is a sort of enclosed Hazara settlement within the larger Pakistani city of Quetta. H.’s childhood took place here. For ten years or so, the normal elements of early life – school, sports, work, games, family celebrations – were interspersed with police raids, an ever-increasing number of bombings and kidnappings. When H. was 13, his two younger brothers were abducted and severely beaten. Shortly thereafter, his elder sister disappeared while on her way to school. H.’s parents could only suspect that the mother’s family had discovered them. They decided it was too dangerous to stay there any longer. His father left first for Australia, hoping the family could follow, but he tragically drowned in the attempt to get there. Three years after that, H. made the next attempt – this time to Iran – only to be caught, imprisoned for a few months, and then deported. He made it back to his family in Pakistan. They made their next attempt to flee (again to Iran) as an entire family and this time they were successful. From there H. and his younger brother set off toward Germany via Turkey and Greece. Once they reached Austria, they decided to stay and try for asylum here. Almost exactly two years ago, H. arrived in our village . . .


It was already harsh for him to find out that he would need to move once again, but then he got a second piece of bad news in the same week: his asylum rejection letter with particularly offensive content and wording:

“Concerning the Reasons for Leaving Your Native Country:

The reasons supplied by you for leaving your native country are not credible. It cannot be established that you had to fear persecution in Afghanistan based on the reasons listed in the Geneva Convention on Refugees or that you are confronted currently with a relevant situation threatening your life or limb.

In connection with the existing information of this office on the general situation in Afghanistan, it could be established beyond a doubt that, in regard to the persecution you claim, flight alternatives within that country’s borders exist which are objectively and subjectively reasonable for you.”


This is pretty clearly some kind of standard form letter – it doesn’t make sense in light of H.’s situation. He is like the DACA kids who came to the States as babies due to other people’s decisions. And just like some politicians in the States with their “one size fits all” solution for those kids, it seems the Austrian government is pursuing a similar policy for the refugees. Automatic rejection in the first round.

The question is why they needed two years to come up with this answer.


(Silent) Home (Horror) Movies


I have been getting some of our VCR tapes digitalized before they start decomposing and/or give up the ghost completely. One of those tapes was home movies from my childhood and I stayed up till about 3 am a few nights ago watching them.

Some of the films were classics – like one of our childhood Christmas shows, my ballet performance with dramatic final pose, or the King of the Raft battles during one of our many summer trips up north. Other films were only vaguely familiar to me – maybe those were the ones that tended to be left out on the occasions when my dad hauled out the projector and turned our living room into a movie theater. As we five kids tossed pillows on the floor and jockeyed for a comfortable spot with a good view, Dad stuck a reel of film on one of the arms of the projector, threaded the tape through the machine and on to the empty receiving reel. The lights were dimmed and then came that clackety-clack sound of the projector in motion, the humming of its fan, the initial ornery and dusty smell of an appliance that has not been used in a while being forced back into deployment.

As the youngest of five kids, I had to sit through a whole lot of scenes starring my elder siblings before I was born. It did not escape me that the number of films (or photographs) of each child was inversely proportional to the order of his/her birth (Child One has the most, Child Five the least.) But, to make up for this disadvantage, I also noticed that, in contrast to the black and white childhood of my brothers and sisters, at least mine was in color!  The films were also all silent, which turned out to be another advantage. We kids were free to talk and comment and reminisce and argue as the images danced in front of and past us. In that way, I was initiated into all the chapters of our family legend that pre-dated my membership.


While watching all these old movies again a few days ago, I started pausing and making screenshots of memorable moments. The resulting pictures turned out to have such an eerie quality to them – I guess because the images had been reincarnated over and over again. From camera to developed film reel, from film to video cassette (Thanks, Mom!), from video cassette to digital video, from digital video to image file . . .

And now . . . some of those images are about to be launched into the internetsphere with a mere click of a “Publish” button. They will blast off in a gazillion different directions, but only very few will eventually collide with physical entity capable of decoding them. Your laptop or computer screen, for instance. (Yes, Reader, I am talking to you!)

So here they are – a few captured specters of the binarily transcribed, inversely imprinted, silent visual reproductions of moments that have become – via this long insane string of coincidences – some of my earliest memories. It really is no wonder that they seem so ghostly!

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Kill ‘em With Kindness


My inner Chicken Whisperer keeps bugging my alter ego, Blackthumb, who loves the winter season hibernation period and the respite from agricultural responsibilities that it provides. Nevertheless, pesky CW wants an update posted on our shared blog about the fact that, for a week or two now, and despite the return of winter weather, we have been getting four (!) eggs a day. Blackthumb thinks big deal! pointing out that they are still the most expensive eggs in the country. CW retorts that such materialistic thinking is exactly what is wrong with this world. These are socially, politically, biologically, environmentally, organically and animal husbandry-ily correct eggs from happy chickens! Blackthumb responds: “Do these chickens look happy to you?!? Look at those soggy feathers! Look at those cold feet!!”

Having photographic evidence, Blackthumb wins the argument.





“I just gave Frau R. (aka ‘Mean Neighbor Lady’) some eggs.”

On hearing this, my daughter laughed out loud and added “Kill ‘em with kindness, hey?”

She is much too smart. (I’m not sure where I went wrong while raising her). What she was referring to was one of our often-retold family stories from her wee childhood . . .

It began when we received a hand-written letter from the elderly man who delivered our newspaper every morning. He was complaining about a flower box in front of our house that is partly in the street. He found it very difficult to drive past. The letter was full of indignation, unnecessary rudeness, and basic spelling mistakes. My husband was irked and wanted to write back, asking him where he got off. I said – what’s the point? This is an old guy who – instead of enjoying his retirement – has to get up at four in the morning to deliver papers – he can’t be in very good shape financially or have a particularly nice life. And he clearly didn’t understand that he was in a position of absolute zero authority. Let’s not pursue a fight. Let’s kill this with kindness.

We ended up writing a really nice letter apologizing for the inconvenience and explaining that the box was there to slow cars down and to stop our young kids from running out of the house straight into the road. We attached the letter to a bottle of wine and left it out for him.

We became his favorite people after that. Our newspaper was lying on the welcome mat each morning as if placed there carefully.




Of course, Mean Neighbor Lady was a much more complicated situation than Newspaper Guy. For the first 10 years or so of our . . . neighborliness . . . she simply scared the crap out of me. She lived way downhill in the valley below us, and yet she was omnipresent. She walked past our house regularly to spy and inspect things. I began to call it the “Daily Disapproval Tour”.

Once she rang the bell. She told me that my Dog One had jumped up on her and torn her apron. She wanted ten dollars from me to replace it. She hadn’t bothered to bring the apron to show me. I paid.

Fifteen years ago, her daughter built a new house for both of them halfway down the hill between us and MNL’s old farmhouse in the valley. Not only did the DDT’s increase in frequency, but the new house was right along the path where I take my daily walk. I kept my dogs on leashes whenever we passed the house. Sometimes I whistled.

MNL once told my daughters that she wouldn’t allow her grandson to play with them in our yard because it was an “Urwald” (= jungle).

She also clearly had a crush on my husband.  Whenever I ran into her, she sometimes grunted at best. But when my husband was there too, she smiled (at him) and engaged in pleasant banter.

So, now Mrs. R. and I have been neighbors for thirty years. And except for the fact that I am a lousy gardener, she has little or no clue about who I am. She seems to know almost nothing about America or even that I come from there. I doubt she knows much at all about English literature, Economics, Business Administration, Maria Montessori, blog writing or Constitutional crises.

But she does know about chickens, so, for the first time, we have something to talk about.


I not only gave her eggs this morning, but I also made an effort to give her five different eggs from five different chickens. She seemed a bit confused, even flustered. Her contorted facial expression was hard to discern, but it was definitely reminiscent of something smile-like. She kind of ran away from me after I handed them over.

Blackthumb may have won the argument on the happiness of my flock this morning, but Chicken Whisperer definitely wins the day.


A Bit Fitter Fitbitter

So . . .  I got my Year Four of blogging off to a bang-up start. Turns out the first post of this year sort of just erupted out of me. And, as with most unpleasant things these past two years, I blame it on the pwesident.
But never fear! Things are looking up! The first post has been redacted and I am calling a Mulligan. A “Do-Over!!” Here, now, is the first true post of the year:


A Bit Fitter Fitbitter

It has been 10 days since my blog’s third birthday and 15 since I vaguely formulated a few resolutions for 2018 that I really had no intention of keeping. So . . . no new leaf has been turned, but, thanks to a Christmas present, there is ever so slight a chance that somewhat healthier living is in my future.

For years, my physical exercise consisted almost exclusively of housework and dog walking. Occasionally, I would concoct some plan to start a fitness regimen, but most of those never really got off the ground. My state of health remained curiously good – with one recurring exception.

Every other year, in the dead of winter, I contract some bizarre malady. Two years ago it was that sudden bursitis in my shoulder that gave me a whole week off from work, not to mention my first experiences with physical therapy (See: “Miss Peevish and the Bruiser”). If I remember right, that was the same year I intended to take up ballet, after joining my sister in her half hour daily routine during our summer visit. One of the first things I did on returning home was to go out and buy appropriate home-ballet attire and some mats. The clothes have since disappeared and the mats spent well over a year in a corner of my library – still sealed in their packaging. But I digress.

Four years ago in the dead of winter, I started getting red itchy bumps or patches on my fingers – usually in the evenings. The red blotches would move from digit to digit and then eventually, all of my fingers swelled up and started aching. I started worrying about arthritis or rheumatism. Four medical examinations later, including one internist and the top guru dermatologist in the province, I found out that I had . . . (drum roll) . . . dry skin. Hand cream solved the problem I think that was the same year I got my e-bike which I have only rarely ridden.

About two years before that, once again in the dead of winter, my right foot swelled up (on the inner side, by the lower big toe joint.) It really hurt badly and I could barely walk. The doctor declared that it was “Gicht”, which, on returning home,  I immediately looked up in my German-English dictionary.  “That can’t be!!” I thought. The only occurrences of “gout” I had ever heard of had all happened in 18th and 19th century novels – and those characters were all old, rich, fat and male. Of those four adjectives, only one came close to describing me – and I am not talking about “fat”. If you do the math, that was around my 50th birthday and also the one and only time in the past three decades I ever considered jogging. My husband made a 6 week plan for me. I got through “Week One, Day One”.

By now a few things should be clear. I am not a jock. (For those of you not familiar with 1970s teenage slang, that means: “I’m not athletic.”) And if the health patterns of the past years hold true, I can expect some gruesome affliction in my immediate future, seeing as how the dead of winter is approaching. I would really like to nip whatever it is going to be in the bud.

When I asked for a Fitbit for Christmas, it was NOT yet another fitness pipedream; it was mostly due to curiosity:  I wanted to know what distance I traverse in a normal morning at school.  I am basically in constant motion from 7 am to 1 pm – walking from room to room, going up and down stairs, doing deskside deep knee bends to help a kid with a question, bending over and touching the floor to pick up dropped papers or pencils, stretching my arms way up to write at the top of the blackboard . . . It can be a physical job, teaching. And sure enough, a morning of work at school and two dog walks gets me quite far along the path toward my supposed daily goal of 10,000 steps. But not all the way . . .

I have to admit, that this dumb rubber wristband has had an effect on me. A few days ago, I asked my husband to print out another jogging plan. I also finally unpacked the ballet mats, hung up the ballet routine, and did it.

Today I took the long dog walk route – not just around the cornfield but through the woods and past the spa. I haven’t done that in 15 years. And just as I was coming out of the woods in the final stretch toward home, I checked the boss:



I admit, I am feeling pretty good about myself. With a bit of determination, I should be able to wear my favorite jeans again soon.  And, fingers crossed, I won’t be writing anytime soon about my consumption or dropsy.

Sh**thole American


Although I sometimes feel like one, I should explain upfront that the title of this blog post does not refer to me personally . . . .

. . . yet.


As the mother of two African children who became proud American citizens just six months ago today, I scream out to that whole continent:

“I am sorry!”


To the one Haitian American I know, a wonderful woman named Nancy, who just happens to be a judge in my hometown now and who invited us to watch an incredibly moving naturalization ceremony (an experience I consider a privilege to have had to  this day), I yell out:

“I am sorry!”


I am ashamed of our president.

It remains to be seen if I become ashamed of my country.

2017 in the Rear-view Mirror

I’m not sure I ever confessed this before, but I am one of those people who writes a year-in-review Christmas letter and mails it off to about 50 different people strewn across the globe.  Theoretically, I assume that none of the recipients groans on receiving it – though I can’t be entirely sure about that. I do get the sporadic positive feedback. The best part is that each year one or two of the readers are inspired to respond in kind. I get all sorts of news and pictures and updates from people I haven’t heard from in way too long.  That, alone, makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

A second perk of this year’s efforts was that – once I was done – I had to admit that 2017 did NOT suck as much as I had thought it would at the start. It was not all exhausting postandpresenttrumptraumamalaise after all! There were wonderful travels and reunions and moments in teaching. There were new (learning) experiences and moments of parental vicarious glory while listening to my children sing or perform.  My (originally African) daughters became dual citizens of Europe and the USA.  I rediscovered ice cubes and developed a taste for cooking. I got a boat named after me! . . .

Ok, ok, in that last one I am fudging a bit. It is not a yacht or anything. It’s a tiny remote-controlled bait boat. And it wasn’t actually my husband’s idea to name it after me, but his fishing buddy’s. And he only used it once before it broke down. But, still – I got a boat named after me! How many people out there can say that??

 . . . What else? . . . I hoed a hedgehog! I protested! I became a Chicken Whisperer! And right at the end of 2017, I discovered yet another new hobby.

It began at a Christmas market that I went to with my husband and my dear friend Lyart who was visiting. We stopped at a stand full of lovely, handmade birdhouses and Ly immediately bought us one.  A few mulled wines later, my husband disappeared and returned with a second, bigger birdhouse. In the following days, I excitedly purchased all sorts of birdfeed and then pressured the hubby to put up/hang up the houses in our yard. We filled them with seeds and then withdrew back into the house to watch.


The birds started arriving almost immediately. Mostly little white and blue ones. “What are those?” I asked my husband and he informed me that they were “Kohlmeise”. I looked that name up and found out that, unfortunately, these birds are called “great tits” in English. Then another bird appeared and caused a lot of excitement. “What is it?” I asked. My husband replied that it was a “Specht”. I google-translated that name and the word “pecker” popped up on my screen. I didn’t like where this was going . . .



I’m not sure I ever confessed this before, but I am something of a prude. I don’t run around the house in my underwear. I DO advise my teenage daughters to take their time and not rush into serious relationships. I don’t get racy jokes. I don’t use swearwords or “dirty” words and rarely hear them in my own household.

. . . What can I say? I still fully intend to continue this new hobby of bird-watching (though, I don’t intend on talking about it much). I’m hoping it will help me cope with whatever 2018 brings, the way chicken keeping did in 2017.

And speaking of 2018 – I’ll take this chance to wish all of you out there reading this a

Very Happy New Year!


Other People’s Secrets


For the first two and a half years of bloglife, I was skipping along . . . riding a wave . . . whistling my way down Easy Street. Meeting my self-imposed, randomly chosen goal of posting three times a week turned out to be no prob. Ideas arose, ran down from my brain through my nervous system to fingertips on a laptop keyboard and then on to the WordPress Dashboard and then out into the ether. I had no qualms about publishing my own personal stuff for the world to see (albeit when I say “the world” here, I am talking about a total of zero to 20 readers). Surprisingly, the husband and daughters were also okay with me telling their stories from time to time – possibly as a way to make up for not being part of my blog’s reading audience. Having a job in the real world that I loved and no ambition to see my name on a book jacket helped me to concentrate on the fun factor. It propelled me along hummingly in my hobby.

Something changed.

It is now fall, which has always been my undisputed favorite season. It reminds me of my childhood excitement for the first day of school and how I always laid out my carefully chosen outfit the night before, next to my beautiful new school supplies in an un-customarily neat room. Fall reminds me of later pleasant backaches induced by hours of stacking firewood or gathering chestnuts to roast and then not eat because they don’t really taste good, but still somehow manage to seem romantic. Fall is the time when everything begins anew even as it is changing into glorious colors shortly before dying.

This fall has been different. It seems to be ALL about endings and few foreseeable beginnings. As I navigate my way through a successful start of the school year with my three new English groups, I can’t ignore the world around them disintegrating. My beloved school is in deep trouble on the parental level. Some new personal conflict arises among them every week, spreading quickly through the social network and ultimately to the kids in the classroom. Our sociocratic experiment has hit a rough patch. Something tells me the path to resolution will be a long and disruptive one. I assume the school will continue on for the next four years – my last four before retirement. But I am preparing myself anyway for eventuality that it won’t.

At the same time, in the other half of my professional life, I am also realizing that the end is nigh. The stream of students into Business or Economics majors at the university has been drying up because, on graduating, too many of them find they are over-educated for the jobs most companies want to fill these days. (They want lower level staff and techies.) With fewer and fewer students enrolling, my GDE course tailored to them is also shrinking out of existence. This is officially my 30th year teaching this course, but I think it will be the last.

Then there is my expatriate life and morbid fascination in the quagmire American politics has become. Unfortunately the daily twumpian absurdities combined with the sheer distance between me and my ability to affect anything there are leading me to detach.

And my more immediate private life? It has revolved completely around – been infiltrated and consumed by – Other People’s Business.


In this autumn of endings, day after day, week after week, my thoughts have been chock full of events and concerns and news and ideas and developments and amateur psychology sessions – none of which are technically my own and none suitable for blogging.


So, once again, I will write about chickens.

They also incessantly squawk and squabble and peck at one another and make everything a mess. But they are chickens. So it kind of suits them. And night after night, they all waddle into the coop together where a few sorry ones on the lower bar get pooped on by others who managed to get a better perch higher up.  I suppose it is still better than being outdoors at night and risking being eaten up by a weasel or a fox.

After that glorious first egg my alter-ego, Blackthumb, told you about, a second one was found – lying on the grass and broken. After a closer look around, we discovered a pile of destroyed egg shells – maybe four or five of them. One of our chickens was breaking and eating the eggs (of another one, I assume). As for the layer of the destroyed eggs, I suspect the Sulmtaler (“Trump”). Despite being the same breed as our rooster, he doesn’t give her the time of day. She spends the day waddle-darting from here to there, acting all nervous and confused (not to mention looking silly with that awful hairstyle). As for the Egg Killer, I immediately suspected the Swedish Flower Bully. She then further incriminated herself by beginning to lay one egg a day in the quarantine coop. A half dozen so far. Thanks to this whole episode, she finally has a name: we call her Darwin.


Tomorrow her six eggs will be fried or scrambled and eaten along with some bacon and buttered toast. I will do my best to find them distasteful.