The farewell

11:20am

“Today is my last day,” I say to my class of adult learners.

There are looks of confusion and uncertainty; they’re unsure if they’ve understood correctly. “Why?” someone asks.

“I’m going to write a book.”

An urgent conference takes place towards the back of the classroom. An immaculately dressed Vietnamese lady excuses herself, “Teacher, I go out.”

I give the rest of the students a colourful folder each (67cents each from Officeworks) with their name printed on the binder as a farewell gift. Seeing an African student studying the folder quizzically, I borrow a hole puncher and show the class how to file up their notes. If I ever teach again, I’ll give out folders on my first day, not my last.

12:30pm

After lunch, the Vietnamese lady rushes into class, late. Her hair is awry. She pulls a black jacket out of a bulging plastic bag, hands it to me and says,”Teacher, try.”

I put it on, it fits perfectly. The students look very pleased. Then they pull out a scarf. Then two boxes of chocolates. Then a handbag.

Farewell Gifts
My farewell gifts

I protest, this is too much, you shouldn’t give me so many things. They tell which students have chipped in to buy the gifts, and an Iraqi man pipes up, “Me too.”

“You too? You pay?” asks the Vietnamese lady.

“Yes,” he says.

“OK, $10 tomorrow,” she says.

Many of my students are learning English in order to get a job in Australia. They pack their food and drink for the day and are frugal to the point that the school canteen struggles to make a profit. I am deeply touched and humbled by their lavish generosity.

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Button Boy

A child working at a sewing machine making seats for cars and vans. Photo by Zoriah.
Child labour. Photo by Zoriah

Students come and go, but some of them leave a mark on you. As my last day of teaching in an organisation draws near, I think back and remember.

I remember the young man, the son of very highly educated parents, who wanted to be an engineer but couldn’t add comfortably beyond 100 because he spent his growing years sewing buttons in a refugee camp instead of going to school. He made me think of the cost of displacement.

I remember the young woman who couldn’t concentrate in class because she was worried sick about her mother who was stuck in a refugee camp halfway around the world. She made me think of the hope of reconciliation.

‘The cost of displacement and the hope of reconciliation’ were the seed ideas for ‘Place of Refuge’, a collection of creative non-fiction stories of those who have found a place of refuge in Adelaide over the past 40 years (1975 – 2015).

It is in order to interview and write the stories of those who have found, or are trying to find, a place of refuge in Adelaide, that’s why I’m saying goodbye to my class very soon.

Delicious baby

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“Delicious baby,” said my student as her child lay suckling in her arms.

“Delicious milk?” I asked.

“No, delicious baby.”

“In English we use delicious for food,” I said.

“In my language, we say delicious baby. I am so happy,” she said.

“Ah,” I said. “You are very happy. Your baby is very precious, like your gold earrings, but much more precious.”

She nodded.

Delicious was not a bad word to describe the baby, I thought. After all, we use ‘delicious’ to describe our feelings, and it encapsulated the delight I saw on her face.

I left the English lesson at “Baby has ten toenails.” Mother, father and child had to go to the Immigration Department. What does the future hold for this child born to asylum seekers in Australia?

Photo peasap

Bathing rights

There is a walk I like to take, past a natural birdbath hewn in a stone face,

where querulous Musk Lorikeets and Rainbow Lorikeets argue over bathing rights.

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Lorikeets in Adelaide, South Australia. Copyright thecuriouscribbler 2015.

It makes me think of my son’s Economics notes:

“Economics is the study of scarcity. …

Resources are not few, but relative to wants they are scarce.”

If there is enough for everyone, why do we still argue?

Island of Refuge

During the summer break, I spent two weeks in Malaysia and Singapore. Going back home tends to make time lose meaning for me – no school drop offs, no rush hour – just long, lazy conversations, catching up on a whole year’s worth of family news and gossip, but each time I went onto Facebook or turned on the TV, I was inundated with news of the terrorist attacks in France.

Violence seemed to be spreading globally, not just in war zones, but also in unpredictable pockets such as cities – London, Paris, Sydney – once thought to be safe places, lending weight to the argument for stricter border controls. But it’s not just who you let into your city that changes its face; it is also how you relate to one another within the city.

This belief, coupled with my fascination with the stories of people who have fled wars, endured arduous journeys and rebuilt their lives, has led me to write a manuscript titled Island of Refuge. It is a collection stories of those who have found a place of refuge in Australia since the Vietnam War and I’ll be posting updates on the project here.

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View of Adelaide from the Kensington Lookout