Saturday, May 14, 2011

Easter Activism part 2

At our camp (not far from the detention centre) we had a debriefing of what happened that day and some people that had come from other parts of Australia and were inside the detention centre while we were outside, came and told us what they had experienced. We also made a mass chickpea curry with rice, and had to do all of our talking in the dark (or in the bus, which was awfully hot!) because in the lights we had outside there was a mass of beetles! There were mossies too (mosquitoes) but for some reason I've noticed that here you don't notice the mosquitos biting you until the next morning when you itch (unlike at home where you can feel them). I have some great pics of the ridiculousness of bugs! That night I ended up putting my swag and sleeping bag (borrowed from a friend) in someone else's tent that had extra room, cause it was too warm to climb into my swag and I was afraid of getting eaten my mossies if I laid on top of my swag. I am very glad I did cause there was one guy who did just that and said they were attacking all night, and when he woke up he looked like he had a disease there were so many mosquito bites!!

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We were able to get a few people into the Centre the next day (they chose who), but when they got in there, only the ones who came bearing legal advise talked to people, the rest didn't because the men inside decided they didn't want to meet with any of us one-on-one, they wanted a delegation of us to come in there and meet with them as a group and to see the conditions that they were living in. Normally this would be allowed, but not now. Usually you can meet with the men in the main areas, but while we were there they were wanting to put us off to another, secluded part, with individual meeting rooms. We decided we'd respect their wishes, and also thought this good, so those that were in there came back out and we protested that we should have a small delegation go in. They wouldn't let us, so about half of the group sat down in front of the gate, not letting vehicle in or out. After a while the police came and started hauling people away. I did not participate because, not being an Australian citizen, I wasn't sure what getting arrested would come to (deportation??) so didn't want to take the risk. I sat on the sidelines and videotaped. The police had to make to trips to haul them all away, but we found out later, when we drove back to the camp site, that the police had just dropped them back at our campsite and given them 24 hour move on notices (can't come back to the centre within 24 hours). We discussed some more and then decided to go into Derby, the closest town, about 20 minutes away, where one of our members friend's lived. We were going to stay at her place as well as at this church house that was open for us to use. We packed up camp, piled into the bus, and off we went.

Well, when we were in Derby, something very unexpected happened... a tree branch smashed in two of our windows! The bus driver (one of the three) felt horrible about it, but upon explaining it, it was a total fluke that could have happened to anyone. The top of the branch caught on something on the roof and the branch broke off of the tree and swung down to take out the windows. I was one of the people sitting by one of those windows. I was buckled in and so couldn't go anywhere when it happened, so got glass shards into my knee and shoulder as well as glass dust all over me. There were about 3 of us that got cut up, and I think mine might have been the worst, which is good cause mine weren't all that bad. The girl in front of me was lucky cause she was leaning up against the window, but had her pillow behind her, so only got one cut on her back.
Luckily we were very close to that girl's friend's house, so the glassy people walked there and were the first to take showers.

We then cooked dinner and watched ourselves on the news (we had amazing technicians with us who were able to get internet, even at our campsite!! and so everything was sent to the media) that night! I have some footage of us watching the news.

I set up my swag in the backyard, and after chatting for a while went to sleep. The next morning we got all packed up and walked over to the church house (so we could give the lady we were staying with some space). We cooked and tried to figure out what to do about the bus. After a lot of discussing, a small group of the most experienced people (3 people) who also were trained as mental health counselors, went back to the gates (it had been over 24 hours) to try and get in to see some of the men that had recently collapsed do to hunger strike they went on to try and make the guards let us visit them. They were there for a few hours, and when we got the message that they were unsuccessful at getting in to help the men, we headed into the bus and drove up to the gates, got out, and immediately started shaking the fence and chanting. We ended up knocking down the fence (it was just a little temporary one) and chanted for a bit more until the police showed up again, and that was our cue to get back onto the bus so we weren't arrested. It was such a short time and so much energy, it was hard to go back to the house and just sit around!

(just after the fence came down)

As for the bus, we ended up getting some laborers to help us put up some corrugated metal onto the side of the bus held together with some wood, and the sides we borded up with cardboard and duct tape. Pretty primative, but we had to do something and it was the week of Easter (and then Monday was ANZAC day and so Tuesday was also a holiday) and nothing was open. We couldn't go anywhere to get the windows repaired, and we had to drive back cause people had to go back to work etc. We were already up there a day longer than planned, which meant that a few people had to catch a plane back cause they couldn't afford to be gone longer.

We had a debriefing that night, which was mainly us sitting around with a guitar making up a song about how Serco always says "no!". We also watched some more news.

On our way home the next day we were surprised at how well our window patch was holding up, and how not noisy it turned out to be! :)

We stopped and camped at 80 mile beach again. After setting up my swag I started a conversation with a lady who asked us what we were there for. That was interesting. Me and another girl were the main ones who talked to her with a few other people coming in and out of the conversation. She was a very big, literalist Christian. Without going into a huge spiel about it, basically this is what she was saying (and I'm only slightly paraphrasing, she basically said all of this): All muslims are terrorists, if they come to her country, then they have to change to her country's religion (which is funny cause Australia isn't a very religious country), but she wouldn't have to if she went to their country (and she said "they'd blow me right out of the water if I went there"). She kept getting off track and saying how Islam is wrong and Christianity is right, and how Jesus saves. She kept preaching to us, even though I told her I was Christian, but I believe that everyone is saved no matter what (too much for her to handle). It was very hard to stay on topic with her, she essentially wanted to convert all of the muslims that come to Australia, which I told here was another thing entirely, you need to deal with one issue at a time even if that is what you want to do. We also told her that these were good people who had done nothing wrong, and she said "that's the they TELL you." And when the girl I was with told her the personal story of the man she had met with and said that he was a Christian, she said "well, they'll say anything."
Anyway, after a while of this we finally found out that she was upset about her daughter, who has mental issues (and apparently support for mental illness in Australia is horrible) and she didn't have the strength to take care of her any more, and her daughter couldn't get a house etc. She figured, if her daughter couldn't get help, why should Australia help these refugees, to which one person who briefly came into the conversation mentioned that if we'd just let them into the country and not put them in camps that would save Australia millions of dollars each year, money which could be used to help people, Australians, like her daughter. At the end we kind of agreed to disagree I think, but we did make her think quite a bit, and I hope she changes her perspective at least a little. I pointed out to her that all of the information she was getting was purely based on here-say, which is very easy to get sucked into, we all do it sometimes. So many people are told that muslims are terrorists and so believe it. We also tried to get her to understand that not all of these people can go through the proper procedures to get here because often the offices they'd get paperwork from in their country don't exist, and/or because they are so desperate to get out that they just hop on the next boat out and often don't even know where they're going, they just need to leave.

That was an interesting evening. The rest of the trip was good, hard to sleep on the bus, but good. We did briefly stop in Broome, not much to see and most things were closed cause of the holidays.


Life changing experience.


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