Shameless self-promotion, but about an important issue

There is a heated, polarised and not very humane debate going on in Australia at present about how to deal with refugees, arriving by boat to Australian territories. I wrote about this in ‘From under a leaky roof’ (taken from the Afghan proverb, ‘He ran out from under a leaky roof and found himself in the rain’), published back in 2005. But the issues are still pertinent, and while the Howard Government at the time congratulated itself on locking up refugees and treating them as criminals, essentially, and outsourcing their accommodation to poor Pacific islands like Nauru and Manus, I closed the book by saying, something along the lines of, ‘this problem has not been resolved. Refugees will seek asylum in Australia again; this is but a hiatus in an issue that will grow in magnitude and intensity around the world, as people seek better lives for themselves. When it happens next, will we have learned anything?’

Well, it seems not, as the Labor Government is following, or was following, identical trajectories to the Liberal Government it so roundly chastised. Anyway, I wrote a book, and its all about this very issue, so go out and buy a copy, peoples!

And in case you don’t trust my judgement, here’s what the critics said:


Images of destruction at Eid-e Quorban

The last three days have been Eid-e Quorban, the Festival of the Sacrifice. For those of you who went to Sunday School, you’ll know that Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his first born son, Isaac, on the mountain (one of those bible stories I end up shaking my head at). At the last minute, as Abraham has sharpened up the knife and is preparing to slit his son’s throat, God intervenes, thanks Abraham for his devotion, and in gratitude, Abraham kills a nearby sheep instead. In the Islamic tradition, Abraham is told to kill Ishmael, but the rest of the story is pretty much the same.

So at this Eid, which remembers that event, lots of sheep and goats are killed, and the meat distributed to the poor in thanksgiving. Quite a nice tradition, unless you are one of the sheep, I guess.

For Muslims around here, it is a time to visit, share meals with each other, and judging by what I see on the streets, give beebee guns to your children. I wonder how much the incidence of eye injury rises during Eid…

Julie took the time to visit and hold a wee, premature baby that has been left at nearby Cure hospital. The young mother had twins, a boy and a girl, prematurely. The boy has been taken home; the girl left at the hospital. It desperately needs touch and love, and so a roster of expat mums has been there to hold and cuddle it. I don’t think it is the case that the mother is disinterested – she is young, it is a long way to travel every day, and she has the other child to care for. It is predictable though, that it was the girl child who was left. Hopefully, if she gains strength, she will rejoin her family when she can come out of the Intensive Care Unit.

I and the kids took the time to visit the old Ministry of Defence, further up Dar-ul Aman.

We have visited previously, but the military then took a dissuasive position with regards us going in. This time we were more lucky, and the lone guard was happy to let us poke around. It appeared to be thoroughly demined (it was certainly thoroughly graffiti-ed, and in many places, thoroughly used as a latrine), and it was also thoroughly destroyed.

Kabul used to be full of such buildings or remnants of buildings, there are fewer and fewer as they are bulldozed for the construction of new narco-palaces.

Walking through it with the kids was strange. It was moderately nerve-racking, wondering if there was still any UXO around;  it was depressing – seeing the ruin and devastion of what had once been a beautiful and grand building; and it was a bit numbing. The Afghans I spoke too were ambivalent about the building: I don’t think they saw it romantically. It signifies loss and destruction for them, a sad time when the Mujahideen blew Kabul to bits. It is also simply a building, home now to some 30 refugee families.

Afterwards, we drove back to the hospital and shelled peanuts until Julie came.


(* all these images shot with the superlative Tokina 11-16 F2.8 lens, a fantastic wide angle lens, superior in construction, speed, performance and price than the Nikon equivalents – and I am normally a Nikon purist.)

Embarrassed for my country

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.