Finding Refuge

saba
ON a balmy Brisbane evening I am slouched under a magnificent tree, savouring a plate of colourful African fare and sipping a Tusker malt lager. There’s but a whisper of a wind on this hot summer evening, just enough to scatter the tree’s tiny white flowers onto the faded tablecloth like confetti. The flowers fall into my hair and onto my head, like little sparks of inspiration.
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I’m at Mu’ooz Eritrean Restaurant in West End, surrounded by fellow writers, artists, poets, singers and daydream believers, attending Wild Readings. I blew in here a little like the white flowers, an invitation from a friend to join this underground movement of creatives, who gather on the third Tuesday of every month. It is here that they soak up the collective juices, which are threatened with drought when you are alone for too long in a big city, stalked by the shadows of conformity.
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The host opens the night by describing Wild Readings as a “public series for the storyteller in all of us.”
“We’d like to build a community of storytellers and people who just want to listen to words,” she says.
There are four readings in this delicious hour, Alanna uses art to tell stories about mental health and is reading from her book called “The Letter R” for Resilience. You need a lot of resilience to be a writer anywhere in the world, and it’s apt for this setting in which I find myself.
Tina is a published author and runs a children’s and young adults’ writers conference in Brisbane, fuelling the fire of future generations of crazy creatives.
Really, they should be building asylums for those of us insane enough to keep striking the keyboard in a world which begs us to do otherwise. And yet, thank God, we continue.
Annie, a program co-ordinator for newly-arrived refugees, picks up a ukulele and strums her story. There are others, a couple of poets and an author, but it’s Annie and her uke which strike a literal and metaphorical chord with me this evening.
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I didn’t leave the house expecting to find a story, but in this salacious setting how could I not? Not only am I inspired by the passion and prose of my fellow artists, but Mu’ooz itself is a not-for-profit social enterprise, established by Eritrean Refuge Women, which assists women arriving in Brisbane from many parts of Africa.
Shortly before the evening begins, I stumble across Manager Saba Abraham, who opened the West End location three years ago and since then has provided training and employment for more than 100 refugee women.
“We provide a pathway to employment with many of the women now employed in other places including schools, factories and cleaning jobs,” she says.
“The program aims to give them confidence and help them understand the workforce.
“Women refugees have minimal employment opportunities and many of them have never had any education in their country, therefore finding it extremely challenging in Australia, to learn the language and secure employment.
“Many of them feel like this is home to them, it is much more than a workplace.”
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Saba tells me the business is not without its challenges, rents in West End are high and there is still a disconnect between mainstream Australia and what they are trying to achieve, even in this socially-progressive suburb.
Which is a great shame, as the food here is different and delicious, boasting many dishes and ingredients even a well-travelled Australian palate may have never tasted such as Enjera – savoury purple pancakes; Silsie – a traditional Eritrean sauce; Berbere – traditional hot pepper seasoning; and Tasame – butter flavoured with Eritrean herbs and spices.
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I sip on my second Tusker malt lager, a beer I’ve never encountered before – and the white leaves keep falling on my head, urging me to write this story. A tale of a little courtyard in Brisbane, a meeting of people with big hearts and those cursed with that damn desire to write.
We are gathered on the traditional land of the Jagera, Yuggera and Yuggerapul people and we pay homage to them. A Yuggera elder has penned a Welcome to Country for us: “Everything sits in a circle around us. When we open ourselves to looking and listening it allows us to connect with Mother Earth, everyone’s Mother.”
On this hot night, I embrace the circle of refugees and creatives and watch as those tiny flowers keep falling, reminding me to keep writing.
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The next Wild Readings will be held on Tuesday, Feb 21 at Mu’ooz West End at 6pm for 6.30pm. You can join Wild Readings on their Facebook page. To dine at Mu’ooz and support their incredible work, go to http://www.muooz.com.au

Women and their Lovers

 

IT’S a Goldilocks afternoon in the Queensland capital. Not too hot, not too cold. Ferries glide across the Brisbane River like ballerinas, traffic crawls along the Riverside Expressway as an army of ants, and Spring is being one, gigantic flirt.

It’s perfect then, that I’ve gathered in the Queensland Library’s ‘Red Box’ for a Brisbane Writers’ Festival talk about ‘women and their lovers’. Like a passionate paramour itself, the title of the session is too irresistible to pass up. My first fear, however, is that they will ask the gathering of women (and a few good men) to confess, Alcoholics Anonymous style, how long it has been since their last lover and how many they’ve had. Does one need to have experienced a recent lover to be admitted to this saucy session, I wonder amid a moment of pure panic.

Our convivial host, a bloke, announces it’s a ‘clothing optional’ session, as the two guest authors dive headfirst into the subject at hand. What transpires on this wouldn’t-be-dead-for-quids type of afternoon, is an interesting conversation about whether humans are, in fact, meant to be monogamous. Are you always married to the one you love? Is it possible to have a marriage, and a lover, and for all three parties to be sated in every sense of the word?

At this point of the conversation my mind starts to wander, as it is prone to do. The prospect of finding one fella at the moment is hard enough, let alone two. But heck, I’d give it a go if it was on offer. As one of the authors muses “love is an individual thing”.

The host confesses about his own individual experience of first-time love. He was 15 and wanted to take a girl to the movies for the first time. His father’s advice was this: “You’ve got a penis, women have a vagina, don’t play with yourself too much as it’s not good for you, now let’s go back to the car.”

One of the authors muses that in the English language, we possess a ‘shrunken’ vocabulary when it comes to the topics of physical pain and love. There are not enough words to express the many kinds of human love possible. It’s a bit like death. We’re hopeless at articulating it. To say that someone has ‘passed on or away’ sounds ridiculous, like they’ve taken a holiday to Myanmar or something; ‘passed’ raises its own set of silly questions: “passed where, exactly?”; and to come flat out and say someone ‘died’ is a bit blunt. But it’s true. Real. Honest.

Death and love, it emerges during this lusty afternoon, have much in common. One of the authors reveals research in which it is claimed it takes exactly 2 years, 6 months and 25 days into a marriage for romance between a couple to die.

So is there such a thing as living happily ever after? Does the fairytale, like my Goldilocks afternoon, really exist?

Outside, pondering this in the late afternoon spring sunshine which is still being such a fabulous flirt, I stumble across a lone musician, dressed all in red.

Love, as we understand it, may not exist after all, but I think I’ve just stumbled across Little Red Riding Hood. And for now, that’s fairytale enough for me.