Do You Know Why I Am Here?


A statement that was uttered, whispered, and proclaimed from my lips at least 30 different times this week. Vienna, though sometimes is hot and sweaty, is also a place where I feel I can pick up my soul, turn it over in my hands, and carefully chip away worries, sadness, and questions. Each week I underestimate the next since being here, and this lovely country keeps proving me wrong.

Here are a few highlights and “I am living my dream” tidbits from the last few days:

Monday was Art and Architecture class. Among other things, this day spoke to the Humanities Major inside of me like none other. This was the day we focused on the Renaissance. A time period of rebirth, grace, and rediscovery. Because we are students we get free entry into a lot of the museums around Vienna, including the Wien Museum. We walked in and immidately were guided to our first painting, which just oh-so-casually was Raphael’s Madonna of the Meadow. I just about cried. After this we went and saw the extensive Bruegel collection and then we were guided into a dark room. We gathered around and then I saw what we came to see: Rembrandt’s own Self-Portrait.

I cried.

His humble face melted into a dark abyss of oil paints. There is a tear on the cloth on his right shoulder, and his eyes seem to emit light with his insane and masterful use of chiaroscuro. He painted himself as one of the people; not a royal or fantastical artist, but as a man sitting in a dimly lit parlor who needs to buy a new coat. If he were in a crowd, his face is not one that I would have been able to point out, even after seeing this painting, and that is how he wanted it.

I am living my dream.

Wednesday evening, we attended the Volksoper (People’s Opera) showing of Die Fledermaus. I belly laughed multiple times and ooed and aaed at the set and costumes. The performers inserted jokes about today’s politics into the dialogue, and during the intermission, Elda and I scooted down to front-row balcony seats.

I am living my dream.

Also Wednesday, I had an interview with Ghassan Abdollah from the Red Cross at a refugee home. He welcomed me in and after asking where in the world I learned my German he welcomed me to their team and asked when the soonest I could start working would be. He told me I could work with the teenagers, the kids, and even assist him so I get to know the administrative side of things. He told me an extraordinarily condensed version of his story, as he was also a refugee from Syria and came to Austria three years ago. He learned German in eight months and then was hired as the Manager of the refugee home. He is kind and good and I start on Tuesday.

I am living my dream.

Tuesday, I sat in a café with six others and we read little bits of writing we held near and dear to our hearts. We sipped on hot chocolate, some had pumpkin soup, and I sipped on a glass of water mixed with straight lemon juice. It is a safe place with good people and I was grateful.

I am living my dream.

Saturday, Elda and I decided to get off of our saddle butts and venture into the city. The day was hot and as we chased shadow along the little alleyways and across colbblestone we decided to seek Air Conditioned refuge in the Crown Jewels and Treasure Museum which we have free access to. After checking out diamonds bigger than we will never see in front of bullet-proof glass in this lifetime, and looking at relics which are worth more than both of our lives put together, the museum closed and we were forced back into the world. A world which as we had entered the museum was hot and muggy, and as we exited was hot, muggy, and experiencing weather which one might think could precede the second Flood. It was POURING. We ran to the nearest tourist shop where we seriously considered buying a 10 euro Klimt umbrella, and tried to wait it out. After about 15 minutes of waiting in this little shop we ran again to the next shelter which was the arched entryway of an apartment building where we began waiting once again.

Now, you may be thinking, “Daniela! You are from Oregon. You were born and raised in the North American rainforest. Get over it!” I also would agree with you, but I was wearing my beloved Birks and I was not about to ruin my favorite shoes of all time. So, realizing there was no way the rain was going to stop anytime soon, and keeping in mind the streets had been washed with rain for at least half an hour, I slipped my shoes off, stuff them in a bag, and started running through the cobblestone street of Vienna barefoot, in the rain. I got nasty looks from the Austrians who are stern believers in only going out without a jacket if it is 90 degrees or more, but I laughed and held my bag tight to my chest as Elda followed. It was an experience I didn’t know I wanted to have until I had it. But at one second, running through the streets, I became a little more connected with this city, as if making skin to cobblestone contact tucked it even closer into my heart. I was in some old novel, running romantically through the pouring rain.

I am living my dream.

This Friday we traveled at 7am to the little town of Melk. It was cute as it was adorable and quaint. We went to the ‘most Baroque building in all of Austria’, the famous Melk Abbey. Today, it is a school, but for hundreds of years before this, it was a home to Benedictine monks and a place for the likes of Maria Theresa and her renowned guests. The balcony outside of the great Marble Hall looked over the little town and the Danube, and the library was one of Beauty and the Beast. I hummed ‘Belle’ as I looked behind through secret doors in book cases and admired the frescoes above me which changed color as you walked around the room.

I am living my dream.

That same day we rented bikes and took the designated bike trail from Melk to Krems. The trail followed the Danube and passed through wine-country, little villages, and apricot farms. At one point, we left our bikes by a little stream in a tiny medieval town and hiked up a small mountain to see the ruins of a Medieval Castle. One which supposedly had something to do with Prince John and King Richard the Lionhearted.

We passed through the itty-bitty town where the old piece of art ever was found, The Venus of Willendorf, we stopped at a stand where I sipped on grape-juice which was made in-house and was actually ambrosia, and we rode across cobblestone and amongst stepped-vineyards scattered across the hills that could make one content for a lifetime. At one point, as we rode through the narrow streets amongst colorful Austrian houses, in a town no one has ever heard of, I tilted my head up to the sky and yelled,

“I am living my dream!!!”

Now, all of that, though incredible, life changing, and educational as it was, paled in comparison to this last Thursday morning when I sat in an empty teachers’ lounge with Christina.

Last week, I barged into the principal’s office and asked if I could work with Christina. She struggles with school as she has never been to school before and only recently came to Austria. So, every day I get to spend an hour with her and specially tutor her in German.

That first day, I hadn’t prepared anything because I didn’t think the principal would say yes, but, sure enough, they sent Christina and I into the teacher’s lounge where we began our friendship. At first, it was very difficult. I scrambled to try and ask questions to try and get to know her as she didn’t understand even the most basic of German words. She would try to say things to me in Russian and I tried to explain things in German and it just wasn’t working. They had given me nothing to work on with her; no books, no Russian to German dictionary, not even homework to work on. All I had was my sketch book.

Remembering the little book I carry everywhere, I pulled it out and she flipped through the sketches the fill only a small part of my little journal. She smiled and complimented me on the little figures, and I flipped to an empty page. I drew my family and then labeled the brother, sister, mom, and dad in German. Then, I handed her my book and had her do the same with her family. She didn’t know any words, even simple ones such as family, sister, brother, dog, cat, parents, etc. We practiced as she drew and then we did the same with our houses. I drew mine, and then she drew hers. Practicing words such as window, door, playground, fence, etc. Her smile and mine grew as we started to understand a little bit more about each other. Through pictures, we were able to communicate things like our favorite colors, whether we like dogs or cats, how old our siblings were, and our favorite pastimes.

We continued this, and I got to know her a little more each day. One day I decided we should talk about why we’re both learning German and in Austria. I drew a picture of my family and then an arrow pointing across the water with an airplane that landed in Austria. Christina then drew me a picture of Ukraine, and how her family came here with a bus.

Why did you come here? I typed this into Google Translate and then she started to draw a school, with two figures in front of it. One appeared to be holding something in it’s hand over the next person. I didn’t understand, and Christina tried to explain to me in Russian, to no avail. So, I had her start typing things into Google translate (something which sucks at translating anything over 3 words in Russian). Slowly, through random words with popped up and piecing together word order I picked up “brother” “teacher” “beat” “abused”. She pointed to the picture, the person with the object in hand was actually the teacher, holding a fist over the other figure, which she identified as herself. I solemnly typed into the app, “Did the teachers abuse you?” She nodded quickly as she read it, and then I typed, “Is that why you left?” She nodded again.

Right away, I had her begin to draw what she did the day before, and as I sat, my eyes welled up with tears. This sweet girl had probably seen more in her short lifetime than most others I know, including her peers and teachers. I was humbled and honored to even sit next to that child who had already seen too much.

As we got ready to leave, I typed one more thing into google translate, “Do you know why I am here?”

She shook her head with a curious look on her face.

I drew, on the same page with the airplane and me in Vienna, a little girl standing next to me, and pointed to her. Her eyes widened and she asked, “Me? Because of me?” I nodded, wanting also to wrap her up and kiss her a billion times, and she shyly smiled, eyes wide and in wonder, giggling quietly.

I am living my dream.

One thought on “Do You Know Why I Am Here?

Add yours

  1. Oh sweet girl, your blog posts make my heart sing and bring happy tears to my eyes!!!!! I am so in love with your writing and SO happy that you are LIVING YOUR DREAM!!!! And ohhhh my stars, the last part of your new post about the little girl just totally slayed me. I freaking love you so much!!!!!!! If there is anything that we can do to contribute to helping these kids PLEASE just holler!!! You are in our prayers and in my heart.

    LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!! Tamara

    PS I will try to get you video footage of your dad totally rocking out at the Poison/Def Leppard concert on Saturday night with Jonathan, John Griffin and Spencer Wintersteen— he had a total blast!



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