A fellow artist gave me this postcard with the little boy on roller skates and his self-made wings as a symbol for our project “what if?”. What if we had wings? What if we could escape our personal boundaries, follow our visions and dare the impossible?
Have you ever moved to a different country? Did you go on an adventure tour at some point in your life? Has there been one place of which you can say that having been there has changed your perspective on life? Did you ever have to learn a new language or you would not have been able to communicate with the people around you? How was it like? How did you feel? We would like to know what shaped your life. What shaped your identity as it is now? Was your journey successful or hard? Would you do it again if you could choose?
I myself am a wanderer. My own journey started with my parents naming me Barbara. The name comes from the Greek word barbaros (βαρβαρος) meaning “the foreigner”. For seventeen years I have lived in six different countries, in cities like Chicago, London, Moscow, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Vienna, always a stranger.
One of the countries that possibly influenced me the most has been Russia, where I lived in the late 80s, during a time of change (perestroika) and a new political openness (glasnost). In the Tschaikowsky conservatory, after lessons, my violin teacher Zoria Shikhmurzaeva, gathered her students and for hours we talked politics and she told us what life was like under Stalin regime: the fears, the threat, the terror. With the political changes in the country, hopes of the people were up, and the energy was vibrating and joyful.
I learned a lot while being there: first of all, the USSR was still a socialist country and I was confronted with a totalitarian regime and its influence on its own people. Official business was hard, rough, and arbitrary, but privately the people were highly cultivated, hospitable, warmhearted and unbelievably helpful.
Being in a foreign country of which I hadn’t quite mastered the language yet, I experienced how it felt to be insecure and vulnerable like a child again, because I didn’t know the rules of behaviour and didn’t speak the language properly.
And something odd: I met German people, descendants of migrants from the 18th centuries, who still proudly and beautifully sang German folksongs. Nobody does that anymore in today’s Germany, because of the Nazi-history our country has. It amazed me and let me think about my roots. Do I have roots? I guess so. In my language, in the arts, in my partner, in my catholic upbringing, although I left church a long while ago.
Religion is powerful in how it shapes life and identity. Experiencing Buddhist culture in South-Korea and my encounter with Islam in Iran are both unforgettable. With my ensemble we went to Tehran to perform contemporary music at the Fadjir Festival. I was confronted with all my prejudices about Islam and was in many ways contradicted. I was shocked how Western newspapers had influenced my thinking about Iran. The women I met refuted my ideas of the suppressed Islamic woman. They were proud and self-confident. They worked as journalists, behind the camera, as musicians, were highly educated. We observed each other, talked to each other, had many questions, tried to understand each others way of life or thinking. Admittedly, not always successful, some of the discrepancies were to strong to overcome, but I met wonderful people, warm, openhearted, hospitable. The men’s world stayed locked to me, though.
At the moment I call Austria my home. I am still a stranger. I have realised this is a good thing. It means I stay curious, I learn everyday, I grow, I am more tolerant for the various ways of life. I don’t know anymore so easily what is right and what is wrong and that is good. I have filled my “Wanderbook” with places, with friends, with dreams and with fulfilled ideas. My travels, the people I have met, the obstacles I had to overcome, have changed the way I am.
Where did you wander? And how did it change you to who you are now? That is what we would like to know. Send us a photo, a text, a video of a place you visited, an impression of a country that shaped you, a recording of a language you miss. Pingback it to us by adding a link to this post or add a comment. We are looking forward to hearing from you.