Issue 2

The Smiling Barber

My close friend Mustafa (or “Tafa”) is a smiling barber. Tafa arrived at the detention centre in 2016, after being officially registered as an asylum seeker by the International Organisation for Migration. Largely funded by the Australian government, the IOM is tasked with providing food, shelter and medical care for refugees. However, it was also here where Tafa – like the rest of us – began to experience the horrible monotony of life in limbo. Where we live, all is uncertainty. 

When Tafa discovered that I was teaching basic English to my fellow detainees, he lost no time in joining the class. Although our living conditions were dire – without quality educational resources or a quiet environment for studying – Tafa was highly motivated, and impatient to educate himself. He would sit outside his room every morning, writing down and memorising new English words. He used class discussions as opportunities to practise his vocabulary. In a short time, he learnt to speak very good English.  

Confined in Pontianak prison on Kalimantan – the biggest, hottest island in Indonesia – our boredom was ever-present. We wondered day and night how to pass our time positively. While many were at a loss to come up with ways to keep themselves healthy and entertained, Tafa was different. He would give his weekly IOM rations of tea and sugar to the