The Link (Ranjan Abayasekara)
It is a strange gathering. I look at the people seated around the
groups of people I see around me are obviously enjoying quite a strong bond
with one another. I see them greet each other the way one greets a returning
loved one at the airport. A lot is said, and a lot more is left unspoken.
The joy of spending time together is evident. One lot of folk are from
'outside', they are visiting the other lot, who are 'inside'.
We all may have seen groups like this in other places. In most
has been easy to work out the link they have with one another. It could be
their sports club's big night. Or, as is most obvious with followers of a
sports team clad in their colours, it is their team's performance, which
binds them all together. Or it is a religious group caught up in a
celebration. Or a family clan celebrating a happy event.
I am trying to work out in my mind what is it that unites these people
closely. Looking through the glass partition, an outsider would be hard
pressed to see what could possibly be the link that is binding them one to
another. In appearance it is quite apparent that they are not from the same
country. The colour of their skins reveal they are from different lands.
Their speech and accents are also quite varied. The dress of the ladies also
hasn't much in common.
Their faces show animation. I see deep emotion expressed sometimes.
that lady saying to her friend with an expression of intense gratitude? I
edge closer. I realise they do not even share a common language. The English
spoken between them is almost unintelligible at times, if only deciphered
with the 'head'. I realise that they are communicating not so much with
their heads, but with their hearts. That is why they can communicate so well
with one another. It is quite extraordinary.
I see a young lad, very tall and good looking. He seems to be smiling
the time. His sister is seated by him. Two girls and a lady are talking to
them. They have brought food, and laid it out on the table. The girls are in
their school uniform - they are from a Private Catholic High School in a
town located 100 kilometres away. The boy and his sister are from Iran. The
schoolgirls are Australian. They are having a great time together.
At a table I see a visiting lady who is taking out a card pack. They
just finished eating cake and drinking coffee, and have cleared the table
top. It is an old card game - Lexicon! Cards in the form of English
are dealt out to all taking part. There is an Afghan couple and a Vietnamese
couple looking quite excited at their participation. Their English is not
too good, but they make three letter words; sometimes a bigger word. Others
around the table give their comments and help. There is some laughter and
banter at funny or mis-spelt words.
At another table there is an Australian lady with her 3 grown up
daughters - one is just out of her teenage years. They are sitting in a
largish group of about 10 people, all from Afghanistan. Some knitted gifts
made by the Afghan ladies are being given out. It is quite beautiful - not
only the handcrafted work, but the emotion on the face of the recipients.
The Australian lady is discussing with one of the men about the kites he
makes from scrap materials, for the children inside. She promises to get him
some proper materials. A daughter is setting up a game of Ludo with three of
I see an Australian lady. She is waiting for a young family to come
tells me that she has something for her 5 year old grand-daughter. It is
puzzling, as I see no young Aussie girls in the room. The Iranian family
arrive, and their five year old's eyes light up. She dashes oblivious
everyone else, into the open arms of her waiting 'grandma'. A lump comes to
my throat as I realise the strength of the bond between this 'alien' child
and her Aussie grandma. They hold each other in a tight hug, as I move away.
I wander outside into the yard. An Australian couple are talking
with a young couple carrying a baby. The man asks if he could carry the
baby. She is only a few weeks old, and firmly clasps a tiny hand around his
little finger. This couple drive 400 km from Adelaide, each weekend to visit
this young Iranian family. There is a deep attachment between them all. How
is this possible? They are from different continents, and did not know each
other until ten months ago!
There is a bearded Aussie seated on a bench. He is talking to three
his hand he has a small atlas of the world. He asks them to show the places
they come from. One says he is from the centre of Afghanistan, the homeland
of the Hazara people, and marks the region. An Iranian says he is from the
area where the Mandean communities live and shows the location on a map of
Iran. The third says he is from a village far from Kabul. There are no
proper roads, no telephones, no hospitals at his small village. It's name
will not be on his country's map. He vaguely points at the map of
Afghanistan with a sad look in his eyes, as he recalls the murder of his
At the blue metallic garden table, a Catholic sister is in deep
conversation with a bearded man. They are discussing the common ancestor of
Jews, Muslims and Christians - Abraham! It turns out that Abraham is an
Iraqi - probably a truth unknown to many folk who cheered the recent bombing
and destruction of that cradle of civilization.
At another bench, there are two pretty medical students from Adelaide.
is wearing a multi-coloured beanie on her head. They are talking and sharing
coffee with a group of three men. The men are Iraqis - from Baghdad, Najaaf
& Irbil. Could they & the girls have anything in common even in
times; but surely not at a time like this? When Australia has sent its sons
and daughters to kill or be killed in Iraq thousands of miles away! There is
laughter and mirth, deep serious conversation, many questions, many answers
shared. Quite amazing.
My puzzlement is further deepened. It is obvious that it is not
nationality, or language, or culture that is linking these disparate
individuals together. They could not be more far apart, especially at a time
like this. The US leadership had propounded the doctrine, that Australian
leaders have eagerly accepted, that those nations who are 'different' are
acceptable targets, and must be picked on to wage 'a just war'. It is a call
to all individuals to step backwards to a safe and simple fallback position.
"Cling to your nationality and kith and kin. Anyone outside that circle
fair game. Do not have anything to do with 'the other'. This is the way all
of 'us', will be safe, and 'relaxed & comfortable.' "
In the light of this doctrine, what then is going on in this place?
I must be dreaming? Or have I died, and gone to heaven?
There could be another explanation. Maybe they are all professionals,
qualified in a specialised field. Could a particular sport or scientific or
humanities interest link them all together like this? I inquire. One of the
says that he was a shepherd in the Afghan hills. The other says he was
printer in Baghdad. One says he was a businessman in Srilanka. Another a
medical doctor in Kabul. The ladies say they were mostly housewives. One is
a qualified pharmacist. One is a good cook and talks of running a restaurant
in Australia someday. They obviously do not have any common link.
What about the Aussies gathered here? A lady says she is a retired
headmistress. One is a lecturer at the University. A man is an Electrical
Technical Officer, another an Engineer. One lady is an Anglican, another
does not profess a religious faith. One is a City Councillor. Some of them
are retired folk. Others are young students. The grandma - she is just
that - a full time loving mum & grandma. She has four children and ten
grandchildren of her own, but still has room in her heart for these
forgotten souls, to enfold them with a love that will not let them go.
The Australian government successfully vilified the folk inside. The
of hatred, suspicion, ill-will, mistrust sown against these people for
electoral gain, reaped a bountiful harvest at the polls two years ago. Many
Australians have blindly followed the government's lead. However, many
others appear not to have done so. On some days you meet people from far off
capital cities - Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth - all come to this place
located two thousand or more kilometers away. During school holidays they
bring their kids along too - to experience an alternative Australia. An
Australia that could be - if only our vision was not clouded by paranoia
prejudice, and the divisions of nationality, communal grouping, religious
exclusiveness, social barriers,
language & cultural differences.
I see two boys, about four years old, one Australian and the other
walk hand in hand towards the central kids play area together. They
laughingly climb up the blue steps. Still with hands clasped, they slide
down the yellow double slide. They emerge tumbling, with triumphant smiles
at the bottom. These boys, and all the people gathered in Baxter Immigration
Detention Facility's Visitor Centre are celebrating the one thing we all
have in common, the only Link that really matters. It is our common
(C) Ranjan Abayasekara
21st September 2003
Tolerance not only saves others from your prejudices and fears, but frees
the soul to explore and accept the world that has been given to you.