I have a boat in my living room. It’s not a very big boat (obviously!) It does however represent something quite amazing and enormous.
The man who made the boat used to be on Nauru. When I first met him he had been there for a number of months. In his home country he was a Christian pastor and within the camp he was well-respected.
Fast forward 8 months and this man is still on Nauru. Like so many others on the night of the riot and fire, he was caught up in the commotion and ended up in prison. It was a few weeks before he was returned to the camp. When I saw him not long after his release from prison he was visibly upset, couldn’t really look me in the eye. I sensed shame in him. His limited English made communication a challenge but much can be said through a look and a handshake. My concern for him and his situation, my support of him despite the circumstances was also communicated through a look, a handshake and a prayer.
Fast forward a few months more to the day when he presents me with the boat. It’s made completely of paddle pop sticks and sticky tape. It is a replica of the boats many of us would have seen on TV that asylum seekers attempt to come to Australia in. It is beautifully in proportion. Atop its mast is a paper Australian flag. On it he has written his name and his boat ID.
A couple of months after he gave me the boat he was released from his bail conditions, having been found to have no charges to answer. The day before he left Nauru for Australia I went to say goodbye. After we had spoken for some time I got on the bus to go back to the office. He stood at the fence and just looked at me, and waved, and looked, and smiled, and waved and looked. No words. Just two people connecting, two Christian pastors connecting. I will never forget that farewell.
So I have a boat in my living room. For him it is a representation of the decision he made to seek a better life in Australia, away from the pressures and terrors that he’d known, both in his home country and on Nauru. For me it is a treasured possession, a reminder of a time that has expanded my capacity, of a time that has changed me significantly.
A time I will never forget.