Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"We are also Australian"

An Open Letter by Shukria, Zahraa, Atong, Toruna, Yasmin, Mou Giir on behalf of the Western Young People's Independent Network Youth Committee.

We are the people you do not hear about in the news; telling people what we do will not sell the newspaper or help politicians win an election.

We are a group of young people who volunteer in the community. We come from Ethiopia, Burma, Sudan, Eritrea, Vietnam, Italy, Iraq and Mauritius.

We are also Australian.

Even though we are from different backgrounds, we have found that we have many things in common. As volunteers, we work together to promote understanding of different cultural groups and to support young people. We love getting together because we learn from and about each other. Some of us came to Australia because we chose to live or study here. Some of us are refugees who came to Australia because war forced us to leave our countries. If we told you what we have been through you would cry.

It is true that some of us from African countries had very little formal education before coming here, and spent many years in camps. It is also true that we work extremely hard to learn English and to study so that we are able to find work here. The African young people in our group are studying biomedical science, community development, nutrition, management, nursing and VCE.

When we gather together, we do so because we are used to living in a community and being social. Sometimes we arrive here without family. We have responsibility to support the people we love who are still stuck in danger overseas and often we have many family responsibilities here. It is not easy.

Those of us who are refugees know how lucky we are to be here, and how hard it is to get here. We sold everything we owned, even food rations that we received in the camp, so that we could afford the medical test that we needed to pass to be accepted into Australia. We went through the immigration process and were accepted as refugees. For some people it takes many years and for others much less time. We find this confusing.

We worry about our loved ones who are stuck in danger overseas. We are trying to bring family here, so that they can be safe. We are sad that some of us may not be able to have parents or extended family brought to Australia to be with us, if we happen to be from Africa. We are sad that the government thinks that saying this will get them support to win the election.

We ask this question to the Immigration Minister “How would you feel if you were in our place, experiencing all the things that we go through?"

We only ask to be treated like you would like to be treated. It should be up to the United Nations alone to say who needs Australia's help the most.

We refuse to be separated by the government's words. We work together to help each other and ourselves for the good of Australia.

Every day.

For more information you can contact WYPIN Youth Committee's Secretary Toruna Luxmi Ujoodah by contacting:

WYPIN on 9680 8265 or wypin@mcm.org,au.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

...a tap on the shoulder.

It's strange to look back and see that I was so lucky. That I got through so much mucking around and then got diagnosed before my aorta ruptured. It didn't and I live with an awareness now, terrible but life-giving. Remember, if you see someone who looks too much like me, just tap them on the shoulder and ask. They may not know, just like Liam, below:

Tragic family's vital message

FUN-LOVING: Sunderland supporter Liam Gash.
FUN-LOVING: Sunderland supporter Liam Gash.

Liam Gash was enjoying the trip of a lifetime to Australia when he died at 22 of a rare condition...
The day Liam Gash was born, his dad Alan was the proudest man in Sunderland. Liam was a perfect baby – and a big boy too.

"Look at his huge hands," Alan said to the doctor. "Are they supposed to be like that?"

The doctor smiled. "He's just a big lad," he said.

Delighted, Alan rang the relations. "Our son's got goalkeeper's hands," he told them.

Over the years doctors often commented on Liam's extremely flexible joints and his height. When he was five-years-old he reached 4ft 5ins; at eight, just over 5ft.

By the age of 21 he had reached 6ft 10 and was nicknamed "Crouchy" after tall footballer Peter Crouch, but no one knew that his excessive height was a symptom of a condition that would prove fatal.

At that stage of his life he had everything to live for – great mates, good job, close family.

An avid Black Cats fan, the civil servant played in a Sunday league team and never missed a Sunderland match.

He had a great zest for life and is described by Alan, a watch manager at Fulwell Fire Station, as: "A great kid, a wonderful man."

Like scores of other young Wearsiders the former Monkwearmouth School pupil wanted to explore the world and in November 2005 he waved goodbye to Alan, mum Jane and sister Lucy, now 20, to embark upon a dream backpacking trip.

But he would never return to the family home in Ullswater Grove, Fulwell.

On August 9 last year the family received a phone call that would change their lives forever.

It was from a doctor at the Royal Perth Hospital. Liam was seriously ill.

He was working on a building site when chest pains hit him. Surgeons diagnosed an aortic dissection – a tear in the biggest artery of the body.

He needed an urgent operation to replace part of the aorta and the mitral valve in his heart.

Medics suspected they knew what was wrong: a condition called Marfan Syndrome – symptoms of which include excessive height.

Stunned, Alan, 50, and Jane, 49, travelled through a UK airport terrorist alert to Liam's bedside.

As he recovered from surgery, doctors explained his old, carefree ways –playing football, messing with his mates – had gone for good and his lifestyle would have to change.

Alan explained: "Those doctors had saved his life. If he had been taken ill in the Outback he would have died."

"We knew he had a different life ahead. But he could have coped. He was fit, he was going to be all right."

At 8.30pm on the Saturday they said goodnight to Liam. He was tired, hot and needed rest.

At 4am they were woken by banging on their hostel door. Liam had had a seizure and was on life support.

Briefly they stood by his bed as doctors fought to save him. Nine hours later, on August 13, their fun-loving son was dead.

The family were devastated. In 1985, when Liam was two, he had helped his parents to deal with the cot death of his little brother Joe who died at just six months old.

Now they had to deal with the tragic death of their other son.

It was almost impossible to take in, Liam had always been fit and strong.

True, he had had all the normal childhood health problems, plus a few extra. And, of course, there was his height. None of it seemed to bother him, although as a teenager he was self-conscious about his pigeon chest and odd-looking feet.

"There's this picture of him on a lilo. He's about 17, he's looking great, like Jack the Lad. But he's got this drink, and he's holding it on the middle of his chest. It was just like him to hide his chest and feet in photos. But if you look at the fingers we now know they are classically Marfan," recalls Alan.

But doctors in England had said everything was fine and, until his trip to Australia, Liam had not been diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome.

Back home, Alan combed through Liam's medical records. A Marfan feature was present on almost every page.

At just two his prominent chestbone was first spotted. There was a string of visits to GPs and specialists, a battery of tests and X-rays.

At 17, a consultant noted his clawed toes and referred him to yet another specialist. Liam never showed up. "Perhaps he never got the letter. Perhaps he was sick of doctors," says Alan.

Alan contacted the medics who treated Liam. He asked: "Didn't you see what was going on?"

One paediatrician who saw Liam as an eight-year-old was amazed to hear how tall he had grown.

He told Alan: "You just can't get to be that tall in this country without considering Marfan."

Another doctor apologised to the family on behalf of the medical profession.

"I don't know if 'sorry' is what I want," said Alan.

"It's not a legal issue, it never was. These doctors were good people, with good intentions. We expected them to know.

"It's massively frustrating. As my son walked around the streets, I'm absolutely confident that somebody, somewhere, must have thought: That kid's got Marfan.

"They could have tapped him on the shoulder..."

Liam's ashes now lay scattered at his beloved Stadium of Light, but the legacy of Marfans still lives with the family.

All of them have been tested. Lucy, a student nurse, is clear, as is Alan. and Jane, but they are still determined to do all they can to boost awareness of Marfan Syndrome in memory of Liam.

Alan said: "He's not going to come back. But somebody may look at this article and see one of the symptoms of Marfan in a growing kid.

"They can mention it to doctors and get treatment so that someone else won't have to go through this."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Time is a strange thing... El tiempo es una cosa extran~a.

A backwards/forewards affair in photographic chronology, cuatro amigos buenos para desayuno en calle High (Alta) en Northcote. Incluye es Fiona, me novia, y amigos Simon, Athena (izquiera) y Lucy (derecho). Circa dos y media semanas en Australia.
Fiona y yo en Plaza de Mayo en Buenos Aires, solamente momentos despues de un acontecimiento significativo y solamente algunas horas antes de que nos separamos para nuestros vuelos respectivos ... pueden adivinar la acontecimiento?
Un dia antes de dejar Buenos Aires, en La Boca, y Michael que parece muy genial... yep.
Ella me asio y acaba de baila! Prometo! La Boca, Buenos Aires.

Y para todas esas personas de habla englesa hacia fuera alli me comentario de Melbourne:

O.k. so the arse has fallen out of the renters market in Melbourne at least. I wonder if it's the same anywhere else in Australia...

Australia today:

- a Flemington single fronted townhouse going for $230 a week. Toilet out back, waaaaay out back, bathroom too, kitchen too small to notice at first glance (seriously! fridge in "3rd" bedroom), and the chirpy cutesy squeals of "my first day as a real estate agent's grEAt" from the tiny girly handing out application forms to people hungry for them but who don't really want to live there, choice not being present...

- Melbourne reflects on seeing Backwards and Friedbrains ride again last night, delighting as they were in one of the only places in the country that allows them to smoke inside.

- A seemingly primordial fear of getting hit by traffic going the wrong way (because I was looking the right way, just everyone else is going the wrong way...)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Geez, "crappy gifts" looks bad, don't it?

Just to clarify a point in my previous post about that "crappy gifts" comment - it means that they are primary gifts because these friends are primary people where but the fact is that I had a minimum of dinero, entonces gifts that do not correlate to their standing as friends and for that I apologise to them and to all my friends, whom I call primary now, as apposed to the "A, B, C and D" list some may remember I used to carry around in my pocket and which many of you rightfully adjusted to reflect the true nature of your friendships with me (usually "upward"...)

Australia today:

-the pongy under-arm bar-scene (due to the lack of cigarette smoke to cloak it)
-the overly bright supermarket labels down supermarket isles
-the stares from people in public when you say things about them that you automatically think will not be understood
-the meeting of more people who I can't keep away from but for the life of me can't give my all to
-another meat pie
-51% approval rating for John Howard over Ruddsy

Monday, August 06, 2007

Local fares, vocal scares, and parochial lairs.

Out on the patio we sit
And the humidity we breathe
We watch the lightning crack over canefields
Laugh and think "This is Australia"

Two lines out of 4 ain't bad for my reintroduction to Australia.

One of the many Aussie songs from ACDC to Paul Kelly to Kirsty Stegwazi that my longing for home forced-fed my MP3 that used to make me laugh with recognition but really my pre-Bolivian life only saw the stereotypes from afar at best. As if I'd ever find common the cracking of lightning over canefields for god's sake.

On the other hand, sitting at Sydney airport Thursday morning waiting for my connection to BrisVegas, sipping a Cascade Light (it being quite late in the evening by my internal clock) and being suprisingly unsatisfied at the reminiscence forthcoming, I was greeting with three very ocker gents looking uncomfortable in their upperlevel-casual flying wardrobe discussing... well, some activity that I was informed that seeing or doing would have "done [myself] a favour" and then everything else was quite in indecipherable as I couldn't sift through the "f**k'n" this's and "f**k'n" thats.

Certainly not so much Aussie as affluent-world but putting on my seatbelt is still an oft forgotten chore, and I still haven't stopped looking for a bin to put my poo-ey paper into...

More importantly - I come home to find John Howard's popularity plummetting just as fast as Ivo Morales. Fair enough given they've both been in power for relatively the same amount of time (Ivo for about a year and a half but Bolivian presidents rarely last longer than that!) Their societal relativity is just as common, Evo representing a population that is over 50% indigenous, our fearless one representing a population where 50% is of his social class. Of course many are not but aspire to it. This was in fact coincidentally similar to Bolivia. Many many of the more affluent actually voted for Morales, but sometimes it seems they did that just to watch him fail, and therefore be able to lament "We'd LIKE to have an indigenous president but clearly they just can't lead". Maybe they have some genuine gripes on his apparent attempts to divide the country and ignore the genuine requests of the mestizos (Spanish descent ruling class) rather than unite everybody and respond to all. A tidy little mess you can get yourself into running a depressed and unconfident nation.

Not like ours. All proud and prosperous - regardless the home loans, the terrified undertones (we're still all being Lerts I notice...) and the need for bigger 4WD than ever before (no Hummers sighted yet. The odd one went past me in Cochabamba to my own great terror.)

Must be off to distribute the crappy gifts to my Brisbane friends...



Thursday, August 02, 2007

True! Every mundane detail.

Now I'm back in Australia I can blog the gory border-fleeing ordeal without the consequence of the Bolivian army chasing after me. It wasn't THAT dangerous, in fact it wasn't really dangerous at all, but I still fretted like a scared cat at the time.

After finally demanding my passport back from Immigration in Cochabamba on the premise of being very ill "with treatment only available out of your country and I'll just paying the bloody fine" Fiona and I hit the road for the Argentine/Bolivian border. I decided to put only $120US in my wallet, (not the $500 I would be fined for not having a visa in the end). And $50US in my shoe, as the "last resort" facade. Fiona had the rest in case of absolute emergency because frankly the plan was to attempt the first official bribe (oxymoron!) of my life, the Bolivian border infamous for it's flaccid morals in the face of, well... cash! We arrived in Yacuiba, the border town with Argentina, at 5am-ish and thought, now's a good a time as any to attempt to cross. Our friend crossed at night and the Bolivian office was shut so he just walked on by!

Of course, they were open wider than Luna Park and there were three officers along the desk checking passports (not the cosy little one-man band who hasn't anybody looking over his shoulder as the inevitable gets discussed).

They looked at Fiona's passport - she was one day overdue, a 10B fine. Then they saw mine and said "Where is your visa stamp?" Um... long story short I pretended not to know too much Spanish (that is, less than I actually do!) and tried to tell them the gory 13 month Bolivian Immigration saga. Eventually they said "wait here..." and out came a very important looking and impeccibly uniformed fellow from a back room who asked us to follow him. He looked like the type of guy who preferred to keep his greens well pressed and blood-free, but he also looked like the kind of guy who if pushed couldn't give a rats arse about a bit of Australian blood on his lapels...

Walking down the little hall into the back room, I was struck by such a state of conflicting emotion - the utter fear of painful death being "taken into a back room" on the Bolivian border and all was mixed with the heady certainty of the plan going to plan. "Back rooms are where these deals take place!" I thought. "This back room thing is according to plan!" I reasoned. "No problem, act cool, no need to panic" I panicked.

Aaaanyway, politeness being the order of the day, Green Beret immediately appeared greatly concerned about the $4000B fine for no visa over 13 months. He could bearly take the pain of writing such an official receipt, so bad he felt for me. I agreed and confided that I really didn't have that much money anyway, and then he asked the magical question - "how much do you have then?". After he had my one-twenty under a pile of papers on his desk others were brought in to consult, which I didn't like at all. "Others" is certainly not a good word to use when also using the word "bribe" (which I didn't literally do of course!!). The others seemed in the end just as saddened by my plight as the ironed chief but luckily that $50 stayed in my boot.

The next 10 minutes were spent by mutual assurances that I would be in enormous trouble if I ever tried to come back to Bolivia, while I was assuring them that I was never going to come back to Bolivia (all the while resisting winking at them in a "I'LL be in trouble you say!?" kind of way. Being discovered having stamped a passport with an exit stamp without proof of a visa for 13 months MUST be problematic for those poor fellows. Well, in the end, we understood each other, my passport was stamped and we walked across the border. No stern words, no slamming of fists on desks, no guns threateningly unclipped from holsters, money talks, and bullshit... well, that kinda talks pretty fluently as well.

Good enough story to tell I reckon. Of course a stern back room beating would have made a better story but given the choice of no broken ribs and a story? ... hmm... it would have made a VERY good story... aaaand still might... Hey! Did I tell you how I got out of Argentina!??!

Home again, home again lickety split!

Right. Guess where I am!!!

Hint: no more pooey toilet paper in the non-existent bin next to the toilet.

And "...when all of the ships come back to the shore" has some real meaning now.

God, I must admit - that harbour looks like a vision from an airplane.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A sharp taste, a distinctive flavour, a notable odour...

TANGY! Or is it Tango-ey? Whatever it is, it's Buenos Aires. Capital Federal, La Reina del Plata, the town of unknown population. It's great. Cars stop at the line at red lights! Water can be drunk from the tap without dying! There are pedestrian buttons, and drivers respect the little green man! There's a little green man!!!

Of course, the taxis have a meter, which gets my goat. They point at the meter as if I'm stupid when I lean in and say "[insert direction here] - ¿cuanto cuesta?"

It's European, cosmopolitan, full of the Argentinian street-jewellery sellers that you see all over Bolivia, and they have every reason to crow about their Tango. I'M sweating when a couple in the street, at a show, in the bar finish their dance!

AND it's just that much closer to home. I'm doing all I can to enjoy these last smatterings of holiday fun with Fiona before the crash of responsibility comes... um, crashing down and I'm home again with my family and friends. I really have learned what it means to be Australian, to belong to a place, have my heart where I was born no matter where I am. I also have the tingling feeling of future hugs, "salud"s and chuckles of long-time knowings with those I love.

Oh, and Iguazu Falls. Look it up, find footage, ask your well-travelled friends, but you'll never ever understand the falls without having been there. The enormity of the spectacle - not just the sheer volume, which is mesmerisingly seductive and heady, but the beauty of its hundreds of both tiny and massive squirts just blew my synapses. Really, it's something! AND something else! It's great, but the fellow at the counter says "Get your ass outa here" in his indecipherable Argentinian Spanish. So chau.

Love, Michael.