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This is a question School Sports Day

At some point in the distant past, someone at my school had built a large concrete tank behind the sheds and called it a swimming pool. Proud of this, they had a "Swimming Sports Day" in which everyone had to participate, even those who couldn't swim (they got to walk across the shallow end of the tank).

This would probably have been OK if the pool hadn't turned a deep opaque green the night before due to lack of maintainance. Even the school sports stars didn't want to go near the gloopy mess in the pool. We were practically pushed in. I'm sure some of the younger kids never surfaced again and the non-swimmers looked petrified.

Tell us your sports day horrors.

(, Thu 30 Mar 2006, 11:13)
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this wasn't me...
...I got it off the blog www.darpism.com, but it's still good - and it has a swimming carnival *and* an athletics carnival in it.

Time to put a personal spin on the refugee debate.

I’ve often found that exposure to seemingly different peoples and cultures is the best way to bring about mutual understanding and acceptance. For instance, your regular suburban teenager might have a few issues with gay people as he is growing up but once they find themselves mingling and interacting with 'Johnny Pollywaffle' they find a growing understanding creeping up on them, a realisation that despite a persons ethnic background, religion, economic status, preference for women or men – we’re not all that different.

It’s a realisation that transcends that foggy notion of tolerance and becomes something more fruitful and tangible - acceptance.

I was very much fortunate with regard to the refugee debate to encounter many Afghan refugees in high school. Marsden High has long sponsored an Intensive English Centre, this is where FOB’s (Fresh off boat) come to learn English in an integrated school environment.

The school’s ethnic mix has always been extremely varied. Anglo’s, Polynesians and Arabs probably made up the majority. Then there were your Serb/Cro groups, Italians, Greeks, Koreans, Viets, Phillo’s, Russians and an enclave of Armenians. The newly arrived Afghans blended well into this environment. Our Soccer team began winning EVERYTHING under the sun and our canteen finally got some decent food.

Amongst these new arrivals there was a standout chap named Farames. He arrived when we were in year eleven, eleven years ago. The word ‘geeky’ really doesn’t do enough to sum him up; tall, gangly, coke bottle glasses and wiry afro complete with Rick Moranis ‘nebish’ mannerisms.

In the ensuing years I would get the Farames life story on the bus we shared to Uni. It’s a tale worth the telling but I’ll stick to the shortened version here.

He is a Shiite Afghan by nationality who was raised in a farming community close to the Iranian border. The Taliban didn’t like Shiites and had taken to butchering as many of them as possible. When they captured the Afghan capital Kabul in 1992, Farames’s family saw the writing on the wall and began making plans to get out of the country. Iran was having enough problems dealing with Shiites on its Afghan border so they weren’t too keen on staying there. Not content to eke out an existence as perpetual refugees they decided to make for somewhere in the West.

They didn’t move fast enough, almost overnight Taliban militias swarmed down into the Farsi speaking Shiite regions. Farames’s two brothers and a cousin were shot execution style during these raids.

Farames’s mother had died years earlier so he and his father packed all they could into one rucksack and made a break for the Iranian border.

What followed is an odyssey worthy of its own book or movie. The two of them trekked and hitched across Iran, relying on the kindness of strangers. They unfortunately entered harsh and rugged Kurdistan just as winter was setting in, they tried to cross the mountains before the snows made them impassable but got bogged down halfway across.

They were taken in by a Kurdish mountain village for the rest of the winter. Farames recalls that he nearly died here due to a mixture of pneumonia and god knows what else.

When the snows melted and he had recovered his strength they crossed the Anatolian plateau and reached Ankara, the Turkish capital. From here, things get kind of fuzzy. Contact with one people smuggler leads to a boat which takes them to Egypt, from there another boat takes them through the Suez canal and to Sri Lanka. From here it’s another island hop to Indonesia and from there to somewhere on the West Australian coast.

So he was illegal. They applied for refugee status at the Australian and Canadian Embassies in Ankara but simply didn’t have enough money to sit out the waiting time. They had no proof of their status as refugees and remember, this was 1992 – the world was yet to realise how nasty the Taliban were. They had just enough money to make their own way, so that is what they did.

They somehow found their way to Sydney and sought out help from the city’s Afghan/Iranian communities. To cut a long story short, they were both granted refugee status and visas.

So Farames comes to Marsden ready to take his chance at a new life with both hands. He became an instant school celebrity with his somewhat comical appearance combined with a willingness to participate in every aspect of school life.

During our swimming carnival, Farames entered everything despite the fact that he couldn’t swim. A few of us counselled him against this but he waved us off, “So what if I can’t swim? Last week I didn’t know how to play Rugby and now I can. If I want to be a real Aussie I have to win a swimming race.”

So he mounted the blocks in his resplendent blue Speedos and did a massive unco belly flop on the starters gun. He floundered around wildly for a few seconds until a few of the boys jumped in and dragged him out. “I guess it is much harder than it looks”, was his response.

School dances are an occasion that separates the cool kids from the geeky ones. Despite falling into the latter category, Farames managed to clean house in an impromptu dancing contest. You know when a circle is formed and people jump in and bust a few moves? Well, all the good dancers had done their bit, ironically to Young MC’s Bust a move, when Farames decided to cut in and show us how it was done.

It was like some spastic central Asian Cossack dance for the Saturday Night Fever era. Very similar to David Brent’s dance routine from The Office. The crowd went crazy.

Later that month Farames was the first to sign up for the school musical. He couldn’t act or sing and everyone knew about his dancing ability but it didn’t stop him. He wanted to be involved with everything, no matter what.

It was around this time when I spied him jotting down notes backstage. This was Bats the musical and I was playing Igor the hunchback. I ambled over to have a stickybeak and saw that he was writing poetry, hey bro – we got something in common.

Anyone who knows the Persian/Farsi culture reasonably well knows that they are HUGE on poetry. Unfortunately it doesn’t translate that well to English but Farames was determined to show his new country something beautiful about his culture. He wanted to write a volume of his own, in both English and Farsi, it was to be called The Wings of Love

I had a read through his drafts and I don’t want to bag him out because he’ll probably be reading this soon, but there was room for improvement. I guess it just loses a lot in translation.

Farames had his own starring role written into the musical. During one of the songs he would take centre stage in Transylvanian peasant garb and do one of his dance routines. Needless to say, he completely stole the show. There was not a dry eye in the house afterwards, everyone was laughing too hard.

Come the athletics carnival later that year and he once again entered absolutely everything. The 100, 200 metres, discuss, shot put, javelin, high jump, long jump. He completely bombed out in all of them (and damn near broke his neck in the hurdles) but it didn’t dampen his spirit. Come the 800 metres, the entire field had finished the race leaving him with one lap to complete on his own.

I guess it was one of those highly emotional moments when you realise that Australia is pretty fucking fantastic country. If I ever get around to making the Farames movie, this will be the feel-good ending, something that really makes you believe in the natural goodness of the human race.

The whole school swarmed down to the side of the track as Farames rounded the last bend, cheering like crazy. He looked as if he was about to keel over but screams of “do it son, go go go and FA-RA-MES” obviously gave him heart. He collapsed over the finish line only to be picked up and chair lifted off the track.

The school principal arranged a special NSD (Never Say Die) award for him at the assembly later that week. Naturally we all cheered the house down when he got up to receive it.

He went on to join me at Macquarie University where he completed a BA majoring in English Lit.

Yes, he was an illegal immigrant but the same dogged determination that got him through all manner of hell to make it to our shores is of the same ilk that now spurs him on to make a better life for himself. The same determination that helped him finish that race.

The Wings of Love was published in 1997, I have an autographed copy sitting at my elbow as I write this. You may call it a trifling contribution, but I feel it to be highly important that someone is trying to introduce the great Persian poetic tradition into our cultural landscape. It's just another example of what makes Multiculturalism great.

We can only become a richer nation for it.

Upon publication, he got a nice write up on the front page of The Northern District Times, complete with geeky photo.
(, Fri 31 Mar 2006, 6:27, Reply)

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