You are in Banff National Park, Canada. It is a day in summer, a day like any other. It is your last day here. Summer is coming to an end. Tomorrow your visa will expire. Today you are here, tomorrow you will be gone. Everything has been packed. Your identity too. Your personality is ready for something new, or something along those lines. Maybe this is the last time ever that you see the Rockies from such a close distance, that you can breathe them in, feel them with your whole body, discover them, take them inside you. Soon you’ll turn 30. You are travelling light. After so many years of inner and outer abroad-ness, you have finally learned how to pack. You gave away the books, almost all of them. It hurt. There are also other things that hurt. There are people that you may never see again. Sulphur Mountain remains your magic mountain. Life will bring: bureaucratic chaos, moving, uncertainty.
Your taxi is here. The taxi driver asks, as he hears your accent in English: Where is home? You answer: No clue. You breathe in silence and watch the motion of the trees, of the river, of the sun. You have learned to stop recounting your life story to every stranger, to stop selling your private life as small-talk topic, to stop summarizing it in a nice, cute, and digestible way. Through the open windows, you breathe in. And out.
You hand him the money. You tip generously. He wishes you all the best. Then you leave.
Today is your birthday. Or maybe tomorrow, or yesterday? It depends on where the time is currently being measured. In any case: today, yesterday, or tomorrow you are alone.
Early morning in the airport, on your birthday.
Morning here, evening there.
In Canada, England, Germany, Romania.
In an airport, you must always demonstrate your value. The untouchability of the human wonder – as the German constitution puts it – are empty words today. They anyhow apply to Germans only.
Birthday after birthday, we get closer to our death. Death is a feminine noun in your mother tongue. Moarte. Death will never be masculine to you, like it is in German. The same as table, house, and boat. Sadness remains feminine in both your mother tongue and German. Traurigkeit. Tristeţe.
You wanted to study, you wanted to get away, you wanted to discover the whole world.
In the beginning, you were afraid of speaking German and of spending too much money. You ate a lot of bread and potato-salad. You gained weight. Your hair and fingernails became brittle. Your knee joints too. Your thyroid gland could not handle it any longer. You cannot imagine living like that nowadays, eating only bread. Bread, bread, bread. There are many types of bread in Germany, but none of them is the one you grew up with.
When you went away for the first time, you did not realize how hard it would be to one day come back, to truly return, even for just a short while. You could only move forward. After your first 9 months in Germany, you visited them. Your parents, your old friends. You could hardly believe that your old room was still there, on the same street, in the city where you spent the first 22 years of your life. Life in the forgotten place went on without you. Your best friend did not recognize your voice on the telephone.
Your old friends were now strangers. You wanted your old ego back, but it was not possible. Your eyes were open. And not just full of light, but also of darkness. The darkness of being alone on a Saturday night, the darkness of physical pain without a proper health insurance, the darkness of waiting in a hospital on a Sunday afternoon, for hours, and not being able to tell the doctor what hurts, and of asking stupid questions in front of the X-ray such as What does it mean, schwanger? The doctor explains to you how it works, the pregnancy thing. Your boyfriend (or something along those lines) can’t help; he speaks even less German than you.
Here, abroad, when your parents come visit, you become the mother, and they the children. They do no want to leave the house without you. You cook for them every day. And they ask you many questions, about everything. You want them to never grew old and helpless. The abroad-ness makes everything worse.
The woman in your singing class is convinced that you work for either Amazon or McDonalds, like all Romanians. She is nothing but pure shock when she hears that you are a scientist with a PhD and fluent in 5 languages. She is a hairdresser. She only eats bio food. In your home country, you did not have to question the bio-ness of the food, whether the hens were running free or not, whether today there was a market in town and where. Even today, your home town is full of open-air markets where peasants sell fresh products all day, every day. During the break, the woman does not ask you to join in for lunch with the classmates.
You always have to explain so much when you talk about your home country. What was it like to grow up in communism. If you are planning to ever move back. Most often you get ask when exactly is it that you will move back. And is life in your country really that bad and the corruption as big as the German newspapers say. Do you have any other family members in Germany. And why do you always talk in English at work. Why did you study in English in Germany and why did you stay here for such a long time. Why?
Your childhood memories, your grandma’s garden, where you would spend hours daydreaming and playing, where you would read books and eat cherries all summer, about the hiking trips with your parents in the Carpathians, your father’s art and chemistry-professorship, the joy you have always felt, even as a little girl, when it came to world history, culture, and literature, these are all topics that nobody wants to hear about. You come from Eastern Europe and everyone assumes that you speak Russian, and they laugh, and they ask you: are you a vampire? About gypsies you don’t have to say anything, only the TV speaks about them; on TV they are always portrayed stealing but called Roma. Whoever happens to watch TV knows that actually all Romanians and Bulgarians are Roma, and the other way around. The newspapers also try to help you define your new identity and expand your vocabulary: parallel-society, poverty-based-immigration, qualified workers.
Each time you moved, you forgot a little more, a little faster, the meaning of the word acasă. You cannot really go back. You are no longer tu. You are envious, so incredibly envious, of all those people who have not lost their concept of home. All those people who are a lot younger than you are and already have one or two children and a house. Who have a good grasp of the language of the country they live in, regardless which country. Who do not think and speak in 3 languages at one time, even in their sleep. And you, what do you have? You have nothing. Nothing other than yourself. And you are not the person you thought you were. You are not the strong career woman with lots of interests that the others see in you.
You wanted to go see the world. But the world has seen enough Eastern-Europeans. Most people think that your mother tongue is Russian, or you know, one of those other slavic languages. And when they look at you, this if often all they see: an Eastern-European. On the train from Bremen to Norddeich Mole, deep in the North, a couple asked the two of you: What kind of language is this, it sounds like Italian with a Russian accent? Romanian, you and the man next to you simultaneously said. They laughed. And you enwrapped yourselves in silence, but it wasn’t the same silence. The man, the (boy)friend, although born in the same country as you, remained a stranger, even later, when he moved his body slowly and then faster and without words or emotions inside yours.
You make lists of how you feel: damaged, lost, forever. And also: lonely.
Now you feel abroad everywhere.
You move again. You are in an airport, destination: Canada.
The woman at the entrance wants to know
where you come from.
That’s a rather long story,
Your life doesn’t interest me at all,
just show me your papers.
You cannot prove to her
that you come from a good country.
You may still be in this other place
and even remain here,
as long as you promise to leave
when you are no longer useful.
Your visa says: Worker.
You are a scientist with a PhD, therefore:
Worker – Biology.
Your heart says:
Whatever – but not really.
When you exit,
a man is waiting for you,
or something along those lines.
And then it happens. Your man leaves you, you are sick, you have no job, you are either pregnant or carry a monster inside your belly, the monster must be taken out, but first they need to find the monster, nobody believes you when you talk about the monster, the monster is a part of you, you carry it around across countries, move after move, without knowing, the monster is you, you are the monster, somebody breaks into your new flat, you cannot sleep, you damage your knee, this time for good, what is wrong with you, you can’t even walk, your boss wants to know why are you always sick, it is cold and dark in the lab, and outside even colder and darker, you are alone, all alone, you want to die, you cannot take it anymore, always alone, always unbelonging and lonely, you cannot go to a specialist, you have no car, it is -30 degrees Celsius outside, the mountains are beautiful, but you cannot walk, and anyway, this is not your home, what are you doing with your life, you stupid ugly slut, this is surely not your home, you lie down in the middle of the night in the middle of the street and tell you ex-man: I want to die, I cannot go on like this, he pulls you inside, you are in this-your flat, you and this estranged exotic man without a land, the man for whom you were not good enough, there is already another woman, she was your only friend here, this is so incredibly ordinary, he says, you need to come to terms with the new arrangements, please act like a grown-up, he says, please stop acting like this, you were so strong and independent when I first met you, he says, maybe this is the last time that we hug each other, he says, I cannot handle you in this helpless and emotional state, I cannot take this anymore, before that, earlier, he always said you are the only family I ever had. It has been long, weeks, or months, or years, since he last spoke with his family. You only say: I want to die. And it just won’t happen.
From your own fall
you need to learn
to breathe, to walk,
to define a new identity;
here, there, regardless where,
between colourful panels
and transit rooms.
Biology – Worker.
You begin to write. You attend a writing class each Tuesday. You call yourself writer. Your teacher talks about freefall-writing. Freefalling. You like the sound of it.
You have always tried to be what you thought was expected of you. But at some point along the way it all fell apart. You are on the floor, in tiny little pieces, and you are no longer good enough, for nobody. The worst part is that you no longer know what to wish for, but you go on living.
From you own sadness
you build yourself a brand new I,
without ever truly knowing
the rules of the game.
You make them up
on the way,
only for you and you alone,
while you freefall,
while you transform.
A new home
is slowly growing inside you.
your zuhause, acasă, home,
and everything in between.
can be nothing else
You can only truly travel
inside, on, and under you,
You are on vacation, in Norway. You are visiting a local museum. It’s all about what it means to be Norvegian, and the old ways of life. It is a day in summer, a day like any other. Summer is coming to an end. The receptionist asks: Where do you come from? You take your time because you do not know what to answer. She keeps staring at you, with a firm look and firm glasses. Because you need forever to answer, she rewords her question: For administrative reasons, what’s your home country? You answer: For administrative reasons, Romania.
You now live near the Danube, not in Romania, but in Germany. You do not want to be integrated, assimilated. Not if it means giving up on everything you were before moving here, shaking it off, leaving it behind, forgetting it, burying it. Your inner voice is a mixture of languages. Your life partner comes from Spain. Your best friend lives in Canada and comes from Iran. There are many other languages inside you. Many other cultures and ways of being in this world. How could you choose to only see one side of things when there are so many?
The paper that confirms that yes, you did live in the city where you did your PhD, claims that you were born in Timisoara, Bulgaria. For administrative reasons, within Europe, Romania and Bulgaria belong in the same bucket.
You teach creative writing. You teach Canadians, Germans, and people from various other countries. You do this online. Your teacher in Canada says: What you want to express as a writer is not language but something bigger that than, the thing beyond language. Your teacher here says: you need to have a very firm grasp of the language in which you write.
The Danube flows through many countries. Also through your home country. Also through this country that refuses to become your Heimat. That pulls away and does not allow you to hug it. That always maintains a proper distance between the two of you through its language. There are many rules, but no intimacy.
You also write in English here, in a large company, and you can make a living with it. For as long as you wish. You are in a different tax category now than back when you were just a poor student who needed a visa. People talk to you differently. Especially in airports, when you wear suits and travel on business.
Every second year there is a Danube festival in town. There is food from all the countries on the Danube. Back when you were a child, the Danube in your home country was always hungry. She longed for blood. Between 1948 und 1989, hundreds of people tried to escape communistic Romania by crossing the Danube, by swimming to the Serbian side, back then Yugoslavia. Nobody knows how many made it to the other side and how many were brutally murdered in the process. But there is always someone who knows someone who survived.
Your home country didn’t treat the Danube-svabians well. You want to go running to all of them and start apologizing for everything your former countrymen did. Those who were lucky made it to a camp. They all had to sleep and pee together. Those who were the Germans in Romania where now the Romanians in Germany. They were accused of stealing. Even if they were Danube svabians, they were still asked where they came from. Then they got a Nobel price and both countries wanted to have them, but they belonged to neither of them. The Romanian Saxons also had to move to Svabia; Saxony was still in Eastern Germany when they escaped Romania.
It is a day in summer, a day like any other. Summer is coming to an end. It is the day when you become a German citizen. Starting today, you are one of them. Yesterday, you were not. You don’t really grasp what this means. As a writer, you are Canadian. The poetry however comes from Iran. As a lover, you are Spanish. As a cook, you are Indian. Your child-heart remains Romanian. And everything else is nothing else but silence and a mixture of all those things that are something bigger than that, the thing beyond language.
The inner journey is the only journey that truly counts.
Diana Radovan is a multilingual writer and writing coach currently living in Germany. She has been publishing poetry and prose for over ten years in the US, Canada, and Romania. Additionally, she holds a PhD in Chemistry. In 2011, she won the Alexandra Writers Centre Society flash fiction competition, the February Monthlies competition held by the literary magazine Other Voices, and a scholarship from the Canadian Science Writers’ Association for attending Banff Science Communications at the Banff Centre for the Arts. At present, she is finalizing her first collection of short stories and working on a novel. Over the years, she has also been involved in theater and spoken-word performances.