Through a Window
Updated: Feb 13
The name in this story has been changed for privacy.
2020 was the year I met Ahmed. An encounter I will forever be grateful for. A connection that realistically should never have happened and one that was not presented easily. Two worlds and experiences so vastly different from each other but despite the barriers, I somehow found myself in the path of Ahmed’s journey, and he, in the path of mine. I like to think that the universe paved this path, that the barriers placed in front of us were mere interludes between the chapters that only helped form this story.
It first started with a message; Ahmed introducing himself and thanking me for my support towards him and his comrades.
The distinction between the both of us was that Ahmed was locked away. Detained illegally for 6 years at the point of our first contact. Ahmed was a refugee. He had come to Australia by boat, deemed illegal simply for seeking a safer, more prosperous life away from persecution and hardship.
His only crime was his mode of transport in seeking this inherent protection. And the persecutor, nothing more than men in suits playing government.
At 30 years old, Ahmed had been constrained to walls of barbed wire and blistering sun on an offshore detention centre on Manus Island. 6 pivotal years of this man’s life were stolen from him and in replace, he was forced to wait, indefinitely. The torture of the unknown, not knowing when his fate would be determined, he was condemned by a nation for seeking safety and put through years of trauma and tribulation for political gain.
He was 24 years old when he first made the journey for freedom. Ahmed was full of hope and courage when making the dangerous voyage to Australia. At 24 years old, we are all full of dreams and desires. It is our prime decade for exploring and developing as individuals. At 24 years old, Ahmed was only just becoming a man, yet he was stripped of this privilege and right to these wonderfully chaotic and joyous key development years.
6 years later, Ahmed was flown to Melbourne for medical purposes. He was told he would be treated for his medical needs, yet what came from this journey was something far more complex and devastating. Ahmed was placed in temporary transit accommodation.
Confined to one level within a hotel, Ahmed, and 64 other refugee men with medical needs, became prisoners within these walls. For nearly 18 months, Ahmed was left within this hotel with no access to the outside world. What should have been temporary, to accommodate for the medical needs of these men, became a living hell for each of these innocent individuals.
For one and a half years we spoke through a window. Seven stories separating us; making the distance and isolation of the situation even more pronounced. Restricted to one window, Ahmed’s significance was forced into a frame, the distance calculated by a government to dehumanise their existence. Nearly every day we would greet each other and talk via the phone.
I was always greeted with such a smile; one I will never forget. And each goodbye, Ahmed would wish for my safe journey home, and I would wish for his safe journey out. There was never much to discuss, but our presence was enough. There is strength in companionship, and this was the only thing I could provide in such a helpless and hopeless situation.
The birds outside the hotel windows were freer than the souls within and I could see the slow decline in my friend’s brilliance. A man once radiant with love and light, slowly losing hope after nearly 7 and a half years of torture.
And then one day I got a message. ‘Friend I am free’.
And that was it. No warning, no time to even think.
My dear Ahmed was granted a temporary visa. The rush of his release was both joyous as well as deeply disturbing, as it only further showed how pointless his torturous detention was and how easily his freedom could have been given if not for the vindictive rule of politics. Ahmed was simply a pawn in the game of power played by hungry men. And at such a devasting cost.
I can’t even begin to fathom the weight of freedom. What an absolute privilege it is to never have to think about freedom and what it really means.
What an honour it was to be witness to these incredible men feel grass under their feet for the first time in years. To feel the fresh air and blissful breeze of a cool spring day against their skin. To sing songs with the birds they were now equally as free as.
The weight and realisation of freedom somewhat winded me the first night these men were freed. We all found ourselves in the backyard of a friend’s house eating, laughing, and dancing under the stars into the early hours of the morning. There were smiles from ear to ear and laughter that could be heard from a suburb over.
People from vastly different experiences, came together to relish in the sweetness of life. I’ve never felt more joyous. The value and preciousness of life sank so deeply within my soul that day, that I will never forget the feeling of gratitude that anchored itself into my heart as I lay witness to these wonderful men experiencing the simple pleasures of life that had been so cruelly stripped from them.
What is most remarkable, however, is Ahmed’s ability to love. His warmth exudes such a power that I am often overcome with gratitude. I truly believe I gain so much more from our encounters than I could ever possibly provide for him. Despite his incredible trauma, he still holds so much joy and graciousness in his heart. Of all people, Ahmed has every right to be angry and spiteful, yet he continues to hold such humbleness and kindness at the very core of his being and in every interaction he undertakes.
I’ve never felt more pride in my life than the first time Ahmed hosted me in his own home. Not even a year out of detention, and Ahmed had landed himself a job, got his license and found a home to rent. He welcomed me into his home and had cooked a feast so big that all the dishes didn’t fit on the dining table.
My dear friend from the window, now relishing in his own hard work, providing for his friend from the outside world. To witness his pride in this ability was equally as moving. How remarkable his journey has been.
The light and brilliance I had once seen from the window, had now returned and was beaming from across the table. I was in the company of someone who was once a stranger that had now turned into one of my closest friends.
Pride is a powerfully moving emotion, and I have never felt prouder of an individual in my life. Ahmed is the epitome of humbleness and hard work, and I will forever be in his debt for the lessons and joy he has brought to me.
If there is one thing that I have learnt from this long journey, it is that when there is nothing else, there is always hope. It is found in the funniest of places. Whether it is just talking about dinner, or the weather over the phone, these conversations through a window continued the pull toward hope. Each conversation sewed threads into the fabric of hope and wrapped us both in a warmth that provided solace in a time of great suffering.
What a glorious and relentless life this is. The pain of some of these chapters may seem insurmountable, but the lessons that come from each can be the very thing that propels us forward and transforms us into the ultimate creation we were always meant to be.
Our stories are written and shaped through the complexities and intricacies of every encounter, of the pain, the joy, laughter, and tears experienced with loved ones as well as the short, sweet and brief encounters that we have with strangers that can then unexpectedly turn into our greatest friends.
To think what our country was missing without these men immersed within our community is heart-breaking. We are now all a lot richer with these men as our neighbours, and I am a lot more whole as a human being having met Ahmed and those who were also detained.
The taste of freedom, and the comprehension of its value and weight, is something we have the privilege of never fully understanding. But having the honour and privilege of sharing the first night of freedom with these men has given me a new wave of life and perspective. I will forever be grateful for my friend from the window. Two deeply different lives. One of privilege, and one of adversity, one that brought comfort and support, and the other a multitude of life lessons and love.
I will forever be indebted to how profound a simple connection can be. The innocence of friendship, the depth of admiration, how the pain of an experience can eventually translate into beauty, yet cut you just deep enough to leave a scar as a reminder of how fragile life truly is.
I will forever be in debt to the impact he has had on my life and for the uniquely wonderful friendship that has come out of a long journey of pain and survival.
The human connection is a wonderfully profound experience. The resilience, strength and endurance of the heart and mind are something I will always admire.
I wish for everyone to have a friend like Ahmed in their life. This journey is wild, it’s messy and it’s equally painful as it can be beautiful. It’s long as it is short. But it can also be deeply moving and ferocious in it what it presents.
Life is for the living. Enjoy the small things for we are all free, and for that reason alone, we are all extremely lucky. I am so glad to have met my dear friend Ahmed, and to be inadvertently reminded to live and most importantly, love.