The melancholic carpenter
“I had the baddest and the crazy life ever. No one can see it.”
This interview took place on
A tall young man wearing work overalls splattered with paint walks in and slouches at the entrance of the upstairs DECC office. He doesn’t say anything, just looks nervous and tired, possibly disoriented. Katarina, Suriyan and I look at each other. There’s a name, Mustafa, printed on his overalls but nothing else for us to go by. How do we get through to him? Somehow, Arash knows to speak to him in Farsi. ‘Afghan’s speak the same language as us,’ says Arash.
‘Great,’ I say to him. ‘You can translate for us.’
‘No, I’m fine to speak English,’ says Mustafa.
Out in the breakout area he’s offered a cup of tea but Mustafa refuses. He puts his backpack on the ground and hunches over the table as he starts to speak. He says he’s been in Australia for five years, since he was fifteen, but his visa status hasn’t changed. Mustafa doesn’t have a job, has very little money, literally only the clothes on his back.
‘I get 388 dollars a fortnight. 380 goes for rent. I put four dollars on the Myki card and with the other four I buy biscuits and a bottle of Sprite. I eat four biscuits in the morning, four at night…it’s a hard life,’ says Mustafa, almost in tears. He explains that he’s also losing his shared accommodation on Wednesday. ‘I have nothing,’ he says. ‘That’s why I went to DIMIA this morning. To see if something can be done.’
He refuses lunch, saying, ‘No. I have my biscuits here.’ He unzips the bag and shows us a box of chocolate chip cookies. ‘I don’t feel like eating anyway.’ As we fill out the necessary forms, Mustafa takes cards out of his wallet. In addition to the refugee card, he presents a driver’s licence and a Worksafe card – things he’s done to try secure a job. Formalities completed, Suriyan says, ‘It’d be good to get your story too.’
‘Only if you’re comfortable,’ I say.
‘That’s no problem,’ says Mustafa and begins his story.
When I was in Afghanistan I had the baddest and the crazy life ever. No one can see it. Like something happen to little kid, like someone rape the little kid.
You saw that?
It was me…yeah. I was like ten years old. They took me out of my family. I was with them for three months.
Who was it? Do you know?
The Taliban. They rape me. They pour alcohol in my mouth like…my hand is locked. And I didn’t know what’s happening. And the next day they coming and punish me.
Was it in a house? In a room?
I was like animal. Keeping like you keep your horse.
Like a shed?
Yes, and I was there for three months and after that, I just find my way to escape. And I escape and I go to my family.
How did you escape?
Because I keep taking the wall off.
You were chained?
I had a hand…what do you call it?
Yeah and with the handcuffs [shows rubbing movement] and I do for three months.
So you were rubbing the handcuffs against the wall?
Yeah. And finally after three months I can escape. And I didn’t know where I am. I’m in the middle of nowhere. It was a mountain. I went back to my family’s house. As soon I walk to my house nothing was there. The house is smashed by bomb.
I was ten. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost my parents. Everything was gone and I didn’t know. I was crazy. I just go there and cry and looking for my family everywhere.
I start work at the Afghan market, the food market. I used to work there and just find my food.
What did you do for work?
Carry. Carry stuff at the market. Food. Veggies. Anything.
Where did you stay?
At the market.
So you slept outdoors?
Yeah, outside. I put a carton under my head and slept. Everybody slept like that. Everyone.
You didn’t have any relatives?
Nah. Because my dad never show me the family. Like this is your uncle, this is your aunty – they never show me. And I decided like, you know, escape from that country because I don’t have parents to stay with them. No one going to take care of me.
How did you escape?
I knew my dad, like always he was saving money under the ground. Like he had a little case. Under the ground. One night I decided to go back to my old house I just went there and take the case out.
The case was still there?
Nobody will be searching there. No one can find it. And I took it out. And I just pulled the case, get the money out, find a smuggler to make me passports.
Darwin Airport Lodge 1
“He was really nice guy. He say, ‘Take care of yourself.’ I was a little kid. I was very small when I got the boat. I was the first kids by myself on the boat.”
How did you know about the smuggler?
All around of my country is a smuggler. All around of my country. Like they are sitting next to you and asking, ‘Would you like to go Russia or would you like to go to Europe? Would you like to go whatever you wanna go?’
How much did they charge you?
I pay twelve American thousand dollar, you know. I pay for that and the agent – the smuggler guy – he was really happy. He said to me, ‘Go and come back.’
You got all that from the case?
Yes. And I give the money, they start make me passport and he made everything for me.
They made you an Afghan passport?
Yeah. Afghan passport but they change my year.
Date of birth?
Yes. Because you’re not allowed to get out of the airport by underage, you know. They made a passport and I come to Indonesia. From Indonesia I waiting for three months in the hotel to find another smuggler to bring us to Australia by boat.
Sometimes people say, ‘Why don’t you stay in Indonesia?’ What would you say to that?
Indonesia is a dangerous place. It is dangerous place. I wish I could explain it, how I’m feeling, but I can’t. You have to go there and see there. And see what they’re doing with asylum seeker, refugees whatever.
What was it like?
During the night-time, after eight o’clock, if you walk around in the city they rob you, put a knife in you.
If anyone say Jakarta is a safe place, just straight say, ‘No. You liar. Because you didn’t see anything. You was lucky.’ I see a lot of things.
I was walking with my bag, little bag. Another guy come with a motorbike and put a knife in my neck, he just wants to do it…lucky I had a cops passing. He just ran away.
So you always had the money with you?
Always. Because I didn’t trust nobody. Always I had my money under my t-shirt, under my jumpers. During the summer it was hot I wearing jumper. Nobody knows but I had money inside my jumper.
When I was swimming and I tied the money with a plastic, always the money was in the plastic. I put plastic tape all around and no water getting inside, and I just put in.
In your pants?
In my undies. When swimming. Then I go up in the room, and I go upstairs and cut it. Leave it for dry and again, do the same.
And after three months in Indonesia?
I have to wait for the phone call. The smuggler give me phone call. He say the time when you ready just jump outside the hotel and we pick you up with the car and, yeah. One night he give me call and say everything’s ready. Would you like to go tonight? I say, ‘Yes, definitely.’ And he put me in the boat, like normal people he call me, ‘good boy’ and he says, ‘be safe.’
So he was friendly.
He was really nice guy. He say, ‘Take care of yourself.’ I was a little kid. I was very small when I got the boat. I was the first kids by myself on the boat.
And when I come to Australia they asked me, ‘Who did you come with?’ I say, ‘I come by myself.’ They ask, ‘Where is your mum or dad?’ And I was cry.
Who was asking you?
The navy. When they catching us in the water. I say my parents dying back of my country. I don’t know they’re dying or alive, I don’t know. And they help me a lot. They took me to Christmas Island and I there for four months. They give me food. They give me like, clothes. And from Christmas Island they decided to transfer the kids.
Eighty-five kids they transfer to near detention centre in Darwin. That’s called Darwin Airport Lodge Number 1. That was brand new detention and we went there. We were the first people. I was there for nine months. I had to give interview, like, you know, keep going my process.
Was that hard?
It was all right. We watched a lot of TV. They had Foxtel. Luckily the TV like that. Twenty kids sitting on the floor watching Sons of Anarchy.
Sons of Anarchy? I’ve heard it’s very good.
Oh, it’s really good!
You watched all of it?
No, no. I didn’t finish it. But soon as possible I’ll get a job. When I have money I buy the DVDs and I buy all Fast and Furious DVDs too, from one to six – I would love to do it again. I just sit and put the TV on just watch it and watch it and watch it…
Do you like cars?
Yeah. I love cars. I love making cars – like, you know, cleaning the engine, change everythings. I love doing that.
What happened after Darwin?
After that I had my refugee status. The government decided. When they see my document – this kid is a refugee, doesn’t have any parents. They transfer me from Darwin to Melbourne – the one in Broadmeadows. They decided to start sending the kids outside the tents to community detention centre. I was like, waiting and waiting and waiting for one and a half year.
Was there anyone looking after you?
I had like a Anglicare carer – during the day, during the night, always carer, always you’re under the carer. Anything you need you have to tell them.
Were they nice? Were they good to you?
Some of them are nice. Some of them no. Some of them really crazy. Like they don’t know what they deal with, you know what I mean? That’s their job – they have to support us. They have to do a lot of things for us because we don’t know. I didn’t know English. I went to English language school for one year to complete my year ten English.
Did you study anything else?
English all the time.
And that finished?
Yes. When I became eighteen, finish. When I left, I left.
Did they give you anything to take with…what did you leave with?
I just had a one bag and my old clothes. My undies. My couple of t-shirt that’s it. My towel. My book – my religion book, the Quran. That’s it. I start from zero. And still in zero.
The Carpenter from Kabul
“I say, ‘Excuse me, I don’t have money to buy the book. Can you give me book?’ And they go and talk to another teacher like everyone put ten, five dollars.”
What are you doing now?
In the beginning of 2013 I decided [to] start doing my dream job – carpentry.
Why do you like it so much?
Because I love wood. I remember I always like a sword – you know, with the wood? Big one, you know, kids playing. I used to make sword and sell it for like fifty cents. With the handsaw cut it, fix it, sand it a little bit and sell for fifty cent. To get money. The kids happy. I was happy. That’s why I love wood. That’s why I want to do it.
So I started and had a little bit money, saving as well. I thought if I save ten dollars a week I can buy a car. I can get a job very easy. I had a Control Management [certificate], a license, and I had my Work Safety card and I had my Responsible Service of Alcohol and I’m doing a pre-apprenticeship of carpentry – everywhere I apply I can’t find a job to take care of myself. All my saving moneys go for my rent, for my food. This is the end. I don’t have nothing.
Haven’t you met anyone you liked or made friends? Anyone from your community?
I meet a lot of people, you know? I meet a lot of people. They like to live in Dandenong. I don’t want to live in Dandenong. I don’t want to visit that community any more. Because I had a lot of bad experience of my people.
What did they do?
They don’t care. They don’t do anything. They’re always happy to make a party for someone. Like singer come from different country to sing for them – that’s the community. Nothing else. Nothing. If I go to them and say, ‘Excuse me I don’t have a place to live.’ They say, ‘You have to go talk to Immigration or Red Cross or something. We can’t help you.’ Because they don’t have that much power to give you help. They are only talking. I’m not going to go all the way to Dandenong for only talking.
So nobody calls or checks up on you to see if you’re okay?
Nah. No-one. I wish someone call me and ask me, how you’re going? How’s your study? Whatcha need for your education?
I always like, you know, need a pencil. This is my teacher’s pencil [pulls a red pencil out of pocket]. Not allowed to ask them but I ask them. Everything. For the book I ask my teacher. I say, ‘Excuse me, I don’t have money to buy the book. Can you give me book?’ And they go and talk to another teacher like everyone put ten, five dollars. Only two more months [more] I going school and that’s it. And I get my apprenticeship. And after who wants to help? I have nobody. It’s very hard life, trust me. I’ve been through a lot of hard life.
But I’m really happy I keep myself healthy. I don’t have a problem in my body. Yeah, I regular smokers. Regular like, you know, if I had it, I smoke. If I don’t have it, I not smoke.
What would you like to do? What would you do for fun?
During the summer I was very happy. I was outside, walking. I can stay all night out, the next day go to school, in the back of library just sleep.
But even in summer, do you feel like you need someone to walk with?
Yeah but…[almost in tears again] I couldn’t do anything.
You can’t just ask a friend from school? Just say, ‘Hey lets go for a walk?’
I would love to but the problem is the kids is addicted to drugs. Addicted to alcohol. I’m a Muslim. I’m not allowed to drink alcohol. Drugs is all right but I don’t want to do.
No, it’s not a good idea. Is there anything in Melbourne you can do that doesn’t cost money?
I’m happy to go watch a movie. But that still costs money. Everything costs money. I don’t know what I should be doing. I’m happy to, like, get money – do something and get money. That’s why I say – I apply for Darebin Council. I apply for every single thing.’
Have you been to any movies since you got here?
I just been once, like, three or four weeks ago. From school, one of the boys say, ‘I got a spare ticket. If anyone want it for Northland cinemas.’ And I just really love to go see Fast and Furious – the new one. And I was really excited. I get the ticket for free and I go there and watch a movie. Relax you know. Come home and slept.
Did you watch a lot of movies in Afghanistan?
Yeah, Bollywood movies.
Because we always watching Bollywood movies back of my country.
Is that what they showed on TV?
Nah, you have to buy it. But you know we had a ice cream place. Like a, we had a back of my country shop. You can buy fifty-cent cone of ice cream and sit watch a movie too. Little TV. Not a cinema. Like a twenty chair. People sit there have ice cream and watch a movie.
They showed Bollywood movies there?
And it was popular in Kabul?
Yeah! All young kids, everyone go for ice cream. Yeah.
What’s the biggest difference for you, between Afghanistan and here?
I understand this country is a safe country, you know? I understand this country you have to go, whatever people going, like do the right thing, do what you want to, you have more opportunity and more freedom. And you save.
And you can like absolutely talk with the cops, you know? Talk with the police. And you allowed to argue with the police too. Back of my country, no. If you go only past the car the cops gonna shoot you. If you yelling someone they’re gonna shoot you.
You never safe. You always hearing bomb, gun shooting, people screaming. Sometimes you see people don’t have legs, still going with the blood coming out. That’s the one thing I really like here, you know? It is safe. That’s all I need. Safe place to live, have a beautiful life.
Suriyan brings cake and places it on the table, ‘Here, healthy cake,’ he says. Mustafa refuses. Suriyan asks what we’d like for lunch and goes to get takeaway. We continue talking. At the end of the conversation Mustafa is much more relaxed. He’s cracking jokes and laughing.
Lunch is beef, chicken curry and a vegetable stir-fry from MKS restaurant served with rice cooked in our rice-cooker. Ado, who works in admin for the Council, comes upstairs and recognises Mustafa and they have a chat. Mustafa had participated in a soccer tournament Ado organised a few months ago.
Ado remembers that a friend needs someone to house sit while they are away and offers it to Mustafa. Meanwhile Katarina has contacted the Muslim community in the area and they’ve promised to spread the word. Suddenly, there are options for Mustafa.
“There is some reality. Not reality – but the side of reality that is really bitter. ”
Black Socialist, White London
“When I started watching the movie with white guys, I realised – they’re laughing at me! When they’re shooting the Native Americans, suddenly I realised I am them!”