Eight months ago I was kicked out of Europe. Told in no uncertain terms that I had to leave and my continued presence in Austria was illegal. This was all told in Deutsch so the only things I took away from an intimidating meeting in a 1970’s era building was the words ‘nein’ ‘no’ and ‘illegal’. There is nothing worse than being completely helpless to control your own life.
Since then it has been a long, frustrating, confusing, emotional and stressful series of efforts to get me back here and able to live in Vienna. First I had to clear 3 months outside of the schengen zone, kicking around in London, working the UK & Ireland tour route 3 TIMES to wait out the allotted 3 months. Once we did get into the nitty gritty of getting my paperwork together and trying to figure out the contradictory information given by the Austrian government and Australian embassy it was a constant battle against misinformation and racing against time. Aussies are only allowed 90 days in the schengen reigon. Not a lot of time to meet all the requirements. The deadline provided a constant ticking clock of doom everytime we experienced a setback; My documents were originals, but not official enough. Our appointment was booked 2 weeks ago but not locked in. S had his passport as proof of citizenship but not his birth certificate. An endless round of roadblocks not outlined in any dot-point guide of how to apply to stay here.
To say it was stressful was an understatement. The process and chance of failure, the vision of being denied again, to be sent home and seperated haunted us both.I don’t think either of us had cried as much as we did in March when we realised there was absoloutely nothing we could do about my needing to leave.
The worst was the complete lack of concrete information, the feeling of helplessness, the sheer blindness with which we negotiated this process. We’re Gen Y kids, used to being in control, presumptive of our own importance in the world and right to a Happy Ending. The kicker was, we weren’t doing anything wrong, but at every turn it felt like we were in the wrong for proceeding to apply. Maybe it was my not understanding German, the intimidating buildings and endless forms that created this but it felt like we’d fallen down the rabbit-hole of Beauracracy, with no one to tell us whether what we were doing was wrong or right. Or crucially, whether it would work.
8 tortuous months. Days upon days of uncertainty, and limitation on the things I could progress with here – being unable to work sentanced me to days at home, researching jobs I can’t apply for.
Finally, today, I got the phone call. 11:09am. Requested to return to the magistraat office with passport and money. Building shuts at 12pm. Fastest shower of my life. S was at work in a meeting but this was too big to restrain from calling him. I gathered our coin collection – not knowing how much they wanted me to pay, and S having all our credit cards. Literally last person to enter the building at 11:47. The same blonde young woman who had collected my documents and created my file with all its difficult requests sat me down and (in German) explained the forms I was signing, checked my passport and finally, thankfully, miraculously, handed me my Red-White-Red card.
I thought I was relieved when Obama won. This was a different kind of relief. The months of stress, hard work, worry and endless unanswerable questions had led to this moment. Finally, finally I was free. Free to work, free to stay, free to start my integration meetings, free to travel, free to learn German, free to celebrate this with the man I love and did it all for. I still can’t quite believe it. To top it off, Vienna is shining today, the winter fog has lifted and the sun has been out for the last few hours.
I left the building after thanking this nameless woman for the mercy of letting me stay, and was last out as they locked up for the weekend. 12:03pm. In less than an hour my life had turned round. The despair I felt this morning about what the hell to do with another empty day had gone, to be replaced with endless opportunity and thankfulness at this chance. To learn, to be a resident of two great countries, to grow, to work, to change and embrace all the challenges coming my way.
But for this weekend, before the stress of finding work and learning German begins, I’m only going to enjoy the sheer relief of it all, and revel in the hope that it has given me. Aaaahhhhhhhh…….
Comfort is a funny thing. I can pretty confidently say I’m starting to get comfortable in Vienna. With the people, the ways to get around, the feel of the city itself is really growing on me. I love our little stretch of shops, the familiarity of walking past the same chemist where i’m recognised as “Australian girl” and looked after, seeing the fresh fruit and veg man everyday and giving the acknowledging smile, knowing exactly where the special type of canned tomatoes we use in Bolognese are in the supermarket. Little things, details, make all the difference and start to make a city feel like home.
Sometimes though, its the equally little things that can tip you over the emotional edge. I was a bit fragile on Saturday night (not what you’re thinking, Sober October still going strong!!) and the tiniest, vainest little things combined making me crack and despair about being able to get by here. Lady things. Vanity things. That being, I hated at that exact moment – 11pm on a Saturday evening, after a duvet day in bed while S recovered from his cold – my haircut. In my hairdressers defence, sitting in bed watching Dexter for hours doesn’t do a haircut any favours but still, I was convinced mine was a disaster. Second disaster, I couldn’t find nor afford a decent English speaking waxing lady. Again, if i’d thought about it, most waxing ladies i’d visited barely spoke English anyway so this was hardly earth shattering. Rationality is not a strong point when you’re despairing that nothing is ever going to be easy again. My whole world outlook had come down to the fact that I would never get a decent haircut or waxing and therefore nothing in my life here was ever going to be easy. Disaster.
The problem is, after 23-odd years in Melbourne, I’d gotten it all under control. I HAD my perfect hairdresser who knows how to deal with my ridiculous curly hair, I had the perfect wax lady who makes the most painful procedures seem bearable – with what I can only assume is a potent mix of wizardry and high grade wax. I was SORTED. The little things weren’t hard, I didn’t have to think about where the best coffee could be found, or how on earth to find a gym with group classes in English, let alone a pilates or Zumba class. I didn’t have to write down word for word the kinds of medicine I need for a common flu when going to the chemist. These things were known, quantifiable and able to be expressed without hesitation.
But that’s the delicious Alanis-irony. It was precisely because everything was so known to me in Australia that I left. I wanted to discover the unknown, because I hated the feeling of being settled, stagnant, unmoving and locked into my lifestyle. I know myself as a creature of habit – the first time I brought Muesli in the local Spar I literally took 5 minutes to decide because I knew unless it was putrid I would habitually purchase the same brand for as long as we live here. That’s just how my brain works. Find the comfort in habit, control the things you can.
In my current situation, there is very little left in my control – my Visa status, my job opportunities, my ability to communicate. So the comforting details are taking on huge significance.
The soloution to all of this existential crisis? Comfort food. Spending my Sunday nibbling on Weetbix, Nutella and Pizza for dinner ebbed away my fear of ‘nothing will ever be easy again’. Cliche? Yes. Unhealthy? Absoloutely. Effective? Damn right.
Come Monday morning and guess what? The haircut ain’t so bad, the snow has started to fall and my documents from Australia arrived in the mail for the Visa. Life’s looking up.