At the asylum seekers centre garden it’s hard to get people to come along. They can been so traumatised by their experience fleeing, but also by what awaits them when they come here — years of detention, they say it’s like a gradual dying — that they don’t want to go out. If I can convince them to get to the garden, I often see a shift.
I see Mo from the middle east, and wave. He is at the end of his asylum process, awaiting a reprieve from the minister; his last and only hope. He is internalised, caved in on himself. Wrapped in a blanket of his own trauma and pain, he hardly speaks a word. I have to ask him a million questions before he answers one. So I learn not to ask. Sometimes even ‘Do you want to come to the garden?’ is too hard a question. His face screws up, lost in the confusion of his trauma-locked mind.
So I just say, ‘we’re going to the garden’. And sometimes he picks up his backpack and he comes.
Within 10 minutes of having his hands in the soil, cutting dead leaves off a plant, clearing weeds his energy shifts, and the most surprising thing happens: he starts to speak, of the foods that he ate at home, of the plants he grew, of his mother and how she would care for him. And then an even more surprising development: he sings.
The songs sound ancient, and I don’t understand the words, but they speak of journeys. Meandering though sad phrases, uplifting to happy family times. I am quiet in the background, pulling the grass from our veggie beds, entranced.
What more can I do to help him and so many others in this time of crisis? I can write more letters imploring the minister, adding to my ASIO file; already a foot deep. But more tangibly I can stop asking questions and just listen. I can provide a safe place in my garden, and I can revel in the moments where their beautiful voices catch, and for a short time, freely dance on the wind.