Thursday, July 19, 2012

Seeking Asylum – The risk for a better life

'A look can say a thousand words, if only those looks had a voice'

Dark brown, hazel coffee glaze, deeper than the deepest cave, darker than a moonless night’s frown. Studying, interpreting, withdrawing from inside my body, deep into the dark crevices of my soul. Those eyes. They focus directly into the pupils of my own. They strip every barrier that surrounds me, dissolve the confidence that radiates from me, and knocks the chip off my shoulder that I carry around with me. He has the body of a twelve year old child, but the maturity of a gorilla soldier. The young child sits alone in the mid-section of the bus. His head cocked sideways gazing with those eyes. What was really only a brief moment felt like a lifetime. I know he felt it to.
I stand there at the beginning of the Jetty observing the transaction of people. I look around and try to spot the camera’s as if it was a Hollywood film shoot. I’m the only one stopped and starring, everyone else goes about their business in their usual way. It’s simple, it’s safe, it’s a routine for these Australian Federal police and SAS Marines as they laugh and joke about the weekend shenanigans or the football scores while the undetermined identities sit in nice neat rows when instructed to do so by the man yielding the assault rifle. I don’t understand the atmosphere here. There are 105 of them, men, women, and children crammed into a rickety 9 meter wooden boat that just spent the last 28 hours chugging across the 350 kilometer wide java trench that bridges Christmas Island to Indonesia. 28 hours is the minimum amount of time if the conditions are just right. 28 hours of standing side by side to one another, some of them hip holstering infants. 28 hours of no food, water, or toilet facilities. Shoulder to shoulder when there’s nowhere to go but where you stand. 28 hours if you’re lucky that is… you can double the time in the water and half the chances of arriving if this boat departed from elsewhere. God help the ones still out there.
Just like clockwork, the pilot boat returns with another group of Asylum seekers. They wait their turn, patiently and gracefully planting their feet on Australian soil. I’m still confused, I don’t understand the atmosphere when finally something predictable happens. A desperate Iraqi man jumps from the wooden boat into the water, he mustn’t have thought they were coming back for him, the poor guy didn't know how to swim... Number tags are laced loosely around their necks, the only sort of identity they have for the moment. I stand and I stare, they sit and they stare back. I don’t speak to them, they don’t speak to me, they don’t speak to each other, no one speaks. No words can do its justice. I think about how they see me, do they think I’m a rich spoiled Westerner?-they would be right. Do they think I take my life for granted?- They would be wrong. Do they know I’m just a Canadian backpacker observing the ugly truth to the world?-How could they even know what a backpacker is, such luxuries don’t exist for those willing to risk their lives to escape something much worse than death itself. Suddenly I feel foolish for risking mine so many times in the name of nothing more than my own amusement.
 As before they are calm and systematic, they board the awaiting buses laden for the detention center where they will be processed. Men segregated from women, women segregated from orphans; families get to stay together. The buses drive past one by one, and that’s when I see him, that child, that small boy, those god damn eyes. A moment’s glimpse will etch that sight into my mind for the rest of my life. I’m left fixed to that position blinking repeatedly with the watery eyes of the diesel smoke. I don’t know if I’m blinking my eyes because of the smoke or because I think I'll see those eyes again like you see the sun after staring directly into it long after its gone. That one momentary look told me a story of such grief and hardship completely lacking the need for sympathy. What ever has happened in this young boys life leading up to this bus ride was over but there was no need to feel sorrow nor excitement.  That bus was headed for a future, a brighter future Where it was going, it was better than where he had come from.
 I walked out to the end of the desolate jetty where all the action had unfolded moments ago. The wooden boat is being towed out to sea and I watch it. I watch and I think. I can’t help myself now; my mind’s racing a mile a minute. Finally the wooden boat becomes nothing more than a small black dot on the nearly black horizon. A plume of smoke rises up from the dived between water and cloud.
Goodbye boat,
Today you have traversed 350 Kilometers
Today you have saved 105 people.
Today you have changed and changed 106 lives.
 Rest in peace.
Shalom our wooden savior. 

1 comment:

  1. ll am sure everyone that reads this will agree.... Feeling very teary eyed:(. Well you could never in a million years have been prepared for your adventures any better than you have done. I think of that day at the airport... Watching you head through customs and I turn to your mom and shake my head:(. We can't even imagine all that you have seen and experienced in almost two years! Some memories good and some not so good. All in which , including the "little boy" have made you whom you are today. Stay safe xo