Austria still offers some of the nicer aspects of our worldly existence. Deer feed in the meadow across the road from our house. They graze contentedly, seemingly oblivious to all else, then suddenly stiffen and look up, alert, staring, when a car, more likely a tractor, passes by. The material aspects of Austria are also [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

And we all live together under one roof

British writer Lawrence Brazier and his wife who live in Austria, open their doors to a family of Afghan refugees

Austria still offers some of the nicer aspects of our worldly existence. Deer feed in the meadow across the road from our house.

At home in Austria: Afghan family Nazar and Shaima with their children Milad and Setahesh

They graze contentedly, seemingly oblivious to all else, then suddenly stiffen and look up, alert, staring, when a car, more likely a tractor, passes by.

The material aspects of Austria are also entirely evident. Other than a few shabby streets in the larger urban areas, there are no slums, no ghettos. Moreover, Austrians probably donate to charity more per capita than any other nation in the world.

Germany, of course, is much the same.Where else would a refugee wish to head for if not an earthly paradise?Austria is a tidy country of great beauty; like a gigantic golf course, landscaped from above.

It is now common knowledge that when the United Nations decided to cut funds by more than half to maintain the refugee camps in the Near East they were apparently unable to foresee the consequences.

The more than fifty percent saved has now resulted in costs amounting to three or four times the supposed savings. With little hope of a decent existence, the refugees took off for Europe.

Hundreds of thousands have come. The politicians talk, the tax payers groan. The challenge is not really about giving, it is about how!

We had our names listed to offer accommodation and got caught up in a bureaucratic muddle to end all muddles. Our idea was to have a neat little family, one husband, one wife, one child.

We were informed that personal wishes were not part of the deal, which is fair enough. It took about four weeks before a man from a refugee agency knocked at our door. He brought with him a young woman and two children from Afghanistan.

The woman was young, aged 32, the children were gorgeous. The little boy, aged seven, was delicately serious. The little girl, aged three, was as round as a miniature balloon and lusciously dark, reminding me of a Burgundy grape.

She was also a bundle of determination on two legs. The husband was still lost in a crowd of ten-thousand currently getting ousted out of Hungary and being ushered without ceremony through Croatia and Slovenia.

After four days we got a call that he was on his way to us and his arrival was about par for the course, which means nobody knows anything until it happens. He brought a ten-year-old boy with him.

My wife Romana and I had visions of collusion. I mean, our house is not that big. Already our ideal three persons had become four and then five.

It turned out that the ten-year-old boy had got separated from his parents a full month previously, our man had taken care of him as they trudged and bussed the last hundred miles to the Austrian border.

Endless telephone calls finally located the boy’s parents down country at a camp near Klagenfurt in Carinthia and they were soon reunited.

It is obvious that as a writer living in Austria I am bound to be writing about the current influx of refugees. I feel ashamed if I find myself attempting any sort of stylistic flourish because there is obviously no fun to be found in the matter.

Mr. Hemingway’s reporting mode would be most appropriate. The winter is coming. They sleep on the earth, wrapped in a blanket. There is frost on the blanket at dawn.

They shiver, waiting for the sun. This is Mr. Hemingway’s ‘real’ and ‘true’, given in a writing style that is no style at all.

But I can afford to be lighter now because our guest family is doing well. Romana switched into high gear and got all of her network lady friends into the deal. Stuff arrives daily.

We now have more clothes than any family could reasonably need. We heard the funny story of Inga informing her husband Franz that he needed a new anorak. This was news to Franz but our man from Afghanistan got rigged out for the winter.

The flow of cakes has accelerated no end. I’m running around putting up shelves and rails to hang things on. Romana took on the paperwork and within a week the young boy, Milad, was attending school, going in stone cold without a word of German.

The little girl, Setahesh, is now attending kindergarten. Their dad, Nazar, and mum, Shaima are amazed at how things can change so quickly. They have asylum-request cards but acceptance is by no means guaranteed.

The cards bear their names and dates of birth. The family name is given incorrectly. Dates of birth are often unknown and guessed at. Most of those getting registered say, ‘1st of January’, and then add an approximate year.

These people are Shia Ismaili Muslims, of which Romana and I have not the slightest knowledge. It is enough to know that the Ismailis are persecuted by the Taliban and the Daesh. Everyday life has been reduced to pure logic where possible. Cultural differences are largely ignored.

Shaima had a toothache and I was quick to point out that the pain is definitely the same the world over. We slowly instil the idea that there is little fun to be had at our house, but from here they can build their lives.

As mildly passive persons we tend to shy away from mental complexity. Nevertheless, having dissed cultural differences it is to be admitted that Shaima is a sensational cook who, to my delight, uses tons of spice.

Her meat is placed in the oven in onion water, which makes it wonderfully tender.

What has become evident is that we, Romana Madar and Lawrence Padar, have achieved the status of family chiefs. Seldom have we experienced such deference and seldom felt so grand.

I get the feeling that I should be exercising gravitas. We are aware that families in Afghanistan are almost tribal and run strictly on hierarchal lines. Our own children, who are all grown up, keep a wary watch.

They have, anyway, always considered us to be a bit daft. Since we are retired we are all thrown together each day. Shaima speaks a little broken English, Nazar a bit of simple German.

Finding a Quran on our shelves must have been baffling, not to mention my sudden muttered ‘Allah’ when I bang a knee. We have come to terms and get along fairly well.

We have adopted an Inshallah attitude. Trusting in God, in Life, in Anticipation. ‘By the way,’ Romana said the other night, ‘did you know that Shaima is pregnant?’ I sighed, stroking an imaginary beard.

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