Teleporting

I raided my local library and met Australian reporter Lynne O’Donnell.

That is, I read her book.

‘High Tea in Mosul’ is the result of O’Donnell’s encounter with two Englishwomen in Mosul shortly after the  Americans invaded Iraq in 2003. O’Donnell writes: ‘The landscape is breathtaking – mountains of untouched ancient forests; deep valleys sliced with rivers painted blue by the peerless sky; lush and sweeping plains that fatten sheep through winter and are burnished throughout the searing summers with the yellow and gold of wheat and oilseed rape.’

I read this and thought: She was there.

How am I ever going to write like that?

George Orwell. Photo Vera-Broadbent

George Orwell.Sketch by Vera-Broadbent

In ‘Finding George Orwell in Burma’, Emma Larkin (a pseudonym), comes to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter if Orwell had visited a particular place, because Orwell himself said that a writer’s skill lies in the ability to imagine what a place was like, or how someone else felt, or how events unfolded – imagine, imagine, imagine. (I am paraphrasing from memory, because I also borrowed that book from the library. I hope to get my hands on it again, and will post a quote here, or confess that I’ve misquoted as the case may be.)

I am interviewing displaced people who have settled here in Adelaide for my book Place of Refuge. In order capture the essence of their stories, I try to see people and places through their eyes and to do this, I need to cultivate a rich and varied landscape within me, a landscape of places far distant, places I have never visited before.

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.