It is 7.55am. My son has his new Spiderman backpack (secondhand, 200 Afs at Bush Bazaar*), and my daughter has her new pink backpack (170Afs at Bush Bazaar, also secondhand). Lunches, books, hats, waterbottles all packed we exit our home, and the guard lets us out the compound door. Outside it is a clear morning. The dust has not yet risen in the streets, and the traffic is light. No helicopters overhead, no noise. We turn right and walk towards school. It is only a few minutes, past the National Congress for Afghanistan (a warlords political front), past several English and Computer schools, past delapidated and shelled houses, open drains, dogs wheezing in the morning cool.
School is a large compound. The walls have been raised several meters and are now topped with razor wire. To get in, we enter through a barred gate into an airlock chamber, where the guard surveys us, friendly and welcoming, before letting us into the next yard. Then one more gate, another guard and we are in the school. Elijah goes to his class: four other students, American, German, Spanish and Finnish. Pieta goes upstairs. Eight students in her class. I kiss them, and check on Elijah again. He broke his arm falling from a hammock two days ago and has been a bit weepy and small since then.
As I leave, the guard asks me who the older people were with me the previous day. ’My parents’, I reply. ‘Their first visit here’.
‘How long will they stay? One month or two?’
‘Only 9 days. They will go on to visit my sister.’
‘Ahh. They are welcome in here. Where are they from?’
‘A good country. There are many Afghans there.’
It is both a statement and a question. Most city Afghans know about Australia. They know many people went there, seeking a better life, seeking refuge. They know many were locked up. They know several hundred drowned enroute. They know others were turned away, sent to an island, sent back to Afghanistan.
I am again embarrassed for my country, for its hardness. For the Government which showed such intransigence and meanness in the face of human suffering ’It is a better country now’, I say, ‘There is a new Government. They are more kind.’
The guard nods, his face wrinkled and worn. Why am I apologising? I slip through the gate and he bolts the door behind me.
I wish I could be more proud of how Australia has conducted itself in recent years.
*Bush Bazaar: named for GW, for the huge number of blackmarket US items you can get there: sugary foods, blow up pools, apple sauce, pop tarts, mixed nuts, flick knives, anabolic steroids, sugary foods, nightvision binoculars, rifle sights, Schmuckers peanut paste, Enduring Freedom caps, sugary foods, Frosted Flakes,weetabix, pinapple titbits, Aunt Jemimas Maple Syrup (with 2% real syrup) and so on. Quite good place to go for things that have sugar in them.