I wrote this piece (a diary entry) as a part of an assignment for The University of Iowa's International Writing Program 2016.
The assignment's brief was
"Whitman's choice to address the war from the hospitals, for example, from the bedsides of the wounded and through letters to their family members, is unexpected in the history of chronicling war. This lens constructs a different picture of war, with lingering consequences, delayed timelines, and intimacy standing in counterpoint to dispatches from the battlefield. Think of a place that at first may not seem to be related to a contemporary conflict or or a traumatic event from the past, but which might be used to reveal something important about that conflict. Perhaps if you describe that conflict or traumatic event from the viewpoint of that place, you will find that new thoughts about the conflict or event come to you. Perhaps if you compare this place to the site of the conflict or event, you will find new ways to describe what the conflict or event means to you and what you think it should mean to the world."
This is what I wrote:
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA, May 7, 2015.—Began my day with a visit to the Indooroopilly Uniting Church. Spent over two hours in the community centre at the church where the hall is converted into a PlayCafe on Thursdays. It's where I meet many mothers and their toddlers over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Sometimes, I even volunteer to look after the kids and set up the toys in the play area—it's fun!
Today, I met a woman in her late thirties—wouldn't have guessed her age to be a day over 20, though. She walked up to me and introduced herself. Her name is Zoya. Wore tight black jeans and tight long-sleeved black t-shirt. She asked me if I wanted some coffee or tea—told her I'd like a cappuccino and a chocolate muffin. She smil'd and walk'd towards the counter to place my order. I usually place my orders myself but this time I let her do it for me. She walked towards me with two cups and a muffin and took the seat next to mine. Talk'd with her. She is from Iran and seeking asylum in Australia. Her family was being persecuted by some top people in Iran, she said. They fled Tehran, took a flight to Jakarta, Indonesia. From there, they paid a people-smuggler and took a boat to Australia. Nine days at sea. The boat was intercepted by the Royal Australian Navy near Darwin. Spent six months in the detention centre there before they were moved to Brisbane. Her son is in the ninth grade in high school. Her husband's looking for job—any job. Is desperate. Used to be an accountant back in Tehran. She volunteers as barista at PlayCafe so she can learn to speak English. Church is helping her with the process of asylum. She comes to church everyday—became Christian two months ago — and prays regularly. I ask'd her about her husband. He hates religion, she said. She can't go back to Iran. She wants to stay in Australia. It's now her home.
About this assignment:
This is a true story. However, I have changed the name of the person to protect her identity. I looked at some of Whitman's prose such as “Down At The Front” and “After First Fredericksburg” and wanted to attempt a diary entry using some elements of his style from the 1860s.
The 'unusual place' I have chosen for this assignment is a church. While religion or its misinterpretation has often been the cause of conflict, there also several examples throughout history where religious institutions have helped victims of conflict by providing them with food, shelter, care, aid and support irrespective of the victims' religious beliefs or nationalities. The Uniting Church in Australia is an example. It provides support to refugees and asylum seekers and helps them assimilate into Australian society and campaigns against the detention of refugee children in offshore detention centres.