Sunday, December 11, 2011



The trip to our next post, Vienna, Austria, in 1989, marked a milestone for us -- the kids and I had never traveled without Fred before, not once in our fourteen years of moves overseas. I suffered from that uneasy feeling of something missing. To add to my discomfort, our two flights were late and later and we had to sit on the runway in New York for three hours due to bad weather somewhere nearby. Ugh. I tried to snooze away the transatlantic flight, but every time the bliss of sleep approached, my flopping head jerked me back to consciousness. At the end of a very long night I blessed our sponsors, who met us at the airport. If I had the energy I would have shouted halleluiah when I saw our bags bump through the black rubber flaps onto the carousel. Our gentle sponsors delivered three weary bodies to Apartment 2/3 at 16 Chimanistrasse in the Nineteenth District of Vienna, Austria, our home for the next three years.

Jet lag weighed me down like a lead cape and I dragged through the next few days, receiving our airfreight and the embassy welcome kit, plus figuring out how to get Dakota and Tina to their school orientation.

Vienna's fabulous public transportation system lay almost at our doorstep with a bus/tram stop less than a block away, on the route that ended at the foot of the hill occupied by the American International School (AIS) campus. Many of the passengers on that route on the day of orientation were the right age to be AIS students. One boy in particular attracted my attention with his animated conversation in the seat ahead of us. That was Sam Torabi, who became one of Dakota's best friends and his future college roommate.

After the kids' introduction to AIS, we looked forward to Fred's arrival on the following day. He had seemed sad about sending us ahead to post, and I thought of a surprise to welcome him home and cheer him up. I stocked the fridge with an assortment of a dozen different Austrian beers and posted a rating sheet on the fridge door.

"What's this?" Fred pointed to my hand-lettered chart.

"Look inside." I swung the fridge door open. "Ta Da!"

Fred's eyes sparkled and he reached for his first tall white and gold can of Zipfer. After finishing the home test of canned beer, Fred switched to bottles and homed in on Gösser as his number one choice in Austrian beers.

We learned that our new home had a former life as officers' quarters during the American occupation of Vienna following World War II. Our place was formed by the removal of dividing walls between two adjacent two-bedroom apartments. On the ground floor we had two main entrances, two living rooms, two dining rooms, one kitchen, and one laundry room (formerly a kitchen). Two staircases led to the bedrooms, two on each side, and bathrooms, one on each side. We put the kids on one side and us on the other and designated the spare bedroom as guestroom/office. There was a door between the guestroom and Tina's room, but Tina decided to put her dresser against it. She might have been guarding her privacy or merely creating more options for furniture arrangement – she didn't say which.

The apartment had a total of six doors to the outside world – the two main entrances plus glass doors from the kitchen, one dining area, and both living rooms -- and I expected to receive a key ring worthy of a castle's chatelaine. I was surprised and impressed that one key opened all six doors as well as the main gate to the compound. The price tag for duplicate keys for the kids came as a shock. At $20 each, those keys should have been silver-plated.

I dove into German lessons at the embassy and let the personnel office know I was looking for work. Dakota and Tina started highschool, made friends, and seemed happy. But I noticed that Dakota wrote "Hell" on the top left hand corner of the envelope addressed to his friend from the Dominican Republic. If he did feel banished to Hades, it wasn't long before that feeling faded in the presence of new friends and the experiences available with all of Europe as a playground. ###

Read many more stories in Voluntary Nomads, in paperback at and Barnes & Noble online or in many e-Book formats at and Outskirts Press

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