We’re Better Than This

The Refugee people sent me a young mother today with her four-year-old child who had a cough.
She said: “Interrupter, please.”
I looked at her, not understanding.
“Needing interrupter. Not English.”
I preferred to have a go without an interpreter.
“You tell me, I listen” – I said.
“My child much coughing.”
I listened to the chest of the vivacious child whose smile would melt an official from Immigration and Border Protection. I looked at her throat, I felt her glands. She was well, simply suffering from a snot attack. I ordered an anti-snotic.
I addressed Mum: “From what country.”
“Iran.”
“Salaam.”
A look of surprise. A brilliant smile.
I hadn’t picked her nationality. Her peasant blouse, embroidered with edging of magenta and primrose, somehow made me expect she’d be Hazara. That and her creamy skin. Wrong.

“Are you a Permanent Resident?”
A shake of the head. “Commentary Detention.”
“Are you on a Bridging Visa?”
“No. Commentary. Not visa. Commentary Detention.”

“Ahh… community detention?”
Nodding, a smile, we two are doing well despite the lack of an interrupter. But the smile empty of joy.

“My husband, the police, make shee – you know, shee?” The young woman waves her hand in a whipping movement. “Shee. Sixty times, they make shee.”
The woman pulls out her phone, shows me a photo: an adult lies face down on a narrow bed. The creamy skin of a broad back, fine scarlet streaks, the skin must have been lashed with wires.

“They do this before five years. We are not marry, he is boyfriend. I have baby” – she points to her belly – “They tell, ‘You wait, you come after baby, you also sixty shee.’”

The young woman’s pregnancy approached its end, she was summoned to the police station, but fled here, arriving four years ago – pre-Rudd solution.
“My mother, police tell her ‘where is your daughter?’ Mother tell, ‘daughter in Australia.’
They say, ‘No is hiding. Is in Iran. Must come to police station, have shee.’ They call mother many times. She very scare.”

The daughter appears to believe full well the police intend to keep their promise.
So, the boat. Detention at Curtin, then in South Australia. ‘My baby, not Iran.” The smile, this one half-charged: “Born Darwin.”
 
Her visa is not permanent resident.
Her visa is not bridging.
Her visa is not.
She is community detention.
 
What are we that we might send her back?
 
Whom are we bombing in Syria and Iraq?
Why?
 
I believe it likely the tide of opinion will swing in Australia because we – not our leaders – are better than that.

http://wbttaus.org


http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=tl19NhC0d78

Blog Wail

A week or so ago this blog wailed about the darkness of the news, the darkness at the heart of man. Two readers responded.
One referred to my wailing as my de profundis, an expression I’d seen bobbing along on the high cultural current over my decades, passing by unpassed. Now it came to me: from the depths. That rang a bell: David, warrior poet, king of ancient Israel, wrote a psalm,
min ha’ma’amakim, From the depths I called…’

Well, two answered my call.

From England, author, bloggish fruitcake maker and novelist Hilary Custance Green is writing her account of her father, a POW in the same camp as Weary Dunlop. He was
one of many untrained medical orderlies who worked in the camp under Canadian surgeon Jacob Markovitz. She writes: “I used to weep continuously as I read these accounts, but I found a dreadful tendency to habituate to the misery and cruelty…”

Robert Hillman, Australian novelist and ghostwriter of lives in ghastly times and climes, sent an antidote:

“Dear Howard – I’ve read your De Frofundis, and your blog about the Richard Flanagan book. I’ll get that book, most certainly, after all you had to say about it. The De Profundis was wonderful in its sincerity, Howard. It’s what all of (us) want to say. But you actually said it. And yet, you know, thank God that there are people of courage and grace in the world who also have a say. I’ve just finished writing a book (‘The Wailing Song’) for a guy who served – most reluctantly – in the Iranian armed forces in the last two years of the Iran-Iraq war. A situation arose when his most senior officer made a mistake, failing to issue an order to 2500 men under his command to withdraw to a ceasefire position in the face of an Iraqi advance. My guy knew of the mistake, and after awful soul-searching, decided to issue the order himself. If he had not, those 2500 men would have been massacred by the vastly superior Iraqi force. Usurping the authority of a Colonel when you are no more than a humble corporal will almost certainly get you court-martialed and hanged in the Iranian army. My guy accepted that he would be hanged, but went ahead and issued the order anyway – he was circumstantially in a position to do so, without having his authority questioned. The men were saved, my guy wasn’t hanged, due to the difficulty the Colonel would have had in explaining his blunder. Its one of those existential situations, a moment of truth, when all that you hope about yourself and believe about yourself is suddenly up for testing: do you have the courage to die at the end of noose in order to save others? Will your life have any meaning if you find a way to duck out? It must be like being thrust into an arena, a bright light directed at you. Here’s your chance. Yes or no?”

I know that moment of moral choice. I know it from reading with growing dread Conrad’s Lord Jim. I read it in the dread of self-knowledge that I would not rise to that challenge. However, since the start of my sixth decade I have imagined that I might.
(Free advice: read ‘Joyful’, which I enthused over in this blog half a year ago. Hillman writes in his own and in many voices of those who struggle in these depths and of some who rise in them).

376,000 Footsteps in the Sisterhood of Man

It was the running of the Jews. Not in Khazakstan but at Melbourne’stan.

Historically, you only saw a bunch of Jews running if there was a fire or a pogrom. But yesterday hundreds of Jews were afoot, an infrequent event since the original Fun Run across the Red Sea. (On that occasion all the Israelites crossed the line. The Egyptians failed to finish.)

We Jews were not alone at the Tan: joining us were Africans from the Horn and from Mandela country; a pair of Iranians, a smiling Swiss, sundry Catholic Australians; the odd Chinese, a couple of Argentines and their Australian born progeny. And my wife and my not-very-old oldest grandchild.

If a kilometre is one thousand metres and the average human pace is one metre, and the circumference of the ‘Tan’ is 3.76 kilometres, then a single lap represents 3760 paces. Yesterday saw 376000 paces in the sisterhood of man.

My team, “Queue Jumpers”, named in honour of those disgraceful individuals who do not go through the correct channels, raised about 1800 dollars. The entire event raised in excess of $20,000, to be spent in two struggling Aboriginal communities in far north NSW and in a Community Centre for queue jumpers from Darfur.

Over coffee, before the event Akbar the Persian storyteller told a story. Akbar has elevated my runs over 25 years – ‘one quarter of a century’, he observes – with folktales from his homeland. Yesterday’s story: The revolution was coming in Iran. We knew people, Bahai, whose houses were burnt by militants. A friend said to us – do not stay in your house. It is not safe. They will burn your house next.

We decided to leave. We went to a cousin’s house. But another warned – ‘this house will be burned tonight.’

We had to leave. We all ran from the house but a man with a big automatic weapon stood outside. He said: ‘Do not go. They will burn this house only when my body is dead.’

That man was Savak. Secret Police. But we did not wait. Instead we ran. We ran to the house of the parents of this young woman…

Akbar here indicated his niece, Paloma. It turns out that Paloma -‘dove’ in Spanish – speaks Spanish fluently. This dove was born in Bristol. She takes up the story: My father was in America. He bought a red Ford Mustang. I sat in the back; there were only two doors. He brought the Ford Mustang to Bristol and he drove us, Mother and me and Father, to France, then all across Europe, all the way to Iran. I was four when we left Bristol, but I remember the red car, I remember I sat in the back.

Akbar takes up the story: We ran to the house of Paloma’s father and mother, all of us – myself, my parents and my cousin. Paloma’s family took us in and we stayed. We stayed in their house for nine months and we were safe.

And then we came to Australia.

Akbar smiled. He said it was time for a real Persian story. He told a folk story, of Mullah Nasruddin. Akbar’s story took us to a different age, a different place. We sat in the sunshine and watched and listened to the genial teller of tales as he smiled and talked.

Then we arose and ran, we Aussies, we Jews, we Muslims; we Africans and Catholics; we old and wrinkled ones, we new and sprightly ones; we arose and ran 376,000 footsteps in the Sisterhood of Man.