Monthly Archives: February 2010

Careful what you wish for…

I’m having that inevitable realization that things are not always what you expect them to be. Maybe I’m just a lot stupider than I thought, and real life is catching up to me.

Anyway, the realization is that ever since I came back from Italy, where I spent six wonderful months learning Italian, making life-long friends (and meeting my boyfriend), learning to love cooking and walking and relaxing, I’ve been fixated on going back to Europe. Somehow, I think I thought it was this magical land where life was simpler and problems just worked themselves out naturally. And that’s not the case. (Of course.)

All the circumstances are different—I’m working now, so I have actual obligations and duties, and it’s hard to meet people in a new city when you’re not in class with them. But still, none of this occurred to me before I left the US. I think I just thought, “Oh, yes, I’ll learn German in a flash, make friends, do three months, have a nice time, be closer to my boyfriend, and that will be life.” But in real life, I’m stressed, I don’t know how to meet people, and German is not a language you “just pick up.” It’s going to take real time and investment. Tiny disturbances in the day’s events have completely outsized effects on my mood. I started crying in the cell phone store when they told me they didn’t know how to recharge my internet! Absolutely ridiculous. I think the real problem is that I keep feeling pulled towards the Europe I have in my imagination—with my friends in Perugia, or with Simon in Lund—or that I’m still convinced that if I can just figure out the trick, I can somehow “recreate” those scenarios.

So for now, I’m trying to get used to it here. On the plus side, I feel like my job is a good stepping stone towards other things sometime in the future, so that’s a positive tie that’s keeping me here. And then hopefully my heart will catch up to my head, and things will be back in order.

Of Grocery Stores, and so on.

Two Grocery Store Stories:

I decided to try to cut some corners on my groceries and shop at the Penny Markt just around the corner. The bananas are fine, but the package of “turkey” that I bought looks, smells, and tastes like baloney from the third grade. Thoroughly unacceptable, even in the 90′s. The only time I was even exposed to such disgusting lunchmeat was at a friend’s house. Penny Markt fail. I expect to start vomiting any second now.

However, I recently ventured into the tiny shop next to my building, and it’s awesome! It is full of Asian food of every kind: sauces, noodles, beans, grains, etc! And I bought a frying pan, finally, for only 5 euros. Although no can opener. I have since transferred the cooked onions to a tupperware and I’m considering it a “curry base” for when I can finally complete the project. Today I’m going to Mariahilfestrasse to try to find one. What a quest.

And last, an interesting quotation from The Atlantic:

“In Identity Economics, the economists George Akerloff and Rachel Kranton find that… men who aren’t working at all, despite their free time, do only 37 percent of the housework, on average. And some men, apparently in an effort to guard their masculinity, actually do less housework after becoming unemployed.”

From “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” by Don Peck, March 2010

Strange to think that that would be true, but I have to read the article now to find out.

Major kitchen fail… and a translation

Last night was a major life fail of epic proportions. I bought more credit for my internet (I connect through a USB connection thing, so I have to pay-as-I-go), but I can’t seem to figure out how to load the credit I bought at the store.

And I was so tired last night during German class–I’ve been having trouble sleeping for some strange reason. So I was seriously tired during German class and I was trying to psych myself up for making chickpea curry because I had bought the ingredients already and wanted it for lunch today. Get home, start cooking, get halfway through, then realize all my chickpeas are in a can that requires a can-opener and I have no can-opener. So at 10:30, I put a lid on the pot, pushed it to the back of the stove, and made myself a salad.

This morning, I went to two different grocery stores before work–no can openers. Hopeless.

But on the plus side…

It’s starting to get sunny here, and it feels like a totally different city. I am starting to understand why the Hapsburgs put the seat of their empire right here rather than anywhere else. Everything is more beautiful, and even the prickly Austrians are getting nicer. (More on Austrians later). And very cool for me, an Italian giornalista went to Saudi Arabia to write an article for La Repubblica and got in touch with my boss before going to see if she could offer any help or put her in touch with any contacts to interview. My boss helped her out, and so we got permission to reproduce her article on her website, which was written in… Italian. Woohoo! I got to translate it, and now it’s posted on the website. 

Full disclosure: I totally had my mom check my work once I was done to make sure that I had done it right.

From Lingerie to Business Deals: Saudi Women Rebel

Reproduced courtesy of Francesca Caferri
La Repubblica, 16 Feb. 2010

RIYADH—In the offices of the financial group Al Dukheil the only man who isn’t listening to Khlood Al Dukheil is Abdul Karim, an older man in charge of preparing tea and coffee. “He has seen me playing here,” she says, “And he will always treat me like a little girl.” Abdul Karim is a special case here: the rest of the employees listen and follow orders when Khlood speaks. Even though her office is in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative countries in the world, a woman at the head of a company is a rarity. Here, women are forbidden to show themselves in public without an abaya (the long black robe that covers her from head to toe) and veil, to sit with a man who is not a member of her family, and to drive. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to prohibit women from driving. “When I came back from the United States,” explains Al Dukheil, “Managers like me were few and far between—but not anymore.”

Khlood is the avant-garde of a constantly-growing group: that of Saudi women who are breaking into the private sector, challenging the rules that have relegated them to the margins of society for years.
The movement is diverse and wide-ranging: from business women like her, to students of the first coeducational university, to women who are boycotting shopping to protest the fact that women can’t work in lingerie stores. Clients must discuss their bras and underwear with male shopkeepers. “It’s a provocation, a taunt,” explains Reem Asaad, Professor of Economics and the organizer of the protest. “And there’s much more: we are claiming a new role in society, demanding more rights. We are tired of waiting. Things move slowly, but we are impatient.”

And yet, since the beginning of King Abdullah’s reign in 2005, things have been changing for Saudi women like never before: the king has opened government offices, allowing access to jobs that were until lately unthinkable, and granting scholarships to a growing number of female students to study overseas. A year ago, Nuor al Faiz became the first woman vice-minister, and seven women were chosen as councilors in the Shura, the advisory body to the King.

Small revolutions in a very conservative country: however, for many, these changes are not enough. “Things are not different from 30-40 years ago,” says Wajeha al Huwaidar, a well-known activist in the Kingdom. “The women at the top are there because their husbands or fathers allowed them to be there. The law hasn’t changed: we still need permission from our fathers or our husbands to work or to leave the country. And there are still so many obstacles.” Khlood agrees: of her 300 employees, only three are women. It’s difficult to employ more until social norms change: “Today, every female employee has to work in a separate office from the men. They need drivers to bring them to work. And you could lose them in an instant if the husband or the father takes back his permission. You can’t race with a broken car: the car must be fixed first.”

These changes require time, says Banadar Al Aiban, President of the Human Rights Commission, the king’s appointee to that post. “The changes can’t be traumatic. Progress must be gradual: this is the only way to avoid tensions.” Al Aiban doesn’t say it specifically, but when he speaks of “tensions” he is referring to the state-sponsored Wahhabi religion. It is upon the alliance with the religious conservatives that the Saud Dynasty has established the foundations of its power. This is a link from which it cannot extract itself and that some of the overtures of King Abdullah are putting to the test. “Allah didn’t want to overwhelm women with too many roles,” explains one of the most prominent Wahhabi spokesmen, Sheik Abdulaziz Bin Saleh al-Fawzan, when asked about his position regarding women’s rights. “In Islam, men and women don’t compete, they complete each other: the wife is charged with taking care of the household, and the husband with providing for her.”

That’s a vision that seems at odds with today’s world: “It’s no longer an issue of being bored or being able to afford luxuries,” explains Hala al-Hoshan of Al Nahda, the oldest NGO in the country. “It’s that the economy requires women to change their role: families can no longer survive on only one income.” At Al Nahda, the top priority today is career training for young adults: they offer telemarketing training courses and programs for becoming an IT professional to offer technical support to people with computer problems. These programs received additional funding from the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation. “Change is happening; it’s just slower than what we would lik
e,” says Al-Hoshan. Dr. Maha al-Munefaa, physician and advisor to the Shura, is also convinced. “There are two forces in action: one that works from above and one that works from below. The one that works from above is the King. The one that works from below are the women who are studying, the Internet, and satellite television.” Maha is already a pioneer in her field: in the hospital, she works side by side with men and women, a situation that would be unthinkable in other places. She also walks through the streets around the hospital without an abaya, protected only by her white labcoat. This is a freedom that increasingly more women, according to newspapers, want to taste—to the point of pretending to be nurses in order to do so.


Welcome to my hoooome

This post is dedicated Brenda Dickson’s classic “Welcome To My Home” video.

This is my table, where–thanks to German class–I eat dinner at 10:00 pm.

My specialty: whatever fruits and vegetables are in the fridge + whatever grains or carbohydrates can be found on the shelves.

I am growing Ikea basil in a plastic cup. I have always wanted to grow my own herbs but have never had the chance to do it, and then I almost ruined these by starting them off with too much water! (I was off by a factor of 10… damn Metric system).

Look at those cute little holes in between the leaves! I think they are like baby’s heads when they are born, which have to keep growing for a little while in their infancy.

Breakfast on a Saturday morning.

Stew granola with fruit in milk for maximum deliciousness.


(That is Austrian for bon appetit).

Life Epiphany

I had a very nice weekend, and the sun was actually shining on Sunday, and it felt like a whole new city! I took a three hour walk around my district and into the center and back so I have lots of fun pictures to post but not this second.

I had this strange life epiphany on Saturday. I woke up and was pretty tired from staying up late Friday (not really doing anything—just watching Julie and Julia and skyping the fam), but all of a sudden it hit me that I really lived in Vienna and I really had a job and that I had actually moved to Europe. I think all this time I had been operating under the assumption that this was probably temporary. That the internship was only going to last three months and then I would go back to DC and teach English again or maybe go to Sweden if my visa came through, which seemed unlikely to happen quickly in January when I left. But it really hit me: I am staying here in this city for more than a year, and this is my real grown-up life and not study abroad or summer camp or just a vacation. I am here, for real. So weird!

I’ve been so used to moving from one place to another for the last year and a half or so that it’s actually kind of a strange feeling to know that I’m actually going to settle into a place. Before this, it was Italy—4 months in one apartment, 2 in another, Davidson—Hillside for 5 months, River Run for 5 months, graduation—home for a month, Sweden for two months, DC for 5 months… but now I’m here.

So that was my major life epiphany—maybe it should have been more obvious to me, but it wasn’t. And now I live in Europe. And I work as a researcher (or a program manager, if you believe my business card that I will be getting this week!) and I have to learn German because I live here. Ay yi yi!

That was the other corollary of my epiphany: I have to be serious about learning German as well as I can and as quickly because I can’t just live in a bubble. I have to be engaged with the world around me, and also I have to make some friends because otherwise I will be miserable. So part one of settling down is Operation Learn German and part two is Operation Seek and Make Friends.

News of the Weird

Brothel owners in the Lugano area say electric shock treatment to restart customer’s hearts is needed because so many elderly customers are using their services.

This is so strange, but then I had a flash of understanding:

There are now 38 sex clubs and brothel in the Lugano area. And more are planned, according to Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, in order to accommodate the thousands of customers who pour over the border from Italy, where brothels are illegal. Around 80 per cent of the men who pay for sex in the area are thought to be Italian.

Uh, ok. Isn’t Switzerland also having some sort of booming death tourism, too?
Anyway, besides sex and death, things are just great. Last night, I learned a WHOLE NEW CASE, the akkusativ. So now I can say “I eat a sandwich” correctly. Clearly a very important objective. I can’t wait to learn the past tense so I stop sounding like an ogre. I eat sandwich. I cook food. I buy many things today at the grocery store. I want go to München. Ogre ogre ogress. 
So, yes. No more updates until next week, but over the weekend I will finally return some emails that have been looking at me, balefully, from their increasingly-lower positions in my inbox. Tschuss!

Me + My Radiator: BFFs 4 Life

“Why my apartment is cold.”

An essay in four pictures and some captions.

This is my radiator. It sits in the corner of my living room. I have two big windows on the other side of the room. Sometimes, I can feel a temperature shift from one side of the room to the other.

This is how I turn on my radiator at night when I come home from work. I swing open that panel and manually light the gas.

It’s a little like having a gas grill. I first put on the gas and try to light it by pushing in and sharply to the left until it hits that little lighting sign. Sometimes it refuses to light, so I have to go into the kitchen and then come back again later to try again. It’s like trying to sneak up on it or pretend that I haven’t already asked.

I know that I’ve succeeded when I see that little blue light deep within the radiator’s recesses. That light is the gas burning.

When I first moved to this apartment, I would only turn on the heat between coming home and going to bed and then again in the morning between waking up and leaving for work because actually being able to see the gas burning made me feel very guilty about the environment.

This arrangement was very cold, however, and fortunately I have gotten over it. Now I heat the apartment in between coming home from work and leaving again in the morning, although I do turn it down at night when I am sleeping.

One funny story relating to the radiator:

Even now when I keep the heat on at night, it’s pretty cold when I wake up in the morning, so I usually put my clothes on the radiator right before I put them on so that they are nice and warm and immediately combat the chilling effects of being temporarily, how do I say this, naked. This feels so good. (I love heat.)

On my second day of doing this, I was wearing jeans to work, so I put all my clothes on the radiator and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Then I came back and started getting dressed for the day.

Does anyone know how much metal is in jeans? Because it is everywhere.

It burned, a lot, and in places where you wouldn’t expect. At first it was the button on the waistband and so I just stopped trying to button my pants and jumped around screaming a little, but it was also the tiny little tacks that fasten the back pockets to the jeans. And then this particular pair had decorative buttons over the back pockets. So, extra metal. I jumped around for a while in great pain, but fortunately I think I escaped lasting damage. It’s really awkward to be by yourself and to try to look at your butt in a full length mirror—there’s lots of neck-craning involved, and there was more than a hint of fear in my mind. What if I had accidentally branded myself in Vienna?

Happy Valentinstag!

Also, I know I’m posting this a little late, but Happy (belated) Valentinstag! (Valentine’s Day)
Definitely not a big deal here, but my boo got me chocolate, so I was very happy. And it was delicious.
I took a bite out of it before I thought of taking a picture… oops.  
Also, if anyone comes to visit me in Vienna (or when, in some cases), we can go to the Demel chocolate store where he got this rose-heart-chocolate and look at the window displays. They have these fabulous window displays that change with the seasons to reflect the time of year, Vienna events, and so on. It’s a little like Marshall Fields at Christmas, but all year round and made of chocolate and marzipan. Yummmmmmmm.

I'm legal!

Today, I went and registered at the local magistrate and now I am legal! Before, I was not. This is a very comforting development.
I had heard some horror stories about the Austrian bureaucracy, but I was actually very surprised at the character of the civil servants. You know, when you go to the DMV or the Secretary of State’s office to get your license renewed, the people there don’t seem to care at all about their jobs, about you, efficiency, promptness, whatever, but they have to at least pretend like they’re doing something. In Austria, not so much. The people who process you are behind closed doors, and you have to wait outside in a hallway, where you take a number like at the meat case in the grocery store and wait. The strange thing is that there was always about a five minute delay between a successful petitioner’s emergence and the appearance of a new number on the board above the door. I mean, what are they doing? You can’t give them dirty looks or tap your foot either, because they’re behind closed doors. Very interesting.
When I finally got in, there were three desks with three women behind them in a room decorated like a middle-school locker. There were three black-and-white posters on the walls with David Beckham with his shirt off, Johnny Depp with long hair and a hat, and a third guy I didn’t recognize. Then there were three bulletin boards with each woman’s personal photos… not where she could see them, but where I could see them. Behind her. Strange. And then there were two women working and one woman filing her nails. 
Anyway, civil servants are guaranteed employment for life so you can’t fault them for their behavior, but it was very interesting all the same.

So sad story

Right now, I’m working on assembling a packet of brief bios for women who will be coming to a conference that we’re hosting, which has been extremely annoying and frustrating for various reasons. But I just read about this woman who will be coming here for the conference, and this portrait of her was so moving, I thought I would share it here:

Robi Damelin (Israel)
In March 2002 Robi Damelin’s son, David, was shot by a sniper while serving in the Israeli army. He was 28 years old. Robi now works for The Parents’ Circle, a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families supporting reconciliation and peace.
When I was told that David had been killed, the first words that came out of my mouth were, “Do not take revenge in the name of my son.” It was totally instinctive.
David had phoned me just the day before. “I want you to know that I’ve done everything in my power to protect this road block, but I’m like a sitting duck,” he said. Afterwards I had a strange feeling and set about cleaning the house. I’m terrible at housework, but that day I worked like a maniac.
David was the most humanistic person you could meet. At the time he was working with the Peace Corps and doing a masters in the Philosophy of Education. He was killed because he was a symbol of an occupying army.
He’d already done National Service, which had been deeply problematic for him. He would rather have gone to jail than serve, but he knew that as soon as he was released they’d only post him somewhere else. So in the end we both agreed it would be better to serve as an officer and set an example by behaving like a human being. When in 2002 he was called up to the reserves we had the same conversation, and once again David decided to go in order to set an example.
After he was killed I was beside myself with grief; friends from all over Israel arrived with food and drink and other little expressions of love. One of the soldiers who had survived the attack also came. He was afraid I’d judge him for not running out to help David. I told him, ‘who do you think I am to judge a man for not going out and getting himself killed?’ Because I ran a PR office in Tel Aviv at the time, journalists wanted to interview me. In retrospect, I can’t believe I spoke out so strongly so early on – telling the Israelis to get out of the occupied territories.
The Parents’ Circle noticed what I was doing and its founder, Yitzhak Frankenthal, whose son was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in 1994, called me. The organisation soon became my lifeline. I now spend my time travelling the world, spreading the message of reconciliation, tolerance and peace. The pain of David’s death never goes away, but what do you do with this pain? Do you invest it in revenge or do you think creatively?
Ten months after David died I met Nadjwa Saada, a Palestinian woman who had recently lost her daughter. A soldier had mistaken their car for the car of a terrorist and shot the 12-year-old girl dead. As I walked into the crowded room I recognised Nadjwa because bereaved mothers know each other instinctively. Shared pain creates an intimacy.
I think of David all the time. We were such great friends and had so much in common. Every week I visit the place where he’s buried with my other son, Eran. The parents there make beautiful gardens around the graves. I see it as a continuation of motherhood; the enduring need to tend to your child.
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