Tuesday, 2 September 2014

What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely.

The last time i visited X in detention he was telling me that he would soon stop accepting visitors. I viewed it as some kind of desperate but ineffective bid for somebody in the bureaucracy to show some humanity, a cutting-off-his-nose-to-spite-his-face kind of martyrdom. Understandable but pointless. Today he was reluctant to see me and when he finally arrived at the visits area he was in a hurry to tell me how miserable he is.
I have been visiting X for almost 3 years, it must be almost 100 visits by now. He has been in Australian immigration detention for five years. News from home is not good and although information is scarce it would seem to me that his dad is probably suffering from some kind of major organ failure. In a modern medical system it might be possible to buy him some years of life but in the developing world.....well, not so much.
X has no clue why he is being detained or when he might be released, despite the fact that his story has been told and re-told right to the highest court in the land. He has digestive disturbances and dizziness, cold sores and non-specific pains, gradually his regular visitors have stopped coming, he reacts badly to institutionalised food. Mostly, he suffers from being stateless, faceless and having no voice.
At around 40 years old X believes that he is too old to marry or have children. In his culture he is an old man, his younger sisters are already grandmothers. He tells me these things regularly and my protestations of a fulfilling life to come fall on deaf ears.
Most days I have empathy for X's despair but today I was annoyed. I wanted to tell him that my life is unfair, too. I wanted to tell him that wallowing won't help. I was irritated that he turns away well intentioned visitors, people who have made time in their lives to spend with him, a stranger. I wanted to remind him that he has chosen his path in life and we all have to live with our choices. I wanted to remind him that he might now be married if he had been kinder.
You see, after all my visits I actually know X. I admire his loyalty and his general honesty, I think that he does a good job of keeping an open heart in a situation which encourages only bitterness and cynicism. I acknowledge that 5 years of indefinite detention is enough to break anyone but I also know his tendency to self pity, I am frustrated by his resistance to hope, I have experienced his brutal honesty and his amateur manipulations.
It is a long time since I have seen X simply as a pitiable victim to an ungenerous policy (although he is definitely that) and I have no desire to reduce any multi-faceted individual to a caricature so without the simplicity of a one dimensional view, today was the most challenging day ever as I came face to face with the parts of his personality and situation that I dont much like and dont have many skills to deal with. I was forced to re-examine my own motives and expectations, required to dig deep to find love for someone who wasn't being likeable.
Of course I know I am privileged in comparison to X, I know that my irritation was inappropriate, I know that people just dont say these things that I am saying but I also believe that it needs to be said. We do everyone a grave disservice when we censor every difficult thought.
I believe that I found today's visit difficult for a reason and I need to figure out the right response. Am I obliged now to do some self-work? should I be inspired to a deeper political involvement? do I need to find a new way of expressing solidarity and concern for X?
I will find my way, maybe with a new focus or just a renewed determination but I am deeply sorry that I am just one woman with a link to just one man. This country is making a mess of our obligations to suffering humanity and there will be no real change until citizens and leaders are prepared to ask and answer the difficult questions but that would take a maturity that we seem not to have.


  1. You are compassionate. Your country's system unfortunately is not and it has its own logic for that situation. Will X agree to go back to his country if he was deported? If not, why not?

  2. Oh Kylie.
    A heart-hurting post.
    I so hope that you find your way. I so hope that X finds his way.
    And I long for some compassion, empathy and justice in our system. But am not holding my breath.

  3. ramana,
    X is one of the rohingya minority and as such has no citizenship or right to repatriation in his home country, myanmar.
    he is recognised by the UNHCR as a refugee and as such australia has a responsibility to accept him. the legalities are such that he will be accepted into australia, he must be, but i suppose we can do it graciously or not and currently the choice is a loud "not"

  4. EC
    i remember once talking to someone who told me they had visited villawood a few times and found it so detrimental to their own mental health that they stopped. i doubt i will ever have much time for that attitude but i am beginning to understand it.
    i will find my way and i think x will, too. in the mean time he is entitled to some self pity

  5. Everyone is entitled to a paddle in the pity pool from time to time. It becomes a problem when the paddle becomes a wallow.
    That said, he has good reason to feel as he does.

  6. It's good that you've taken such an interest in him and he isn't left alone to face the injustices of the asylum procedures. So many people must feel utterly shunned and neglected.

  7. thanks nick! at some point i realised that unless there is some very good reason not to, i need to visit until he has his freedom. all the detainees he has been friends with have been released and while they care about their friends in detention they are often run off their feet trying to get established here so they find visiting difficult.


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