Friday, 25 September 2015


We look for asylum
Mama taught me
to say in English
as we distanced ourselves
from war, falling bombs
falling buildings
fear of guns, knives
and men who used them
who did unspeakable deeds
in the dead of night.

Eastward, ever eastward
set adrift from country
from family
from Papa
Burning sand, blistered bitumen
dry, cracked skin and shoe leather
Discarding things as we worked out
what we could live without.

Days became weeks became months
became who knows how long
as one foot in front of the other
moving, moving all the time
the rising sun showed us the way
as each day stretched out
much like the one before.

We look for asylum, Mama said
but no welcome mat
no open arms.
The eyes said it all
Move on, not here, no room, move on
so move we did, further still
from home
from Papa
by any means possible.

Then southward we were told
was the way to go
to find our freedom and new home.
So south we went
day in, day out
week in, week out
until the land ran out.

Now set adrift once more
we desert people
out of our depth
All at sea on a bottomless ocean.
Blue sky above
now a menacing bruise
as the elements unleash
their worst and conspire to take
our vessel
our bodies
our spirits.

When all seemed lost
a distant light spelled hope.
As lightning split the heavens
thunder shook us to the core
soaring black 
walls of water rose,
hung suspended
crashed and
sent us sprawling.

I still can taste cold
salt water on my tongue

Plucked by strong hands
dumped on the deck
placed in a spot
a sad and sorry
wet bedraggled lot.
Hope rises yet again
for this boat will not sink.
The stranger’s eyes meet mine
as he utters things I do not understand
so I speak the only words I know.

You take us to the asylum now?

Di Adams

© 2014

My Sensitivity Blemished

This past week marked the 4 year point of my Jack Jumper Ant desensitisation treatment. I travelled to Hobart on the bus as usual, alternating between a cryptic crossword, the passing scenery, and taking photos. Arrived at the hospital, went through the usual obs, had my jab, and proceeded to pass the next obligatory hour with my latest novel before being allowed to leave. Not my latest novel, as in the one I’ll someday write, I wish, just the latest one I’m reading.

All was fine for about half an hour, then my eyes started to itch, nothing particularly unusual as I do have dry eyes. Put some drops in, kept reading, then it hit me. Suddenly felt hot, which again is not necessarily anything out of the ordinary, as those wonderful Big M moments still plague me fairly regularly after all these years. But then I felt sick, really sick, so off to the bathroom I shuffled. Nothing erupted, but then I saw myself in the mirror. Hmm, that’s not right, I thought, looking rather red and blotchy and glassy eyed there.

I was promptly tossed on the bed, not literally mind you, the staff were very concerned and caring, stuffed with pills, hooked up to BP and ECG monitors, and consequently checked for the rest of the afternoon until the head to toe rash and nausea had subsided. Staff rang the bus company to reschedule my return trip, I made it back valiantly on the late bus, drove home, had a bite to eat and crawled into bed somewhat worse for wear.

After 23 visits, about 35 jabs, and a live ant sting test thrown in to see how the treatment was going, it took visit number 24 to bring me undone. Think I must’ve jinxed myself by saying when I first got there “Yay, only a year to go.” It’s not normal, but an adverse reaction can happen even at this stage of the treatment, so now I have to go back in four weeks instead of my usual three months.

“Why is it so?” we all wondered. No definitive answer arrived at, so we’ll see what happens in four weeks. I’ll make sure I book the late bus back just in case.

Also got me thinking about desensitisation in general, and my mind went back forty years to a moment when my first son was only a few months old. Plastered across our television screens on every channel was the plight of a famine of biblical proportions in one of the African nations. Emaciated people, vacant eyes in bodies barely alive, children with swollen bellies, mothers cradling their dying babies as they sat in the dirt powerless to change the fate that awaited them.

My husband wondered where I’d gone. He found me out in the laundry, washing nappies, tears streaming down my face. I’d seen such scenes before, but somehow, the life of my own baby who I knew was safe and secure and in no danger of starving triggered something much deeper within. I could no longer be a casual observer, immune to the suffering of mothers on the other side of the world who knew their babies had no hope of survival. And obviously not just the mothers and their babies, but that was where the initial response kicked in.

We see it every day on television, the playing out of natural disasters, wars, criminal activity, domestic tragedies, industrial accidents, plane and train and car wrecks. We receive hourly updates, the never ending litany of dramas unfold right in front of us via social networks and every media source, and before you know it we seem to reach our limit of being able to really care.

We become desensitised. We are removed from the disaster, it doesn’t touch us personally, and because we feel powerless to do anything about the problem anyway, we start to switch off to the magnitude of it and the pleas for help. We suffer what has become known as charity fatigue, and skirt around fundraising collectors in shopping centres and on street corners, eyes averted, pretending to be on a mission of far greater importance. We become adept at avoiding the issue.

It took a hiccup with my Jack Jumper treatment to remind me that the desensitisation process can be very rudely interrupted, and I wondered what would have a similar effect on the attitudes we hold towards those unfortunate enough to be the victims of catastrophes we hope we will never have to face.

Much has been written of late of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who lost his life along with his mother and brother, and whose lifeless body was washed up on the shore in Turkey. The photos of his body on the beach and of the Turkish policeman treating him with such care as he carried him away, felt like such an invasion of privacy, but that was the hiccup, the wake up call. It was that image and that moment which galvanised worldwide rage and horror and sentiment and public opinion.

I would hate to think anyone could be so desensitised to the suffering of others that such a moment went unnoticed, that a life so precious could be regarded as a simple statistic, collateral damage in the context of the bigger picture. Death in such tragic circumstances seems so futile, and unfortunately we can easily forget the human face as the tally of those lost rises in ever increasing numbers, but to see one solitary child, washed up on the beach like a piece of flotsam, is heartbreaking to say the least and makes the anger rise in me.

We want to jump up and down, grab politicians, presidents, prime ministers and kings, despots and dictators and gun wielding extremists by the scruff of the neck, shake them and scream “Can’t you see? Can’t you see? Is this the sort of world you want?”

But this is the world we have, like it or not, and for me to cope I have to bring it down to a very personal level. I can’t deal with the thousands displaced around the world, but I can go out of my way to better educate myself about how I could help one person, one family. How to get past the initial misgivings of venturing into the unknown territory of someone else’s trauma and attempting to be part of them finding a more hopeful future.

There are agencies and organisations right on our doorstep that would welcome such help if we care to look. Barely a few weeks have passed since that harrowing image gave us a reality check on the refugee crisis. Do I have the heart to make a move to be part of the solution, or will I gravitate to the fallback position of complacency. I wouldn’t regard myself as being insensitive to the needs of others, but when it comes to the nitty gritty I wonder how much space I’m prepared to give to others and the chaos they might bring.

Pretty confronting really.