Monday, November 30, 2009

Asylum Story

Some friends of ours are "sponsors" for a young man from Afghanistan who fled his homeland and landed in Austria. I'll call him A. Yesterday over brunch, I got an update on A. and his struggle for Austrian personhood.

A doesn't know his age: though his papers say he is 23, he's probably more like 28-29. Back in Afghanistan, someone known to him killed A's brother. As is the custom there, A could have taken what the Austrians call "blut rache" (blood revenge) and rightfully killed his brother's killer. Naturally the killer knew this, and in what may be a logical progression in Afghanistan, the killer therefore swore that he would also murder A before A could kill him.

A left Afghanistan.

Austria may be less violent than Afghanistan, but of course it isn't just peachy for people like A. After eight years here and many meetings with the immigration authorities, A has the legal right to stay in Vienna and even work (!) here. But he'll have to wait another seven years before he can become an Austrian citizen.

And even though he's got a work permit, A still has that refugee head. He doesn't really know that he has some of the same protections that other Austrian workers have. So at his last few jobs, A's bosses have paid him under-the-table, sub-standard wages.

The other day, our friends took A to his local trade union. The man they met with there listened to A's story, looked at his papers, then turned to A and said, "Comrade, why do you let these bosses treat you this way?"

Socialism 1, Assholes 0.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nowe Be Thankeful

I am thankful to Otis Redding, for writing "(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay," and for singing it.

I am thankful that I have a job and that we have enough to eat. I would appreciate more time to take hot baths by myself, but hey, two out of three is not bad.

I am thankful for my family: my mother, my father, my brothers, my wife and my daughters. They drive me nuts sometimes, so I'm sure they feel the same way about me. But I am so happy we are together. A family really is forever.

I am thankful to Vorarlberg, because it gave me a great Opa (Grandpa), and wonderful stinky cheese and our dear friend Katharina and especially my darling Anette.

I give thanks to Ethiopia, for Mulatu Asteque, injira bread, and our lovely rosa Fee, Adinah.

I thank Nigeria for Fela Kuti and Afro-Beat music, and Vienna, for a young mother named M, and both of these places, because they made our sweetest little disco dancer, V.

I am grateful for bad movies and good art.

I am so happy that our friends and family are safe, and (relatively) untouched by war, sickness and poverty.

I am thankful for my third Oma, Resi Baldauf.

I am thankful for foster parents and children, adoptive parents and adopted children everywhere. They have a lot to tell us. Angelina, please stop.

I am thankful for high and lo humor, belly laffs, pratfalls, and ironic, knowing winks.

I am indebted to all of my teachers--sacred, profane, wise and drunk.

I am thankful for all of this wonderful food. Let's eat.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Her First Report Card

**** = Super
*** = Good
** = Fair
* = Unsatisfactory

When I got home from work the other night, Adinah was breathlessly pressing it into my hands before I could sit down. 'Look what I got today in school--it shows all these things about me.' My German being what it is, it took me a few extra moments to realize that these were her first grades.

The biggest surprise was that her teacher did not rate Adinah ****Super in every category. The second biggest surprise was the way that this hurt my feelings, and troubled me.

After dinner, Adinah and I looked at it more carefully. Her teacher, Daniela, had given her a number of **Fair marks, but the one I was most certain I understood was next to the sentence, "I listen to teacher and her instructions." After a few minutes of review, Adinah shrugged and said, "I'm just not so good at school."

* * *

I guess (almost) every parent thinks their kid is the most amazing person who ever lived. Besides their other kids. But it's different in our case: our kids really are the most amazing people ever. And I've never thought of Adinah as anything less than super-smart, socially adept and kind.

So it's a little weird that someone who's known her for less than three months is now telling us who she is and what she cannot do. It's even weirder that I have, over the last few days, caught myself taking Teacher's word for it, thinking, 'Maybe Deanie has some sort of problem?'

What the fuck is that?

But most troubling of all is that Deanie herself seems to so casually accept what Teacher says, seems to think that this must mean that's she's sub-par.

Or not. Maybe he kid's breezy attitude means that as a person, she's learning to accept the idea that she can't do Everything.

But is that a lesson she needs to be taught with a few sad stars at the age of six?!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

8:55 p.m.

Dead again.

It's not the back-aches and physical demands of parenthood which exhaust me. It's the hour-after-hour of answering EVERY question, starting to fulfill one request only to be interrupted by a second, occasionally conflicting one, and then of course, while doing this stuff, also making sure to pull the kids out of the path of oncoming streetcars. That's what slays me.

I never learn. At 2 p.m., I'm always excited, thinking, 'Tonight's gonna be great--I'll knock out a blog post, surf the weirdest MP3 sites, finish that cool photo project, then build my punk rok website!' And at 8 p.m., as the kids finally lay smoldering under their comforters, I sit back on the brown couch and do not want to do Anything--including mindless surfing or calling one of the dear friends I miss the most back in the US of A. Even watching an episode of Deadwood seems too tall an order.

But last night, I staggered onto a number 5 train, then somehow perambulated my lifeless corpse into the Prater fairground. Otherwise known as the Wurstel Prater (Sausage Park), it was shrouded in fog, and about sixty percent shut down for the winter season. My favorite arcade is open for a few more weeks, though, and once I got there, I gawped to see there were already people playing Theatre of Magic, Invaders from Mars, and Monster Bash. So I made an unorthodox choice. The late classic Williams machine left unoccupied was Medieval Madness--that would have been the professional player's choice. Instead, I bellied up to Scared Stiff (also known as the second Elvira machine.) And I Liked it.

Pinball, of all things, remains one of the simple electro-magnetic pleasures that will almost always make me feel better. Even put a grin on my face. Tonight, as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, made "jokes" about Deadheads and oral sex, I--well--I laffed.

What is it about the recorded voice of a buxotic goth girl former horror movie host, making vaguely lewd wisecracks from within the guts of an obsolete console of blinking lights and metal switches that just tickles the adolescent in me? Even our most highly paid scientists may never know.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not Sick Again

Oww. That hurt a little bit. Two days out of commission, including about eight hours where my head felt like a cinder block, and four where I didn't even want to think about food for fear of making like Linda Blair. "Yerrr mother sucks c----Wuuugh, urrghhh--chunk-chunk-chunk!"

Wasn't swine flu, methinks. But then again, I got my degree in veterinary medicine, so your human science is strange and frightening to me.......

I'm lucky to have a family that just stands back--several yards--from papa when he's sick. They just let me roll around on the ground grunting and moaning for a few days, let me get some sleep, don't call me too many unkind names, then welcome me back gladly when I'm less viral. I don't have any fancy get well plan: when a bug comes calling, I just sleep on it. And sleep. And sleep. But it's strange to be down for thirty hours, then emerge back onto the street, blinking, in the sunlight. I take my good health for granted so much that being sick feels like being high.

That said, things are getting weird around here. At work, they don't want us washing our dishes ourselves, just want us to put them straight into the dishwasher in the staff kitchen. Public schools are closing down because so many kids are knocked out with pig fever. Everybody thinking, 'Is this the big one?'

Not me though. I think it's all a hoax. Now Ima gonna go see 2012. I love those movies where the Earth dies screaming.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reasons to be Bad

1) "People respect the Bad."

2) "Nobody ever listens to me."

3) "I'm bored."

4) "I'm mad at Mama because she's never there for me."

5) "I'm mad at Papa because when I try to do something grown-up, he treats me like a kid, and then when I want to be a kid, he expects me to act grown-up."

6) "I'm mad."

7) "I'm an exceptionally well-paid underworld mastermind and douche-lord."

8) "People look at me when I'm bad."

9) "It's better to be feared than to be loved."

10) "I tried being 'me' and nobody understood that."

11) "All I wanted was a Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me!"

12) "I don't like Mondays."

13) "I don't like you."

14) "I'm Bad because my brother is Good."

15) "I feel bad."

16) "Someone hurt me--maybe it's my fault."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

out of the frying pan...

Anette and I went to see the film Wüstenblume (Desert Flower) the other night. Wüstenblume tells some of the story of the Somali supermodel and human rights spokesperson Waris Dirie. Dirie, like many Somali women yesterday and today, was a child victim of genital mutilation. She fled her desert home, on foot, the night before she was to be forcibly wed to an old man. She was 13. She was lucky to survive the trek through the desert, and according to the film, when Dirie finally arrived at a road and flagged down a truck, the driver tried to rape her.

That sort of an ordeal would kill most humans, but for Dirie, things really got weird when she left Somalia. She made it to London, where she worked for a time in the Somali embassy, then she ended up homeless. Somehow she got a job in a burger joint, where she--presto!--was discovered by a famous photographer and became--chango!--a supermodel. One of Wüstenblume problems is its failure to make anything of the irony of Dirie's escape from an oppressed life in Somalia to an equally oppressive (and sick) world politely known as the "fashion industry." But I'm saving that rant for another post.

The African scenes of the film--well-acted and beautifully shot--were almost too difficult for me to watch, because I couldn't look at the screen without thinking of V. and especially Adinah. From what I know, genital mutilation is not widely practiced in Ethiopia, though it does border Somalia. But many girls in the Ethiopian countryside are married off, by the age of 6 or 7, to a boy they may think is just a playmate. As I watched the film, and especially as Anette and I walked home afterward--feeling like we'd been kicked in the teeth--I thought once again that when our girls get old enough to understand a film like Wüstenblume, we're going to have some explaining to do. Life in Africa is so different from our everyday, and the "Africa" one sees in films, TV and other media is so distorted and filtered. How will we be able to express our view of Africa to Adinah? Will she understand that despite its problems, Ethiopia is an amazing place?

Or will she think, 'Thank god Mama and Papa got me out of there?'

Or is it okay for her to think that (a little) once she understands the larger truth that we never meant to save a child? We're not hoping to win one for Western Civilization. We wanted a child. And we thought going to Ethiopia was a good way to find her.

Worse than these thoughts was the feeling I got watching the scenes of the teenage Dirie fleeing her home alone, or the scene where the three-year-old Dirie is genitally "cut." Since we became parents, movies which depict the harm or neglect of a child have become even more difficult viewing for me. I can't process this. How could a parent knowingly harm a child?

Maybe that's why I can't believe that Adinah and V.'s first parents felt any differently. Both of our daughters knew tragedy before we met them. But I feel sure that their birth parents did everything they could for their girls. I'm certain they tried to save their own children. But they couldn't.

Maybe I have to feel this way about the parents before us. I look at our kids and I think, 'They're so beautiful--how could anyone not cherish them?'

Thursday, November 5, 2009

the cure for all what ails you

Texas Guacamole:
1) Find six Haas avocados (yo, those are the dark, dark green bumpy ones, NOT the lighter green, smooth-skinned ones, which suck.)

2) Cut them all in half, and use a large spoon to scoop the avocado out of it’s skin. Put the seeds aside--actually they’re more like stones.

3) Put all the avocados in a bowl and smash them.

4) Add diced garlic (one or two medium sized cloves); salt; white pepper if you have it, regular black if you don’t; and either lemon or lime juice.

5) Smash and stir until smooth, or leave it chunky—I don’t care.

6) Adjust seasonings to your taste.

7) Break out the tortilla chips.

8) Serves 2-3.

9) If you do not finish the guacamole in one sitting—you will, but just in case--put the seeds back into the bowl of guac, then put the whole thing into the fridge. The seeds will keep the guac fresh a little longer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All Saints Day

We took the overnight train out to see Opa this weekend. He's doing well. He cooks for himself and does the laundry now. He does everything of course. He has to. Anette even went farther and said she thinks that now that Oma is gone, Opa wanted to demonstrate to all of the family this weekend that he can take care of himself. Maybe then people will leave him alone.

It's easy to believe that an old man who was married to his wife for more than fifty years must be lost without her. It must be tempting to try to take care of him. But aside from a little assistance with things here and there, I wouldn't want to be managed like that. And as I watched Josef this weekend--baking bread and fixing small things things around the house--he looked like a grown-ass man who can manage just fine, thank you.

Of course it must be disorienting, and lonely, to be without your woman, after half a century together.

But another part of me thinks Anette's father has begun a new life. He might be 82, but that doesn't mean he can't learn a few new tricks. Maybe he even enjoys making his own rules, having a place of his own and the time to think about himself and his life.

Mind you, if I think about my own future, I'd prefer to just stay with Anette forever.