“How do we die in here? Do we crash the boat? How do we die?”
This interview took place on
Three clean-cut young men stand at the bottom of the stairs at the Intercultural centre in Preston. Arash, an accountant, is wearing a blue windcheater and clean white sneakers. He speaks good English, which is probably why he’s the leader of this group. He introduces Kiarash who’s wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a leather jacket. They exchange a few words in Farsi and Arash says to me, ‘He was a mountain climber.’ The tall guy with a quiff offers his name: Mohammed. Arash says Mohammed was an architect.
Done browsing Facebook and checking emails, the boys come up to where lunch is prepared and offer help. Arash asks questions about higher education, particularly MBAs and associated costs. A couple of others join the group and everyone files into the Pearl Room. Introductions are made. Arash translates everything into Farsi as we begin a conversation.
It’s kind of interview.
No. Not an interview at all.
[uncomfortable sounding conversation in Farsi]
What’s wrong, Kiarash?
My English no good.
Let’s do this. I’ll start with my story and then you can tell me yours. [I talk about my first day in Australia: how my cousins picked me up from the Airport; how the sun was up past 8pm, which surprised me; what the room looked like, with its unpolished floorboards spattered with paint, the rough trestle table and someone's jackets in the cupboard, all reminding me of the things I'd left in Sri Lanka]. What was your first day like?
We were all in Christmas Island. There’s two different experience that we have because everyone has…uh…
…his own experience.That’s why it’s important everyone contributes.
Did you know each other on Christmas Island?
No. We met here.
So you were on the boat and saw the naval ship coming? How did you feel?
It was fine. We were so happy.
Happy you reached Australia?
Yeah, of course. When you’re in the middle of the ocean and you can’t see anything except water. For me, I felt death. You think about death. Because the satellite phone was not working and the battery were going to be finished. If it happens, how do we die in here? Do we crash the boat? How do we die? Everything was unclear.
So when we saw the navy boat it made us really happy. We know that so we don’t die.They came beside the boat, near to the boat and ask us to stay in the boat. There was an officer who told me, because there were only two guys who could speak English, the office told me, ‘we can’t take you in the…’ what do you call it, the boat of the navy?
Yeah, battleship…they say we can’t take you in battleship because you are too many people, because we were sixty-five. And he asked us to stay in the boat. He said that, ‘If you need anything, for example water or something to eat, anything like that you can call us and we will bring it for you.’ And after that they were in front of us and we were following.
They towed you?
You had a motor.
Yes. A boat motor. Before that, you know, we went 12hrs the wrong way. Then we were forced to come back this way again. Then we saw the island. I was sleeping. I couldn’t believe that we are here. It was a good feeling.
And then we get off from the boat and they gave us a something like…wrist…?
Yes, and we were so dirty! We were so dirty! We were in the boat for two and a half days, under the sun. I had really bad sunburn from my knees until here [indicates ankles] because I wore shorts. And when we get off the boats, they gave us wristbands, took us to the bus and took us to detention.
What did it look like?
It was…you know…for everything it was really good, because we were alive. But the situation that we had, it was not good because we were so tired and so dirty and we didn’t know what will be happen next and just we will be happy that we’re alive. And they took us in detention and it was very beautiful – around it, I mean. Christmas Island is a really beautiful island.
Forest, beach – everything.
What did the camp look like?
We went to the camp and there were some chairs and tables and there was a tent – big tent. It was like a house and near that more tents. In the biggest tent we had two-floor beds [bunks]. After we arrive there they ask, what’s your name? But I was really tired and I remember that I slept in the first tent for two hours. When I woke up again they were giving us food.
What did they give you?
Rice and some meat. And that’s it.
Was it tasty?
No. Eating after two and a half days. Because the sailors [people smugglers] ask us, ‘don’t eat anything’ because there is no toilet. So we just had some fruit like grape, apple. That’s it.
So you were given a tent and?
Yes, they given us a towel, toothbrush and we went for take shower, after that we take sleep.
We break for lunch. Amin, a shortish, light skinned man in a grey t-shirt tucked into his jeans, chats with Katarina in the breakout area. He’s heard a rumour that some of his fellow Iranians have been picked up by the authorities and shipped back to Nauru. She tells him it’s probably not a good idea to spread the story until there’s confirmation. She talks of the pressures Arash and his friends face in finding accommodation – how they’re approaching the end of their tenure in supported accommodation provided by Baptcare.
The food’s ready. At first everyone declines but after a long conversation with Suriyan they line up to dig into the big pot of rice and pour on curry. They eat silently, seemingly enjoying the food. Arash gives it the thumbs up. He says it’s very spicy and that he likes it.
Kiarash, who seems to have grown more comfortable, decides to have a conversation about art: ‘You are art-man?’ he questions me. I talk about writing. I ask him about mountain climbing because he volunteered that information earlier. He doesn’t understand me. Arash speaks with Kiarash and says what they meant by mountain climbing was, ‘Climbing the mountain on the road.’ It finally dawns on me Kiarash was, in fact, a hiker in Iran, not a mountain climber.