She looks at him, head to toe, looks at his full frame.
But I do not think she can see him properly. I do not think she can see clearly.
The tears that have welled up in her eyes do not allow her to see him clearly. She reaches the point of utter frustration. Like all mothers who miss their children if they do not see them for even a day.
I empathise with that elderly woman, she feels for her child, someone whom she has sacrificed her whole life to raise. Her hair has turned white during these years, this is evidence.
She caresses Navid’s hair: ‘The next time I see you I will look at you with pride and say that I am the mother of this boy.’
Navid laughs. His lips burst with emotion as he imagines and revels in the image expressed by his mother’s comment.
Navid is chasing his dreams. Dreams that as a stateless Feyli Kurd he cannot achieve where he is, a Feyli Kurd who cannot acquire a National ID card, who cannot participate in sporting competitions. Living here is difficult for someone like Navid who has given his blood, sweat and tears to wrestling. He is a stateless person whose life changed suddenly, who can now no longer remain living where he is. He is leaving so he can make his own path in life, he leaves with dreams of a bright future, his own dreams. He is excited to reach them in a place that is not like here, a place where he can carve out his own way.
I met him for the first time in Christmas Island. A young man with an athletic build. He still could not grow a full beard during the temporary period we were held there. He would practice sports while inside the detention centre, you could see the spirit of life in his eyes. A Kurdish youth who due to his nationality had no decent opportunities to work and live life well. Then the situation became totally unlivable, he had to leave using a counterfeit passport – this in itself ends any possibility of return. In order to capture his dreams he had to leave his home and family. But in Christmas Island he still had a passion for sports competitions and training.
He was not even eighteen-years old yet, he was confined to the prison camp for families. I almost forgot about him after that. We see a lot of people here who look like Navid. What distinguishes him from the others is his passion for sport and his jubilant spirit. I hoped with all my heart and soul that he would acquire what he deserved, and that this prison camp would not kill his dreams, that displacement and exile would not bury his hopes.
But, alas, things do not always work out as we plan. Eight months later I saw him by chance in the medical clinic inside the Manus Island detention centre. He looked a bit pale; he was sick, maybe depressed. He had been brought to Manus Island, I tried my very best to talk to him so he could share his problems and ease the pain, so he does not feel alone.
I was there, a lot of others were there from all over the world, people in a situation probably no one has heard of. We felt that no one knew of the attempted suicides that occurred in this small part of the world, a place where we were being punished. For what?
The only thing Navid could say was that he had been there for two weeks because he had just turned eighteen. I remember him saying this, I saw sorrow and joy in him simultaneously. He was suffering. For sure, he never ever imagined he would end up here. Living here caged in by high fences and watched by a guards like a captive.
At one point during his time in the Manus prison camp Navid began to self-harm and was then held in a separate room alone. Every thirty minutes the guards would come into his room to check on him while he was in that extremely sensitive state. During one of these visits a guard found Navid unconscious on the floor in convulsions – he had tried to take his own life by overdosing on pills. He was taken to the Port Moresby hospital and hospitalized for more than one month in the psychiatric ward.
What did Navid endure for him to reach this point? He was an athlete and was only twenty-four years old then? How hard did his life become, how was a young man with grand hopes and dreams driven to suicide?
Now a long time has passed. He mostly lies down on his bed and stares at the bland ceiling of this room. A room on the third floor of the Mantra hotel in Melbourne. That youth full of joy, that perfectly fine youth, is now a depressed man who looks aged even though he is only twenty-six years old.
He gets up from his bed sometimes, walks around the room. I do not know, maybe he thinks to himself that if he had not come here he would have had a good life. But he also know that if he had not fled he would have regretted it, he would never have been able to live life well, never be able to follow his hopes and dreams of becoming a champion wrestler.
However, the reality is like this. Becoming a refugee and being held in a prison camp does not allow you to reflect on the future, it does not let you work on developing yourself. You become a baby-chicken kept captive in a dark, cold cage. We are all prisoners who are out of sight.
Navid is still lying on his bed staring at the ceiling. How many hours has it been? They may end up freeing him eventually. Yes, you could call it freedom, but after all this time in detention life will be no different to being a captive, being a prisoner. Maybe he will be free but could he ever be that cheerful youth with thousands of hopes and dreams, that youth who was forced to leave his family.
When he speaks to his family now he still laughs so that they can hear him happy. However, at the same time he can also taste the salt from falling tears.
Can you empathise? Can you understand the extent of this torment?
Real name withheld. The pseudonym was also the first name of Iranian national wrestling champion Navid Afkari whose state execution this year sparked global outcry including support from the World Players Union and International Olympic Committee.
Note: On the 17th of December 2020 Navid was awaken early in the morning and told to pack his things – he was again forcibly transferred to another prison. This time from his indefinite detention in the Mantra Bell City hotel to The Park hotel in Melbourne. It is unclear when when he will be released, it is unclear how many more prisons will be created to hold him for an indeterminate amount of time.
Translated by Omid Tofighian. Omid Tofighian is an award-winning lecturer, researcher and community advocate. He is honorary research associate for the Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney. His publications include Myth and Philosophy in Platonic Dialogues (Palgrave 2016); translation of Behrouz Boochani’s multi-award winning book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison (Picador 2018); and co-editor of special issues for journals Literature and Aesthetics (2011), Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media (2019) and Southerly (2021).