Chapter 1: Singing in the Wilderness
Najaf is behind a barbed wire fence at the Woomera Detention Centre in South Australia. Heartsick he is weighed down by anxiety. He recalls a folk song of his native land and begins to sing it softly. (Powerful image)
• The first month of the Afghani New Year is named, ‘Hamal’. What does this word mean in English?
• Perhaps you could use an Afghani folk song for some of your backing track?
• Consider the symbolism of the flowers mentioned in Najaf’s song?
Chapter 2: Fire in the Night
We return to Afghanistan in the year 1985. Najaf and his family are living in the northern Afghan city of Mazar – e – Sharif having moved from the small village of Shar Shar. Najaf and his family become innocent victims of a bungled assassination attempt on the President of Afghanistan. Two high explosive Mujahedin rockets strike the family home, killing Najaf’s younger brother and brother – in- law. Najaf, his mother, and his older brother are seriously wounded. (Powerful image)
Chapter 3: Shoes
In this chapter we learn that Afghanistan has been involved in almost continual conflict for most of its history. Google ‘current conflict’ in Afghanistan. (This may help you to develop some empathy for Najaf and his plight).
Chapter 4: Lambs and Wolves
We return to Afghanistan in the year 1979. Najaf is 8 years old. The Soviet Union has invaded Afghanistan in support of the communist government in Kabul, precipitating a civil war. Najaf’s father has died, but life in the village of Shar Shar continues as it has for centuries.
Chapter 5: The Room of Questions
Even with the assistance of a translator and an advocate from the Afghani community, Najaf finds his third interview in Woomera confusing.
• What reasons does Najaf have for fearing the interview process?
• Najaf says that “lies are a form of theft”. Earlier he gives an example of ‘a lie that helps to tell the bigger truth. Consider the apparent contradiction of these two statements. What does the apparent contradiction suggest about Najaf’s character?
Chapter 6: Kisses
We return to Afghanistan in the years before the fatal rocket attack. Najaf’s family, now headed by his gentle older brother, Gorg Ali, is in the process of building a new house in the city of Mazar – e – Sharif.
• What attractions does life in the city suggest to Najaf?
• All cultures provide examples of what are known as ‘rites of passage’, i.e. certain experiences that people undergo to show that they have passed a milestone. Eg such as a 21st birthday celebration. What informal’ rites of passage’ does Najaf experience in this chapter?
• In your opinion, why has Najaf told the story of Kandhi Hazara in such detail?
Chapter 7: School
After the initial anxiety of being locked up in the prison – like environment, Najaf recognises that’ with their every action and attitude under the scrutiny of the prison guards, the internees are partaking in a tacit examination that will determine their refugee status.
• Najaf claims that Woomera is a type of school, or college. Consider the chapter with reference to this claim. What ‘tests’ do the refugees have to pass? What advantages are there for refugees like Najaf who realise that they are being tested? How fair is the ‘grading system’?
• Read the description of Woomera in the third paragraph of the chapter. Why is Woomera made to look so unwelcoming? What feelings does the appearance of
Woomera rouse in the refugees as they approach by bus? (Powerful image)
• What situations cause anxiety amongst the refugees?
Chapter 8: The King’s Son and the Canary Bird
Najaf’s older brothers find him work in a blacksmith’s shop as an apprentice welder. It is, however, the lack of opportunity to create beauty that...