Saturday, April 28, 2012

Australian Citizenship Ceremony with a taste of tragedy (September 2001)

One day Dad called them to his Study and presented proudly a letter with Australian emblem. Saranda
looked at the letter an drecognied the heading: 'Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.'
She vaguely remembered a time when a similar letter arrived at the Barracks and they had been allowed to stay in Australia.

    "What's this all about?" Mum asked nervously holding the vigorous Victor by his hand. He looked around the room he was not allowed to enter and was keen to explore it with all his senses.

    "I will miss my soccer, Dad, is it important?" Dardon asked impatiently.

    "Very important," Dad said shaking the letter in his hand: "We finally become rightful citizens of this country," he stopped for a while: "And there is a part I want you to learn by heart by next Saturday," he looked from one to another: "All of you you!"

    "I see Victor learning it," chuckled Dardon to himself, but Dad walking behind him squeezed his arm
so painfully that he jumped up saying: "Don't be cheecky, Dardon, you are not a little boy any more, it is time for you to grow up, sooner you learnt that, better for you."

Then he turned to Saranda, who followed him out of the room: "Here you are, help your Mum to understand it," handing her the letter he noticed Victor, finally freeing himself from Mum, starting to explore enthusiastically Dad's table full of papers.

He beckoned to Mum to take him and leave. Dardon didn't miss opportunity and rushed out of the door to catch up with his training. Mum quickly grabbed Victor who loudly protested and left the room in a tick. Only Saranda moved slowly to the door reading loudly: "From this time forward, under God, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people..." She suddenly stopped and turned back: "Why do we have to learn this?"

Dad has already returned back to his table and carefully ordered back the papers Victor touched, without taking eyes of it, he murmured under his breath: "Just keep reading, you will understand."

Saranda looked back at the page: "...whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey." She finished reading and stared at him for a while.

He stopped ordering his papers and looked at her annoyed: "This is the pledge, Saranda, we are very lucky people, you know, we have the country of our origin and also a new country, which we are becoming part of..." He stopped for a while and stared out of the window at the sun lit lawn surrounded by colourful hedges of native flowers.

She wanted to say something but then she notice his moistured eyes and knew he is thinking about home. That was not the time to disturb him so she tiptoed back to the door,

    "The least we can do is promise to respect and obey its lows." She heard his last words before closing the door quietly behind her.

     And so they did in the big hall of their Thornlie Council, Mum and Dad stood with others in front of the Mayor while Saranda, Victor and Dardon sat with the audience in the first row. Dad was standing proud repeating the pledge while Mum stood nervously besides him, hiding behind her scarf.

    "Stop wriggling, you little monkey," Saranda whispered in Victor's ear.

He was sitting on her knees. Saranda wished for a quick end as he was turning around and shouting excitedly towards Mum. She imagined the flash of disapproval in Dad's eyes, if he noticed them. It was so embarrassing she quickly turned around to see reaction of the people around them. Jack and George waved to her from the fourth row. Jack had decided to come back hom, which made George extremely hapy. She could see him now putting his arm around Jacks' shoulders and holding him tightly as to make sure he would never run away again. The annoyed look on Jack's face worried her.
She smiled at him encouragingly and turning back she noticed Doha standing near the entrance with some flowers in her hands peeping from her scarf. Suddenly a dark arm wearing shinning bracelets appeared from the last row and waved to Doha. Saranda looked closely to recognize Mrs Hysa sitting there holding Joyce on her knees.

    "Ouch," She was forced to turn back as Victor found another pastime activity, pulling her hair out of her scarf: "Stop it, Victor," she was furious with him and Dardon, who had started to laugh like crazy. She dropped Victor on the floor so she could arrange her scarf. He screamed joyfully and ran straight to his Mum, who was standing shaking hands with the Mayor. Victor stopped behind him, suddenly shy and the surprised Mayor nearly collapsed on top of him, while turning to shake hands with another new citizen.

   "Hello little 'fella', you want to be first to congratulate your Mum, don't you?" He smiled broadly and moved out of Victor's way.

The people in audience laughed, but Mum quickly grabbed Victor's hand and looked sheepishly at Dad, who gave Saranda a grave look. The one she didn't imagine, it was real. Dardon couldn't stop laughing. She clutched her stomach a in sudden pain and get up to leave the hall in a hurry.

It was dark outside and quiet. Saranda breathed with a sudden relief when a dark figure leapt from the bushes in front of her. She jumped from fear and was ready to run back inside, when the familiar hand touched her arm:

    "Saranda, it's me Kathy," Kathy's white teeth shone in the dark and her curls bounced on her head like always when she was laughing.

    "Kathy, what are you doing here?" Saranda observed her dear friend's dirty shirt and jeans and moved out little as the foul breath made her sick. She could smell alcohol and something else, she couldn't recognise.

    "Jack told me," She winked at Saranda and produced a branch from a flowering bottle-brush tree: "Welcome, 'Sar' among 'the bloody Aussies', couldn't you find someone better to belong to?"

Saranda looked at her in surprise when Kathy handed her spiky red bush flowers.

    "I am just joking, anyway I couldn't any poshy flowers around here, anyway these ones are like me, native, ha,ha.." She laughed so loudly nearly loosing her balance.

   "Kathy, are you all right?" Saranda got hold of her arm as she was now laughing hysterically.

Some older couple walking near the entrance looked at them strangely. Kathy noticed them and made a rude sign in their direction: "What are you looking at, f..k off!"

Saranda turned her back to the horrified couple and led Kathy back to the darkness of the bushes where she had appeared before. She had a strange feeling, that this was not her friend, but someone else in her skin.

    "Kathy, what's wrong?" She pleaded with her, but Kathy shook her arm free. Before she disappeared in the bushes, she turned one more time and smiled at Saranda:

    "It's good that Jack is back home, you know, he never was the sort of guy to live on a street."

And she was gone. Saranda smelled the spiky bush flowers and went back inside.

The ceremony was over and people mingled around the tables with refreshments. She spotted her family, who were taking picture with the Mayor under the Australian flag. She was on her way to join them when someone touched her shoulder:

    "I was looking for you, Saranda," Doha smiled at her shyly: "Congratulation on becoming an Australian, my cousin would do anything to be one." She handed her three elegant white orchids tied up with a white ribbon.

Saranda touched gently a white petal, when Doha whispered in her ear: "I like these flowers, they are Australian ones, but they look so strangely mysterious in the bush, like they don't belong there," she smiled sadly at Saranda: "Just like us, don't you think?"

Before she could answer Doha was gone. Saranda quickly joined her family for the last picture under the Australian flag, holding two very different flowers. She had a strong urge of mixing them together. Is it possible?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Doha from Baghdad

The next day Saranda put the note from the ponytail girl next to her treasured letter from her dead cousins and sighed deeply. She felt extremely lonely on this windy Monday morning. Foundation Day, ste repeated quietly for herself. In spite of her knowing what that day meant for Western Australia, she didn't really feel part of it. She was too new to this country to think about its history, a history she and her family were not part ot. Passing the kitchen Saranda peeped inside to see Mum and Mrs Hysa filling a pita bread with all taht yammy stuff Joyce and Victor fought over. They supposed to hand it to them, but kids are kids even in the strict Muslim families. Piece of cheese felt on the floor and Victor grabbed it.

   "Yak, Victor, it's dirty," but before Mum could finish, Victor put it into his mouth.

    "Don't worry, I've washed the floor yesterday, anyway germs are good for him," Mrs Hysa laughed cutting a piece of cooked chicken.

    "Let me to do it, let meee..." Joyce started to scream from the bottom of her small lungs.

Saranda quietly passed the kitchen before they noticed her. She went out and looked at the cloudy sky.
Without looking back she rushed down the street, when she suddenly stopped. There was no point going to Fremantle, Jack was on the trip. She looked desperately around at some houses close by. Sudden gust of wind and first drops of rain hurried her up the road. Kathy was for sure at Uncle Toby's house surrounded by her kin. And waht had happened to her? Why did she still feel like running away? From whom and what? She pondered at these questions for a while when suddenly she caught a sight of a white house right next to their Mosque. That's the house where Doha lived with her foster parents.
Without further thinking she ran toward its gate and entered the front yard with its immaculate lawn.
She looked up at the majestic white stairs and suddenly compared this huge vila to their small house. While was standing there unable to decide what to do, she was caught in the downpour of rain. The side window squeaked and the girlish voice informed her in Arabic:

   "The Mosque is closed today, but you are welcome to pray in this house, God is great."

Saranda looked up and recognised Doha in her usual head cover. She smiled hastily and waved.

    "Saranda, is that you?" But Saranda had no time to reply as the window banged and the covered girlish figure opened the front door in a hurry: "Come in or you are going to get soaked."

When Saranda entered, her wet sneakers made squeaking sound on the polished timber floor. Doha quickly grabbed her hand and pulled her to the left. They passed the long corridor full of oriental mosaics and rags. Finally Doha opened the door on the end and beckoned Saranda to enter nervously looking around for the sign of movement. Saranda stopped in the doorway as the luxurious spacey girlish bedroom took her breath away.

   "It's not mine," Doha smiled apologetically and pointed on the picture showing a girl in a white head cover with some flowers: "Zaliah, the eldest daughter of my saviours, uncle Abuh Ahmed adn his wife, may God protect them, she studies in America."

Saranda nodded and walked around the room touching the exotic model of ancient building. 'The Babylonian ziggurat of Ur-nammu,' she spelled slowly the golden letters underneath. Her eyes suddenly caught an ancient wall map showing Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Doha followed her gaze and smiled enthusiastically:

    "People settled along these rivers as early as 7000 BC and Mesopotamia flourished until the 500 BC, with Babylon as its capital. Have you heard about King Nebuchadnezzar and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?"

   "Nebu...what?" Saranda looked puzzled but Doha didn't seem notice lost in her world.

   "Baghdad," Doha gently touched the golden star on the old map representing the capital: "In 762, Baghdad became the new capital and for centuries was the centre of learning, science, philosophy and poetry in the golden age of Islam." She looked up and met the blank Saranda's face: "I was born there and lived there happily for nearly twelve years until..."

Saranda waited but Doha just covered her ace and turned to the window, when the noise inside the house reminded them of their inhabitants. Doha quickly walked across the room to the dressing corner.

Saranda only now realized that she was wet and shivered touching her damp hair. Silky cushions had been arranged around the corners so she slowly moved to drop among them as to find something to cover herself up.

    "Here you are, it's yours anyway," Doha handed to the surprised Saranda the black long shirt with the Aboriginal painting of footprints and hadprints making pattern of sun. "Do you remember our trip to the museum?"

    "Yeah, but..."

   "I thought this picture will suit you the best, I mean you always wear that little golden sun of yours," Doha smiled secretly and moved her head scarf to reveal her golden chain with the moon crescent surrounded by some little stars: "My Mum gave it to me, before she died to remember the people I belong to, Turkmen."

   "The sun and the moon," Saranda looked at their golden chains shaking her head in a surprise: "But I can't take it," she looked at the shirt that dropped from her hands.

   "Of course you can, go and change in that dressing corner, " Doha pointed to the place, where she looked for the shirt: "Then I will do your scarf as Abuh Ahmed's wife doesn't like modern ways," she sighed and waved at Saranda with a white scarf.

   "It's fit perfectly, how did you know and where did you get the money for it?" Saranda twirled around in her new black shirt until Doha beckoned her to sit down and bent her head for the headscarf.

   "I saved some money from my sewing," Doha murmured under her breath: "This one is made especially for you." She looked at Saranda and smiled.

   "I didn't know you like sewing."

   "I sometimes help Abuh Ahmed's wife, she sews girls school scarfs and boys religious hats," Doha murmured under her breath:"You know, I thought, I would save some money for my cousin, when they release him from Detention Centre, but..."

The call for praying stopped their discussion and Doha quickly tied Saranda's scarf: "Let's go to join them for the pray time," she beckoned Saranda to join her.

   "I think, I would better go back home..." Saranda picked up her wet shirt from the chair.

   "Look at the mirror, Saranda, now you look like real Australian Muslim girl, " Doha laughed pointing at her reflection behind the chair: "See ya and drop in any time you like."

When she was gone, Saranda curiously looked at herself. The white scarf contrasted with the black long sleeve shirt and blue jeans. Her clothes represented the state of her mind, she kept looking back where she came from, struggling to understand the religion of her Grandmother and looking forward to be part of her new home. Who was she?



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