Because your spirit never dies

“Because your spirit never dies

Because you opened up our eyes… Oh sweet child of earth. Back in the land of your birth…

If you could only understand. If you could only take my hand.”
This song Louis St John by Archie Roach, was written about a young, 19 year old indigenous man who was killed in Perth by a group of white men who left him on the side of the road after purposefully running over him in a car. He then received inadequate care from medical staff who told him to just sleep off his injuries. He never woke up the next day.

 

He was fostered by a white Australian couple who did not know he was taken away from his parents.
As a teenager he wanted to find his family. He was from Alice springs so his foster parents and Louis went to Alice springs. The department would not give him the names or any information about his parents.
He left Alice springs with no information and without meeting his family.
He was eventually reunited with his parents in Alice springs when he was laid in a coffin. His mum was later buried next to him.
I was listening to this song on the train home tonight and my emotions overwhelmed me as I thought of my brother.
How unfair his death was. A young boy of six years old. Although he received amazing medical treatment throughout all the years of his short life, from a hospital who was in love with him (and knew him much too well), he didn’t get a fair life.
I know that life is unfair. I know that children do die young. Children from all ethnicities die from illnesses. But children also die from unnecessary injustices, such as war and poverty.
I can’t help but wonder what his life would have been like if Australia was never colonised.
What would his life have been like if his culture, land and people were not taken away?
What life would he have had if the world was fairer; If Australia was just?
He was born with more than 10 medical conditions and some still unknown health issues.
What would his life have been like if the health gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians was different?
Would he have lived to see 7? 10? Or 60 years old?
Would he have learnt to speak?
Would he have been able to see?
Would he have been able to communicate?
He was perfect. But his life was not fair. At six years old he grew weary and couldn’t fight anymore. He survived such hardship and more battles than many face in a life time. He couldn’t do it anymore. He shouldn’t have had too.
“Because your spirit never dies
Because you opened up our eyes… Oh sweet child of earth. Back in the land of your birth…
If you could only understand. If you could only take my hand.”

Reverse Culture Shock.

Culture shock is spoken about a lot before people travel. It’s a real thing, and what I say below isn’t meant to dismiss the idea of culture shock at all.

Maybe it’s simply because I have been lucky to travel quite a few times, so I don’t feel any culture shock. Or maybe it is because, despite growing up in a rich country, my parents brought me up aware of the world. Although I grew up in a wealthy country, most of my life wasn’t spent in the wealthy parts, or necessarily with wealthy people. I saw the less wealthy part of our country and was exposed to different cultures. Maybe these reasons are why I don’t feel culture shock when going overseas. But from as long as I can remember, I don’t recall having experienced culture shock (maybe my Mum and Dad have a different view from when we went to Thailand when I was 6?).

I think it is because I have a strong desire to live simply. I want to live with minimal technology. I want to live in a place where people rise with the sun and sleep with the moon (although that would take a lot of adjusting to!). I want to live in a way that causes minimal environmental harm. I want to live in community. With my travels I’m often in places where this is reality; this is normal life. For some it isn’t a choice. For some, they are simply poor (in money) that they cannot afford an easier life. For me, I think I don’t experience culture shock because I find myself in a place I want to be. A place I’d love to end up in one day.

(I don’t mean to say that everything is easy. There are many things that are different and that I have to learn or get to used to. However, I enjoy and love this. I love experiencing new ways of doing things and seeing how the rest of the world lives.)

It hit me tonight that I will be back in Australia on Thursday. I began to feel really anxious and sad. I don’t want to go back. This happens every time I’m overseas for a decent time. The idea of going home is scary. And I think I’ve figured out why, I hate this part of travel, the coming home.

While I’ve never experienced culture shock, reverse culture shock seems to hit me hard. I remember coming home after six weeks in India. I found it really hard adjusting back to life. I was frustrated with the world, how can we live so comfortably in Australia when people are dying from poverty. For some reason today I was reminded of the Christmas Day I spent in India. I saw a man, he was dead on the side of the road. People were trying to see if he was alive. I can still, to this day, hear the sound of the mans body fall to the ground as someone tried to pick him up. He was lying in a pool of blood. His dead body was too heavy and he hit the ground with a loud thud. How sad it’d be to die alone, on the side of the road. How is our world so incredibly unequal?

After my trip to the Middle East I found it really hard. I had gone from three months travelling, and moved straight to Melbourne (didn’t go home first). I remember how helpless I felt back in Australia after seeing such hardships in Palestine. One thing I remember clearly, which happened a few times, was looking out for check points when on the buses in Melbourne. After only a month in Palestine this was one of the things which really stuck with me.

I think I am beginning to understand why I don’t like returning, and why I experience reverse culture shock, like many others I know do. It’s more than being frustrated with our lifestyle; our easy, carefree, wealthy lifestyle. It’s how easily I fall back into it. While I want to resist it all, I can’t, at least not at this stage of my life.

I really have no words about how amazing my trip to Sri Lanka was. The last two weeks of my trip were speical. I will write a write a blog post about it soon, hopefully. There is so much I learnt, so much I saw. But it was emotionally and mentally hard. It was important and I learnt so much, and I am coming back to Australia with even more motivation for our Walking for Freedom campaign, and other activist work.

I think it’s crazy how easily I can stay in a village home with no air conditioning, an outside bucket shower, mattress on the floor, with an outdoor squat toilet, in a place where electricity cuts are often and be completely happy and comfortable. Yet, I can happily, and comfortably come home to a big bed, heater on, with warm showers and electricity that doesn’t cut out often. I’d much rather the first to be my reality. I’ll try and make my life a little simpler each and every day.

While I am nervous about coming back I am looking forward to getting back to my commitments. I am looking forward to Rockhampton Peace Convergence, I think that will help ease my transition back into life.

Or… maybe none of that is true and I just really don’t want to go back because it’s winter down there!

Let the world carry you.

In the late hours tonight I leave Sri Lanka. I can’t believe my seven weeks here are over. I am sad to be leaving. I will miss the hot weather. I will miss the food. I will miss the tuktuks and motorbikes. I will miss the crazy long bus trips. I will miss the new friends I have made. I will miss the outdoor showers. I will miss so much!

I have been so lucky. Over the past seven weeks, only once I have paid for accommodation (last night). I’ve been looked after and cared for by so many people. It’s been incredible. People who I’ve met here for the first time have taken me in and treated my like family. They’ve cooked for me, provided me with a place to sleep and with incredible hospitality. They’ve shared with me stories of their happiness and pain, and welcomed me into their lives. They’ve all kept in regular contact with me making sure I am safe, feed and happy wherever I go.

I went to a Hindu wedding in Batticaloa. I had a bath in a lake in Hambantota. I went on a motorbike ride through Killinochchi. I had a picnic with a family on a beautiful, empty beach in Trinco. I learnt to enjoy naps. I had many daytime naps. I saw Hindu celebrations. I watched the sunset at Batticaloa beach. I got caught in the rain on the top of Little Adams Peak. I got stopped by monkeys while walking to a waterfall. I sat on the back of a bicycle while my new friend rode me to her village in Mullaitivu. I took many bus rides. One bus ride which was 100km through dirt roads in the jungle, and took 4 hours. I wandered streets. I ate incredibly fresh and amazing fruit. I laughed. I smiled.

I’m spending a few days in Malaysia before I head to QLD. I am excited to go to Malaysia, I have never been before. I’ll be spending a few days in Penang, the one place in Malaysia I’ve be interested in visiting for a while now!

It’s hard. But it’s beautiful.

Vanakkam.

I have been constantly changing what I’ve written below. I don’t know how best to describe my thoughts about my last few days. I don’t know why it’s been so hard, but it has been. These may be imperfect thoughts, but they are the thoughts that are running through my head as I travel this beautiful land.

I don’t know if I am over-the-moon with happiness, or about to breakdown and cry. I want to smile, for I am so, so happy. But at the same time, I want to cry.

My mind and my heart keep thinking of the stories, the faces of my friends, their families, the history of this place and the hidden reality that remains. I want to kick up a fuss. Make some noise. Hold a vigil outside the army base. But I can’t. It’s not my place. I have only been here for one month and I have no right to say what I want (especially when it’s not a helpful response!) I’m trying to let go of my thoughts, and I am being open to new ideas. I am seeing youth find positive ways to create a peaceful future. It’s encouraging, to say the least. I’m glad I’m here to learn and listen, but it’s hard to stay quiet. It’s hard but rewarding. I’m learning so much.

I’ve been fortunate to hear some stories already. I have seen the pain. I spent time with a family in the north whose son is a refugee in Australia, and a friend of mine. The sadness expressed as this mother asked me many questions about why her son has been treated this way, and why she cannot visit him. When will she see him again? It’s been ten years.

I felt so much pain when she asked me these questions. Not because I thought she was blaming me, but because these are the questions which I, and many others have been asking. Many Australians have been trying to change our governments treatment towards refugees and the Immigration policies for years. I felt pain at the thought of all the work refugee advocates have done, and how our efforts haven’t reached this mother or her son. How all the protests, vigils, petitions, letters, meetings with politicians, haven’t had seemed to help.

What do you say to a mother who may never see her child again, due to politics? What do you say when the current Government has only tightened up and lessened the chance of them ever meeting again?

How I wish it is Peter Dutton and Scott Morrision had the chance to hear these questions in person. How I wish they were the ones who struggled to sleep at the thought of the families lives who’ve been broken by our Government.

Despite the pain my Government has caused this family, I was welcomed. Despite my early arrival at 5:30am and my very limited, almost non-existent Tamil, I was welcomed. Why couldn’t we welcome her son?

I was honored and had a lovely time staying with this family. So much so, that I am going back next week to stay with them for a few more nights. While it is hard to see the effects our Governments Immigration policies are having on the families back home, it is important for me. I feel very privileged and lucky to be here, and to hear these stories of pain. I am lucky, because I am able to meet my friends families, while my friends don’t know when, or if they will ever see them again.

I have also meet with three individuals who sought asylum in Australia but were deported back to Sri Lanka. One of them had been living in Australia for two years, when out of the blue he was deported. I visited them in their village. A small village which still has a strong Sri Lankan Military presence. The war ended six years ago, so why is the military there?

I’m seeing similarities between Sri Lanka and other conflicts around the world, such as the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Sinhala people are being settled in Tamil areas, so to keep the Tamil people a minority everywhere. Army bases can still be seen all over the north; keeping a constant presence over the communities. Tamil people continue to wait for their land to be returned.

The place where I am staying in Mullaitivu is opposite an army headquarters base. This headquarters was built on top of a LTTE graveyard. I cannot think of anything more disrespectful or intently cruel than this. And there was no way for people to speak out against the building of this base. For, at the time people were severely punished, faced disappearance, torture or jail for speaking out against the Government or Army. The families and friends of those who died will never be able to visit their graveyards. How the Army was able to get away with this is beyond me. Whenever I think of this, when I walk outside and see it, I just can’t accept it. It’s not okay. It will never be okay.

I’ve seen a few more of the Australian Government billboards stating that coming by boat to Australia is illegal. I’ve had many conversations with Sri Lankan people about this, and almost all of them have thought this to be true. I’ve had to explain how the posters are literally lying. How it is not illegal. The free, Australian me, wants to make a counter poster and put them on top of these billboards, on poles and trees around the place. I want a new message shared, one that welcomes yet warns of the danger. One that is honest in the inhumane way we are currently treating Asylum seekers, but pointing out the care and love many Australian have for refugees. I want to acknowledge that at the moment my Government wouldn’t welcome you if you came by boat, but point out that it is not illegal, and you do have a right to seek safety elsewhere, if you are in life-threatening danger. The activist in my wants to graffiti and say something along the lines of “I’m Australian and I am sorry.”

It’s hard. It’s hard to stay quiet when I’ve heard so many stories of pain. It’s hard to stay quiet when I’ve followed this issue for a while. But, it is important that I listen. It’s important that I continue to be open to new ways of building peace and to allow myself to feel happy with the work that is being done.

It’s been amazing to see so many young people who care so deeply about their country. It’s been inspiring to see them work tireless to bridge the gap between Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people. It’s very hopeful to know that they will continue to work so that hatred and division stops here, and does not become a part of the future. It’s amazing to see new ways of working for peace, and I have found some new ideas to bring back to Australia.

It’s hard. But I’m in love with this land.

Alive

I wrote this piece on the train today after visiting my friend in detention. He had just found out that, after six years in detention, his security assessment is now clear. Incredible news. Here are some of my thoughts written down.

Alive

Imagine every day being the same.

For the past six years.

Each day waking up.

But never actually alive.

Somehow you manage to continue on.

Although you have no hope.

You try.

Though you have no future insight.

You manage to put on a smile.

You manage to laugh.

And sometimes really mean it.

But you are not really there.

For how can you be?

And then one day good news finally comes.

After waking up each day.

For the past six years.

Things have changed.

You shake.

You are told you’ll soon be free.

You can’t stop shaking.

Then.

You freeze.

Your mind. You ears.

Everything stops.

You call everyone you know.

You tell your friends, your family.

Hugs, and tears are all around.

And you smile.

Oh how you smile.

You cannot stop smiling.

You could never have imagined this.

This was not how you thought your day would go.

For who could have known?

Who could have known.

That tomorrow.

You’ll wake up.

But this time alive

.

Walking for Freedom

Some of us who were in Canberra for Walking for Freedom caught up the other night. We went to see a play, The Process, and have a discussion about what we should do next with Walking for Freedom. We had some great discussions and I am excited to see where we will go from here!

The play we saw was incredible. It was about a Tamil refugee with an adverse ASIO assessment. It was very confronting. Despite knowing a lot of the details about people with adverse ASIO assessments, and despite being good friends with some of them, this play broke me again. It was as if I was hearing about this situation for the first time. Seeing the process that led to this and the way the actor deteriorated and lost all sense of hope and reality, was full on. There were some distressing moments and I couldn’t stop thinking of my friends. It was raw; personal. It was real to us. It wasn’t some play about a horrific situation overseas; it was a horrific story about what our country is doing. This unimaginable story of suffering is the story of our very friends.

It was only three weeks ago that we were in Canberra, although it feels like a lifetime ago. All our planning, time and energy resulted in a pretty successful week. We spent time hanging out at the Aboriginal Tent embassy, mourning and acknowledging the invasion of Australia. We were then lucky enough to have Aran Mylvaganam and Brad Coath run a workshop and speak about the issue of refugees in indefinite detention, and in particular Tamil’s fleeing Sri Lanka. As the majority of refugees in this situation are Tamil’s from Sri Lanka. We screened the documentary No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka to give people context and some history into a part of the Sri Lankan civil war.

The highlight of our week was the non-stop 32 hour walk around the ASIO offices in Canberra. Before we started the walk we had some time of reflection to centre ourselves. With four TV networks filming us, we began walking at 12pm on the 28th of January. We were ready to go, full of energy and determination. We were amazed with how much media had arrived, particularly because we had much smaller numbers than expected.

For the next 32 hours we were based at a park with at least two people walking all the time. Once one pair were finished a lap of the buildings, the next walkers would take over. We managed to have people walking for the entire 32 hours, which was pretty impressive considering only 19 people walked with us.

The night time walking was hard. We had four people covering the 8pm – 1am walking shift, and then three people covering the 1am – 6am shift. Although it was summer the night was freezing, an icy wind swept through in the early hours of the morning. It was tough walking but we knew we only had 32 hours to walk.

We had a time frame, an ending time. Unlike our friends who don’t know when their time in detention will end. At 3am it felt like we weren’t going to make it (at least I didn’t think I would be able to finish!), however we knew how much time we had remaining. And this helped.

After lots of walking, talking, napping on benches and grass, sleeping in cars and eating yummy food, we finished. On Thursday night, at 7pm we had our last lap around the buildings. Together we walked to the old ASIO building (where most workers are still based) and had our last speak out. We also delivered a letter to ASIO (which we hope they read) written by our friends. We read it out to those who were still in the office, and then slid it under their door.

It was a bittersweet ending for me. Although I was exhausted and not feeling overly well, it felt strange to stop. It was weird to no longer be walking. We just spent 32 hours straight putting all our energy, time, our bodies and minds into this cause. Although this wasn’t the end for us, it was sad to be finishing. Sitting outside ASIO for the last time that week I was overwhelmed. I looked up at the ASIO building which seemed to be taller and stronger than when I first arrived. This struggle we are facing is serious. We are trying to ask ASIO, our country’s security organisation to admit to their mistakes, to apologise to our friends who have lost six years of their lives. We are asking ASIO to fix their mess and to own up to their wrongdoings.

A small group of 20 year olds from Melbourne are asking, along with many, many other Australians, why ASIO is keeping so many secrets? Why they aren’t sharing the information they have found? And why are they denying people their basic human rights? How can ASIO and our Government get away with this?

While our friends continue to be detained indefinitely with no legal or human rights, we will continue to shine light on this issue with the hope that one day soon they are not only all released, but this process which keeps people indefinetly detained is erased.

We had a great time in Canberra raising awareness about refugees with adverse ASIO assessments. We were amazed by all the media coverage we got throughout the week, and all the support from people around the country. We believe that if all people knew what was happening with our friends that they too would walk with us. They would walk for the freedom of the, now, 31 refugees indefinitely detained because of ASIO assessments.

Will you walk with us?

Free at last.

I finally saw my friend yesterday. I saw him as a free man.

Well, free from detention.

After five years in detention, I picked him up and brought him around for dinner. Five of us ate together; five of us who one month ago, could only see each other at the detention centre. We were only ever allowed to visit our friend in the allocated visitor’s room, guarded by Serco workers. We were only allowed to stay until 8 pm, 7:30pm on Mondays. We could only bring certain things with us. If it was really busy, we were only allowed to stay for an hour and a half.

Our friendship was built in a strange environment.

There were so many rules.

My friend was, and many still are, indefinitely detained with no legal rights to fight.

But last night I got to see my friend free. He got to sit in my house, a free man.

And I got to visit his new home, and hear about his new life.

Yet, despite his freedom, he is not fully free (are any of us ever really free?).

He may be physically free; free from guards, regulations and rules. Free to make his own decisions. But his struggle for freedom hasn’t ended here.

He isn’t free to travel to see his family overseas, and he isn’t free from stress, worry or pain. He is free to work, but faces more challenges than you or I. Can you imagine the questions “why weren’t you employed the last five years? What were you doing?” How do you explain that ASIO thought you were a security threat, but five years later they changed their mind?

He is free to live in Australia for now, but no permanent visa is given. When will he be free to plan for the future?

Five years have been taken, from his and many others lives (some 37 people are still in detention, days adding up to weeks, months and years). How does a government make up for the years it has stolen?

How do we, as Australians, help to make up for their lost time? How do we welcome in those we have treated so inhumanely?

How does Australia recover from this great injustice? How do we heel and move forward as a nation when our government and ASIO do not own up to their mistake?

Will my friend, and the 56 other people who were wrongly detained because of an ASIO assessment, ever feel free?

——————————————————————————————————————–

While my friends continue to be detained, and while those let free from detention remain in a state of uncertain limbo, I don’t feel free. While I have plans and dreams for my future, my thoughts immediately come back to my friends and their struggle. While I want to finish my degree and work internationally, I think of my friends at MITA detention centre and those within the community. How do I leave when some of my best friends are worried that they may be deported to their home country, where they may be jailed, tortured or killed?

When I fly home in the holidays to see my friends and family I immediately think of my friends at MITA detention centre. Some haven’t seen their families in over seven years. Some have lost close family members and been unable to attend funerals. Some have missed five years of their children’s lives, with no sign that they will be seeing them anytime soon.

When I stress over my busy life and things that I need to do, I immediately think of my friends. While I worry about my next assignment, how to coordinate an event or what to do when our lease runs out, my friends worry about their elderly parents who they haven’t seen in years. My friends stress over what they can do to help their families, while they themselves are detained. My friends worry about how they will last another day locked up, each day losing a bit more of the hope they once held so strongly.

When a train or bus is delayed and makes me late for something my first reaction is to get stressed and impatient. But again, I immediately think of my friends who despite being detained for five years, have patience. They aren’t full of hate towards our government. They peacefully wait.

I have learnt so much from the friendships I have made at MITA detention centre. People, who ASIO and the Australian government are fearful of, have taught me the most about forgiveness, patience, hope and life. They’ve taught me so much about hospitality through their selfless hospitality each week. Despite having very little, they give everything.

And they have given up everything. Their family, possessions and homeland in order to find safety. And in return they are given very little, if anything at all.

While I rejoice in the recent releasing of some of my friends, it is only momentary. For the reality of the situation quickly sinks in. This isn’t the end, but only the beginning of a very long walk to freedom.

As I type, I am reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr which seems fitting, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be, until you are what you ought to be.”