Seemingly innocuous questions

I used to teach Form Filling as part of the English curriculum. It is exactly what it sounds like, that is, how to fill in forms – government forms, bureaucratic forms, warranty forms, all sorts of forms. Boring, banal, necessary. But seemingly innocuous questions, can be emotional triggers in a class of refugees. For example:

  • marital status – “My husband came to join me in Australia but left me, with our five children, for another woman.”
  • number of children – “Number of children in Australia, or all children? Do I count the one left behind in a refugee camp?”
  • country of birth – An angry student to another: “Why do you write Sudan? You should write South Sudan.” Probably can’t blame him for raising his voice, wars have been fought and lives lost over that one little word – the ‘South’ in South Sudan.

As a Computer Science student, I used to work with databases, repositories that store all the information that people put in forms. Databases, like forms, have straight lines and neat boxes. Life, and people, and the state of the world, however, are probably much more like an array of wild spirals, unexpected curves and irregular shapes.

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