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Dec. 2nd, 2016

(no subject)

We won the Biedermeier competition! We are the greatest! :-) We get a night in a posh hotel in Vienna plsu breakfast. Alas, only for two people, so now we must duke it out between us to decide who gets to share the double bed (I have googled the room. It is a big double bed but quite definitely not two singles).

Nov. 27th, 2016

(no subject)

The Belvedere Museum is having a competition for which you are invited to produce Biedermeier-inspired photos on the theme of "Home, sweet home". Obviously, I couldn't resist a challenge like that, so this evening we spent a happy half hour at the boys' flat recreating a Biedermeier painting of a large family for the modern age. Unfortunately Tawab and Elkhom were in Vienna, so they couldn't be in it, but the results were still pretty good, especially once Akbar had applied his digital skills to produce version #2 (it is so nice to finally have a child who understands the importance of this sort of thing). So I proudly present "Home, sweet home" versions 1, 2 and 3:
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Nov. 15th, 2016

Good - nay, excellent - news for once

Tawab, the last of our four refugee lads, had his asylum hearing yesterday. To avoid keeping you in suspense I shall say straight out that it was recommended he be granted full asylum, but our celebrations were all the greater because this was anyting but a foregone conclusion. The was in Wiener Neustadt, which has a reputation as a hotbed of anti-refugee bureaucrats who turn down 99% of asylum applications by Afghans, regardless of the validity of their claim (as a point of comparison, Traiskirchen grants subisdiary protection in just over 50% of cases). This is not a mere paranoid rumour, I was informed of this by our lawyer, who has recently brought charges against one of said bureaucrats for failing to follow the law in making his decision. He had warned us that, depending on who was presiding over the hearing, we might well get a negative decision, no matter how good our case, but we geared our loins anyway and all the preparation paid off. I couldn't face sitting through yet another hearing, especially one where the case worker was likely to be hostile or abusive, so Wolfgang went instead (with the lawyer in tow), and came back spitting blood about the unfairness of the procedure, but full of admiration for how well Tawab had told his story. In effect, he converted a hostile case worker into a fully sympathetic one, who told him at the end that he was the first Afghan he had ever granted asylum to, while the interpreter was so impressed by Tawab's poems about Afghanistan and the need for peace and equality that she asked for his Facebook name so she could read more of them.

I am fully aware that Tawab is absolutely exceptional, not only as a human being, but also in having a certain amount of evidence to back up his story (he was able to get photos from a relative in Germany that proved that he and his father had indeed been interviewed by Afghan TV, and that both of them were published poets and that his father is a moderately famous one in a country very short of artists of any kind). It was the poem he read on this TV programme and his criticism of the Taliban that led to the family having to leave Afghanistan overnight because of death threats the day it was broadcast - Wolfgang said the case worker had initially been sneery and clearly convinced it was all a lie and by the end was reading the poems with deep interest. Most Afghans who have their hearing in Wiener Neustadt don't have people like us to help them prepare, and even with our help, had it been any other of our boys, they would have had their claim rejected. So our joy that Tawab can stay is set against a background of despair at the evil of a system that allows bureaucrats to make entirely subjective judgments on matters of life and death (asylum seekers can appeal against the decision, and a number of negative decisions are subsequently overturned, but it means they unnecessarily waste a year or more of their lives in a constant state of anxiety and with no access to the labour market).

Anyway, today I was contacted by a home for refugees who had heard about Tawab's outcome and asked if I could advise them on how to prepare their residents with upcoming interviews in Wiener Neustadt and Traiskirchen. We're meeting this afternoon and I really hope the knowledge we've gained from preparing our boys can now help other people as well.

Akbar and Elkhom still haven't heard what their outcome is, but I'm expecting Elkhom's application to be turned down, in which case he should get the letter any day now. Akbar's outcome is also likely to be negative but I have no idea when we'll hear - the longer it takes, the more hopeful the sign.

Sep. 25th, 2016

Captain Fantastic - not sticking it to anyone

I went to see Captain Fantastic last night and while I thoroughly enjoyed most of it - it's definitely entertaining - the film wasted so many of its interesting premises and was so determined to get to a feel-good ending no matter how many of those premises it had to contradict, that I ended up being annoyed by it. In brief, a family of dad plus six kids of varying ages, who have retreated from the iron heel of capitalism and consumerism into a Swiss Family Robinson-style life in the wilderness, which is a cross between a survivalist boot camp and an elite Soviet university, leave their forest home to attend their mother’s funeral in South Carolina, against the wishes of her parents, who hold the father, Ben, responsible for their daughter’s bipolar disorder and eventual suicide. There are some marvellously funny scenes as this family of rugged individualists encounters consumerist America for the first time (“What’s Cola?” “Poisoned water”. “I can’t shoot that sheep, it’s just standing there.”) It’s a set-up that could be used to probe really interesting questions about how far it’s possible to live outside the structures of civilisation, to examine normally unquestioned assumptions about the way we live our lives and the extent to which the values that we hold are the result of a form of brainwashing by a capitalist society, or to consider how far alternatives are possible without resorting to tyranny to impose those alternatives. None of that happens. Grandpa tells Ben he’s endangering the kids; Ben agrees when one of his daughters nearly dies in a fall from a roof he’s told her to climb (you would think a man who has spent years forcing his kids to go on dangerous rock climbs and kill animals with pointy weapons would already have made the calculation that the occasional death is a price worth paying for a meaningful life, but apparently not); the family “sticks it to the man” by digging up their mother’s coffin from its Christian grave and giving her the Buddhist cremation she’s always wanted; and they end up living happily ever after in a pretty wooden house out in the country where they can all go to a normal school but still be close to nature. None of this is remotely credible. Mom, despite having been in her coffin for at least three days, does not smell or look even the slightest bit decomposed, so everyone can say a touching face-to-face farewell without any retching or even holding of noses. A wood fire is sufficient to burn the entire corpse, so no-one has to rake the skeleton out of the ash or dispose of the bits that didn’t burn. The kids, who know advanced quantum physics, have read Middlemarch at the age of 8, are extremely well-versed in political and economic theory, and have a firm grasp of both world history and human sexual function, are perfectly happy to go to the local rural school, with no apparent problems with boredom or fitting in. The happy ending matters much more than adherence to the laws of physics or basic human psychology, and hence is a big fat LIE.

But my biggest beef with the film is Read more...Collapse )

Sep. 20th, 2016

(no subject)

Today Mahmood had his asylum hearing. Wolfgang is away but the boys and I drove him down to Traiskirchen for the hearing, where the lawyer and I went in with him and the others waited very patiently for five hours (the hearing itself took just under an hour, and most of that was reading back the transcript to him to make sure everything was correct), and to everybody's amazement he was grabnted subsidiary protection on the spot, which I didn't even know was a thing. Admittedly he had a fantastic case, because he barely survived being shot by the Taliban and his father was subsequently abducted and murdered by them, but this happened in 2009 and 2010 and there are plenty of courts willing to say that that doesn't mean you're in danger right now. But we had a nice case worker who was really pleased with how good his German is and how integrated he is into Austrian life, and she was visibly delighted to be able to give him protection.


Us in the car outside the camp
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Jul. 17th, 2016

(no subject)

This year's trip to Sweden was short for various reasons but one of the highlights was Björkskär in the Outer Archipelago. It's the sort of place you can only go when you're sure there isn't going to be too much wind,as this picture suggests:

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Jul. 14th, 2016

Current circumstances

If England were what England seems
And not the England of our dreams
But only putty, brass and paint
But only lies and greed and hate,
'Ow quick we'd drop 'er -
But she ain't

- Kipling

Jun. 14th, 2016

(no subject)

After several months of persistent slogging, the plan to get the boys into the local volunteer fire brigade has finally born fruit - now they can (a) make friends in the community without us as mediators, (b) earn a gold star for their asylum application processes, and (c) (last but by no means least) give Austria something back for all the help it has given them ovet the past year. It is Ramadan and they hadn't had anything to eat or drink since five in the morning, but they set to with gusto and had a whale of a time:



In the meantime, I slaved away in the kitchen so that they could eat as soon as they had finished their training rather than having to cook first. Somewhat over-ambitiously, I decided to try to cook an Afghan dish. Mistake number one was not allowing myself at least four hours in which to do this (Afghan cooking isn't complicated but everything is supposed to wallow in its own juices at various stages and some of the wallowing was more like a quick dip). Mistake number two was not reading the recipe thoroughly enough before starting, so that only halfway through did I realise that it didn't give the quantities for such minor details as salt and spices. Mistake number three was then hastily googling other recipes for the same dish in the hope of finding out just how much garam masala I was supposed to be using, only to find blog entries explaining that in Afghanistan a woman's ability to cook this particular dish determines her chance of marrying. At that point I almost gave up and served them all bread and butter. Luckily I am already married, and though I don't think Tawab would have propsed on te basis of my cooking, he at least recognised what the dish was supposed to be (Akbar identified it as Osh, a not unreasonable assumption given that it was another rice-carrots-meat combo).

The next training session is next Tuesday and I shall be on a boat in Sweden, so they will have to cook for themselves :-)

Jun. 2nd, 2016

(no subject)

I have finally got my hands on Orphan Black Series 3. Two episodes in and my slowly dawning suspicion from Season 2 that Alison was the Slytherin clone has been confirmed in SPADES.

Mar. 28th, 2016

Easter Monday

Fabulous weather, fabulous brunch, lovely walk on the Bisamberg afterwards, and traditional "Eierpecken" which is a bit like conkers except with hard-boiled eggs and no strings.

Osterbrunch 20160328

Easter Monday 2016


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