Living in a Abbott and Costello sketch
Some of my husband’s trials and tribulations read a little like an Abbott and Costello script.
Continuing on from “Looking back…“, I am going to revisit a small part of the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) Decision Record. Even I got confused.
To set the scene, we have to go back to 1986. That year my father-in-law was poisoned. This sad event and the details of who was where, doing what and when, surrounding his death are part of my husband’s history.
We come forward to preparing to appear at the RRT. Again we have a situation where nothing was handled as it should have been. The question of an interpreter is important. As discussed the other day (above link), just because someone speaks English does not mean they are proficient. Also, just because someone speaks English doesn’t mean it is the same English usage. As an example, if I say to an American, “Be a love and chuck a slab in the esky and put the esky in the boot” the poor American (unless he has been here) will have NO idea what I am talking about. Yet both the American and I are “native English speakers”.
My husband was told he would have to wait several weeks for an interpreter. He saw a younger man (we’ll call him T) decide to go ahead without an interpreter. I understand: my husband hated detention (show me a detainee who doesn’t), he was older than T, he should be able to handle it too? Right? Wrong. T had spent three years at university, his English was much better than my husband’s English, both spoken AND comprehension. Let us not forget just because WE understand a question when we put it to someone, there is no guarantee the person hearing the question understands it correctly or in the same way as we mean it. As already documented, I had experienced several times in meetings with my husband where his comprehension and expression would fail him under pressure.** My husband did not meet his legal representative until the day of the hearing and therefore had no opportunity to correct any errors in the written submission – and there were a few, as it turns out.
The Decision Record in relation to this event reads a little like the above famous delivery. The whole ”debate” centered around where my husband actually was when his father died. While there are many paragraphs dedicated to this in the Decision Record, I’m going to take the liberty of summarising so it doesn’t take you a week to read.
My husband was asked was he home when his father died. Answer: “No”. Somehow the fact that my father-in-law was home alone when he was poisoned got confused or interpreted that he was home alone when he died. Two entirely different events some 11 days apart. Was father alone when he died? “No”. But my husband said he wasn’t home – you see where this is going? Somehow all of this got so confused that the RRT said the oral evidence ”changed so much” and became an “elaborate account”. Actually, no, there was no elaborate account and the oral evidence didn’t change – it just wasn’t understood properly. It all reads very like who’s on first, what’s on second.
I was not there – I did not hear my husband’s verbal answers. I do know that in the hours he spent with me documenting his history there was no confusion on his part relating to the events of that time. The only conclusion I can come to is a combination of errors in the written submission and miscommunication at the hearing for the reasons outlined above.
The “elaborate account” related specifically to my husband being sent to obtain some traditional medicine. Not unusual even today, let alone 24 years ago. Cultural Intelligence, mindfulness of difference, can be seen to be totally lacking. I strongly suspect the traditional healer actually knew there was no hope and deliberately sent my husband away so he did not have to endure watching his father suffer in the last days. I will never know that, but given the details I do know, I see it as a very likely possibility.
For those who are not aware, traditional healers are still very much a part of many African cultures: NGOs involve them in how to educate on the prevention of AIDS/HIV in Mozambique, for example. To call being sent to obtain a traditional treatment “elaborate” is simply a case of paying no heed to cultural differences. Wouldn’t happen in Melbourne or Sydney, no. We aren’t talking about Melbourne or Sydney. Elaborate? They asked, my husband answered. Probably in more detail than was required: knowing him I can imagine him describing the weather on the trip or explaining something like the bus timetable. That is just my husband. I am smiling gently as I remember.
Take into account my husband was also suffering memory lapses, which has, I understand, been medically documented and was on, or had been on medication. I am not myself sure (and I’m not making a phone call to ask) if John was on medication at the exact time of the hearing. Again, a lot of separate issues compounding into complete confusion on which my husband was unjustly assessed.
There is something else I would like to point out. I have also experienced the death of my parents. I was at the time 3 years younger than my husband was when he lost his father. I have been through far less trauma in my life than my husband has – yet if you ask me today where I was when I learnt my mother was dead – I have no idea. I do not remember. I do not remember where I was when I was told my father was dead. I remember my mother calling me at work and asking me had I seen my father. Other than that, my memory is a blank. To be worrying about the details of something that happened 24 years ago and give such weight to those details under the circumstances my husband was in at the time is, I submit, unreasonable in the extreme. Certainly lacking in compassion.
** Any meeting with officials or lawyers was pressure. My husband was fighting for his life.