An American in Admont?
This may have been the most beautiful of all the days. Everything just felt right about this day. It felt open and wide –not wide open—but the type of openness that was full and saturated.
I left my dwelling in Graz to travel to Leoben, a single-rail track town tucked away within the mountains of central Austria. From there, you wait for the once-every-two-hours coach bus that will take you to Admont, an even smaller town with the largest monastery library in the world.
The coach bus was empty when I climbed on, but it quickly filled as we passed the local elementary school where it transformed into the town-wide school bus. Growing nervous about my upcoming stop, I turned to the eight-year-old boy sitting quietly next to me and asked if he spoke English. At his affirmative response I asked where to get off to for the Stift Admont (The Admont Monastery). After answering, he asked where I was from. Upon telling him that I was from America, I watched his innocent eyes bulge out of his eyes as he said “America???” with childish wonder and amazement. I was an American! He had only heard of us through textbooks and stories of superheros.
I felt tension growing inside of me but laughing politely and explained how I’m trying to see more of the world. I didn’t like the immediate celebrity status I was given upon the realization that I was from America for a few reasons. First, I still struggle with my identity as an American. Realistically, most of my world views, mannerisms, beliefs, and traditions are western but still I can’t relate to the kids who grew up watching Boy Meets World or The Amanda Show and have specific relatives they visit on Thanksgiving and others that they see on Christmas and Easter. There is some disconnect. But then again, how can I claim that my big nose and love for lentils, rice, and pomegranates makes me an Iranian if I don’t even know how to write allah in Farsi? So not only was I hoping not to disappoint this kid and his first encounter with an “American” but I was also getting angry at the global privilege that Americans experience by telling a stranger where they are from *mic drop* Now, I can imagine someone thinking “you’re in the middle of nowhere Austria so meeting any foreigner would be amazing for this child,” but I implore you to ask yourself what would have happened if I told this child I was from Iran…
I told you the day was saturated.
Social privilege aside, I found myself descending the bus and walking into a picturesque landscape of grey mountains against the bluest sky under the greenest grass. Making my way into the monastery, I darted for the library. This time there was considerable hustle and bustle; I wasn’t stepping into a hidden land like before. No, this library had a reputation, a title associated with it: “The Largest Monastery Library.”