11 December 201419 December 2014 Politics / Writing / Reflection The almond tree: a refugee story Detainee G The almond tree stood bare in biting cold. That was in the month of June. Nudity is unbecoming. But nature made the tree bare and was relishing it. In the eyes of nature, it might have looked beautiful. But I felt bad. Inside the refugee camp, everyone moved with grief and gloom, yearning to die. The trees and shrubs around us have a great influence on the life we lead here. That’s why this bare almond tree caused a kind of dejection in us. Our emotions withered like an autumn tree. In our country, shriveled trees do not sprout again. They die. Nature creates life to suit itself. Our nation’s trees and shrubs will not shrivel, sprout, wither and germinate again in this Melbourne land. In September, the early summer woke from its slumber and embellished the almond tree with flowers. The Lord made her dazzlingly beautiful. I was engrossed in her beauty. The sun rays that fell on my shoulders gave me some solace. As the hours went by I could not endure the sun. It was blazing and burning my shoulders. I could no longer bear it. There was a weird rage and aversion within me. Emotionally I was still desolate. I went to the visitor’s room. The heat was moderate there, though the air conditioner did not work. ‘Hi friend!’ It was a familiar voice. I turned around. Maree was there with a scarflike cloth in one hand and a container of cold water in the other hand. She described the thing she held between her fingers as a ‘Kinder Cool’ band. There was always a group of girls around Maree. The group was always shedding tears. Maree hugged and consoled them. She brought a parcel for of them. It contained things for which they longed. The desires of some people made me furious. They seemed irrelevant to the situation in which we lived. But Maree looked at matters from a different perspective. That was love, which she also taught to her daughter. Her job was to give gifts and lend an ear to everyone’s laments and console them. The daughter became childlike, playing with the kids and making them happy. All the refugees received this embrace and warmth. It was a soothing experience. For refugees like us who had lost everything in life, it was a great relief. She called me politely. I went over to Maree. The cloth she had was now immersed in cold water. She had the instruction sheet in one hand. She explained, ‘After it is fully soaked in water, if you place it around your neck, you will stay cool. It is a preventive measure against heat stroke and heat exhaustion.’ I laughed. ‘Will not Melbourne’s coolness be sufficient?’ Maree answered, ‘No friend, this will be used by brothers and sisters in Nauru and Manus island refugee camps.’ She said it reassuringly and placed the water soaked cloth around my neck. It relieved the burning sensation from the hot sun and a soothing feeling rose up inside me, just like the painful stories that live in my memory. The refugee camp brings out varied experiences. Among the refugee camps in Australia, Melbourne’s MITA camp is the best. After spending 34 months in refugee camps around Australia, MITA camp was the first time I saw children. I witnessed their innocent and innocuous beauty. From July 2013, pregnant women began to visit this camp to give birth to their offspring. Their tears lie frozen in the Melbourne winds. The great joy of a woman lies in attaining motherhood. This ecstasy of motherhood is Nature’s gift. It is not that only a woman can understand the pleasure and pain of motherhood. A man views it as a male but will understand the pain and pleasure of it. Whenever pregnant mothers returned after meeting the case manager, their eyes brimmed with tears. The mother and the foetus together experienced the grief, fear, dejection, powerlessness and all the pain the body generated. Why did she weep? ‘Yes’, the case managers said, ‘In very few weeks after giving birth to your child, you will have to return to Nauru or Christmas Island: the place you came from.’ In those camps, one witnessed the worst torments. Yes, they came to this camp completely anguished. Pregnant mothers shared painful experiences they had to undergo. Pregnant mothers were allowed ten minutes to bathe once a day; others were allowed less than 5 minutes. This included attending to nature’s calls. There was no clean potable water. The temperature in the open military tent soared above 35 degree Celsius. There was unendurable heat, insufficient food and inadequate medical treatment for diseases caused by high temperatures. Sufficient clothes were not issued. Even sanitary napkins were not issued to women. Essential basic requirements for present day living were not supplied. Due to these psychological torments, our emotions, thought processes and our endurance were damaged. We wanted to speak out, but fears for our future made us dumb. We came here in search of a fortunate life. But there is no life here. For their own reasons, politicians attempt to justify their crimes by painting us as very dangerous people. International human rights organisations can do nothing but come up with ineffective reports. In the history of the human race, the self-serving laws of the politicians and the doctrines of religious fanatics never created a healthy human race. In another few months, these children are going to see this sinful earth. Every event happening to the mother during her pregnancy has a bearing on the development of the child’s brain. Her laments and psychological disturbances will also affect the child inside her. Governments are talking about child safety laws. Here is a child, tormented in the womb itself. The mother does not take sufficient food, due to the psychological anguish she suffers. Taking medicines for psychosomatic illnesses and developing symptoms of diseases by inflicting pain on herself in both body and mind will cause the child to have an unhealthy life. This is a medical reality. These refugees spent every moment of the day in fear of their future life. For some, that future arrived. They departed from this place to the hell that they always feared. Those faces and the innocent laughter of the children come to my memories. Maree is able to breathe because the tears and stories they left behind are still suspended in the Melbourne air. Maree loves their souls. Today an effort had been made to find a symbolic solution and as a result, the ‘Kinder Cool’ band is resting in my arms. This may not be a total relief but it is full of love. This is the real true human compassion. This is what the compassionate Australian people said, did, and executed. Through the glass I look at the almond tree. Thousands of blooming flowers smile at me reflecting the faces of those innocent children who passed. But I do not know if this is a reality. Reality is not in my hands. I am a refugee but you are not. Detainee G 'G' is the pseudonym of a detainee imprisoned in immigration detention for six years. More by Detainee G Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 24 November 202225 November 2022 Politics ‘Sir, please get me the Manager’: Brazil before and after Bolsonaro Guido Melo By then, although young in age, I already knew about those rituals of humiliation and how they were part of my Black family's lives. 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