No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani

Translated by Omid Tofighian

Omid Tofighian pic

Omid Tofighian is Lecturer in Rhetoric and Composition in the School of Literature, Art, and Media and Honorary Research Associate in the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry at the University of Sydney.

Although Tofighian is the translator, he acknowledges over a dozen people involved in getting Boochani’s original text smuggled from Manus via WhatsApp and Facebook into his hands.

One aspect I was always conscious of was that Behrouz was writing in Farsi, not Kurdish. He was writing in the language of his oppressors, even though he is a fervent advocate of Kurdish culture, language and politics. And the book was being translated into the language of his torturers.

I saw this translation opportunity as a chance to contribute to history by documenting and somehow supporting the persecution of forgotten people; translation for me, like writing for Behrouz, is a duty to history and a strategy for positioning the issue of indefinite detention of refugees deep within Australia’s collective memory.

Janet Galbraith lic

The book is dedicated to Janet Galbraith who coordinates and facilitates the writing group Writing Through Fences, an organisation that collaborates with incarcerated refugees (or previously detained refugees) and amplifies and supports their writing and art.

 

____________________________________

Behrouz Boochani pic
Kurdish-Australian writer and asylum seeker, Behrouz Boochani. Winner of the Non-Fiction Prize and the Victorian Prize for Literature at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2019. 

“In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was illegally detained on Manus Island.

He has been there ever since.”

Australian law would object strongly to the word ‘illegally’, international law may not.

On a truck bumping through the dense Javanese jungle on a dark and bumpy track heading to the beach, even asylum seekers aren’t immune to the hazards of public transport,

A loud, obnoxious and completely inconsiderate Kurdish guy forces everyone to breathe his cigarette smoke throughout the trip. He is accompanied by a gaunt wife, adult son, and another son, a little bastard. This kid has his mother’s physical features and his father’s character. He is so loud he torments the whole truck, treating everything as a joke, and annoying everyone with his impatient and disruptive manner. He even gets on the nerves of the smuggler, who yells at him.

Finally after much shouting, rudeness, and disrespect as the over-wrought passengers jostle for space, the rotting boat heads out to sea

like a heavily pregnant mare cantering carefully across a dark prairie of water,

where there isn’t enough room for everyone to sit or lie but those who can, sleep.

Even the normal physical boundaries between families has fallen apart. Men lie in the arms of another’s wife, children lie on the chests and bellies of strangers…the young Sri Lankan family, whose bond is maybe the strongest of all on board, has fallen apart. The husband is in the arms of the man next to him, the wife has her head on the bicep of another man, and their child has ended up across the thighs of a different woman.

Those who aren’t sleeping are vomiting as the waves get bigger and pound the leaking boat … then the bilge pump fails …

This whole mess / In the darkness of midnight / Looks like death / Smells like death / Embodies death / The cries / The screams / The swearing / The knocking about / The sounds of the small children / The heart-wrenching and painful sounds of the little children / These sounds transform the chaotic boat into hell.

Why don’t the people, who just hours earlier were in danger of death from the waves but now on the deck of the Australian ship listening to those same waves lick and lap harmlessly against the hull; why don’t they yell and laugh with happiness at their salvation? They sit quietly and still. Even Boochani doesn’t know why. To the Australians they must seem like, like, cargo, soundless cargo, salvaged from the sea.

Boochani has known death and fear; as a young man he wanted to fight for the liberation of his homeland, but he chose the pen over the gun. Was he a coward? Afraid of death? Then on the ocean he faced both fear and death. Saw fear in the faces of others and felt it in his guts, tasted it on his tongue; the ocean provided him with the most intimate relationship with fear and death. Now he is judged and locked up by people who know neither of these two things. Maybe he should’ve been a soldier, at least he would be shot at by people who, like him, knew about fear and death. It would be an equal fight. Just, even.

Boochani tried twice to get to Australia. He encountered fear and death on both attempts. As he scrambled onto another ill-prepared boat for his second attempt he had to admit that such an action wouldn’t be possible but for courage and foolishness. Returning to Iran, unthinkable! He was aware of his fellow travellers not really knowing any of these four demons: fear, foolishness, courage, and death. They soon would.

I’m stopping! I write this post as I read – as I usually do when reviewing a book, but it’s hard to know what not to cut and paste to show you, let you see what it sounds like because everything is worthy of quoting; every line is full of something, something worth passing on. I want to show you all of it. So, do it; just read it.

Writing allows us to “come to understand another’s point of view in the most profound way possible.” (Erica Wagner, writer, critic, and a Man-Booker Prize judge, twice)

I will continue to read this book, not out of a need for entertainment, but for enlightenment, understanding. I’ve only ever seen asylum seekers on the news, voiceless bodies behind wire. The Australian Government has not wanted us to hear what they have to say: journalists are banned on Manus and Nauru. This is the first time I have the opportunity to hear what the Australian Government does not want me to hear. That is why I will read it to the end; as I hope you will too.

You can buy the eBook ($14.99) from Pan-Macmillan here.

You can buy the Kindle version ($US11.99) here.

Arnold Zable, an Australian writer is also part of this story. You can read his SMH article and watch a short trailer for the video Chauka, please tell me the time, here

Watch Behrouz’s videoed acceptance speech, here. He was not allowed to attend the Award’s Presentation.

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