I once knew some top blokes named Ahmedshah, Mohammed and Abdul. I might never have written about them, except this week our politicians warned we can’t be compassionate to the people of Afghanistan.
Those people desperate to escape a totalitarian regime might be terrorists, we’re told. ‘ Recent arrivals have been unwilling to assimilate into our way of life,’ Pauline Hanson cautions.
But I’ve known so many refugees who could prove Pauline wrong. Ahmedshah, Mohammed and Abdul all did a bloody beaut job of assimilating.
I met Ahmedshah when he was a ‘recent arrival’. He was from Uruzghan province, we were the same age and we both liked talking about poetry. I got to know about fifteen Afghan guys in the mid 2000s, but Ahmedshah was the only one I caught up with regularly over the years.
The last time I saw him was when he bought me coffee at a café in Fremantle. He wanted to celebrate because he’d been working FIFO on the mines in the Pilbara and had just got his ticket for a particular trade. I can’t remember which trade, but it involved big trucks and iron ore. You can’t get more West Strayan than wearing high vis while diggin’ sh*t up, surely?
I accidentally had two flatmates from Afghanistan once, after I had made enquiries with an agency to host international students from Japan.
During the orientation meeting the agency rep suggested I instead sign up to their program hosting refugees. So I applied, thereby “happily opening the floodgates to a new wave of arrivals”. I still don’t know how that rep guessed I would be receptive to his suggestion. I must have accidentally left my “bleeding heart” on my sleeve.
Mohammed and Abdul arrived at my place straight from off-shore detention in Nauru and stayed for six weeks. I’ll admit was a little apprehensive about two strange men moving in, but no more so than if they were two blokes I didn’t know called Davo and Smithy.
Mohammed’s English was limited, but we had a Farsi phrase book and we passed it back and forward to ask each other questions to learn about our families, our jobs etc. Abdul’s English was very strong so he translated the jokes.
The most striking similarity between Aussie and Afghan humour is what we in Australia so eloquently call taking the p*ss. Mohammed and Abdul took the p*ss out of each other and occasionally me.
More than once, they made me laugh so much I experienced light bladder leakage.
We went to Bunnings a few times to get supplies because Mohammed offered to fix a few of the broken things in my renovators delight apartment. Sometimes at night we watched Game of Thrones, only pausing the playback so one of the guys could stir the lamb stew on the stove. Not particularly terroristy behaviour.
To be clear, I’m not saying that just because Ahmedshah, Mohammed and Abdul were nice, that everyone in Afghanistan is also nice. You can’t judge an entire nation on the personalities of a few men. What a crazy idea.
I’m just saying, wouldn’t it be great if more people in Australia knew some top blokes like Ahmedshah, Mohammed and Abdul. We wouldn’t be scared to offer refuge because of the fear of the unknown, if we knew.
We might then recognise ourselves in footage of people swarming the airport, desperate for escape. We might then all cry out for our political leadership to gain points by being compassionate.
Anyone who has shared a meal with Afghan friends will soon learn the Farsi word bis (enough), because you always get fed until your stomach is bursting. Every night Mohammed and Abdul would declare I should eat more, of the sweet lamb stew, or flat breads and olives they set out.
It was the same whenever I used to see Ahmedshah and his friends. He would keep serving me tea with sweets and dried fruit until I would protest, ‘Bis! Enough!’ and clutch my stomach.
‘Stop feeding me!’ I said once (with a slice of cake still in my hand).
‘But I have to!’ Ahmedshah said. ‘Hospitality is part of my culture.’
What a pity hospitality isn’t part of our Australian political culture. It doesn’t cost us anything to have empathy. There are so many stories of refugees contributing to our economy that it would be cliché to mention them.
We are one of the richest and safest countries in the world, so why do we pride ourselves on our meanness? Canada has pledged 20,000 visas while Australia has offered to reallocate 3000 visas, not even create new ones. Why is that such a vote winner?
I don’t spend much time with Afghan friends anymore. Mohammed and Abdul moved out when they got jobs in an abattoir far away.
Tragically Ahmedshah died in 2009, when we were both just 33. There is no way to make sense of the unfairness of his too short life. But I can honour his memory by letting it be known how grateful he was to be safe in Australia.
Yes, we have a pandemic, yes we have lockdowns. But so do all the other countries that have offered way more visas.
Come on, politicians of Australia, we have room in our hearts and our suburbs for “a new wave of arrivals”.
If you would like Australia to offer more visas you can email your local Member of Parliament using these links:
or this one
And/or sign this petition.