Thursday, 17 October 2013

An incredible student

I first met this student when he was promoted up to the class of Certificate II in Spoken and Written English of which I was the current teacher. He was a quiet, well-presented, middle-aged Persian man with the obligatory Iranian moustache. These aforementioned qualities were not as surprising or impressive as his devotion and commitment to his studies. Un-phased by the unfortunate difficulties presented to one learning an additional language with a middle aged brain, he studied and studied. He did this in the most incredible, humble and patient manner assisted by unwavering determination. It was only after I had been teaching him for some weeks that I noticed amongst his notes and books, piles of extra study he had initiated and marked correctly all without any assistance. Never in my twenty-year career as an ESL teacher had I observed such dedication.

Little did I know at that time, I had only observed one of his many qualities. Weeks and months past, he had welcomed me into his home, family and larger community. I was so honoured to find myself at family functions hosted by him and his wife in which I was the only non-Middle Easterner. I had always dreamed of a world where instead of being afraid and racist of other cultures, we enjoyed our similarities. So being the only Westerner in the room was how they showed their acceptance of their new culture and their willingness to mingle. I loved being a foreigner without even leaving Toowoomba.

These new Australians knew how to party. There was fantastic music that didn’t permit wallflowers, food to die for and social people; people who despite linguistic ability came and introduced themselves to me, making me feel loved and welcomed. In fact my student, his family and friends were really something else, they never complained, they never had a negative word to say about anything or anyone, they were quietly happy, confident, hard working and they treated all with equality and respect. The mornings after a night at Reza's  I always felt a sense of elation. I put this down to the lack of hangover. Hindsight however tells me it was the beautiful spirit of my student and his entourage lingering.

Not all was 100% comfortable with me going to his parties. There was no booze at these functions. It was initially quite intimidating and confronting socialising without my crutch. I had never had to function sober in a social situation before.  Once I asked why they didn’t drink expecting them to tell me it was for religious reasons (coming from an Islamic country). Instead they told me they were Baha’i. I thought, “oh that sounds bad”. Maybe it was some kind of liver condition that didn’t permit alcohol consumption. Not wishing to remain ignorant however I asked, “what is that?” My student told me, “It’s a religion, just go and look at”.

I was so impressed that he didn’t ‘God bother’ me, I was also very curious by this doctrine  inwhich he conducted his life and had created such a wonderful man. It might have just been the ticket for me. showed me what the baha’i’s believed. There were some ideas there that I already believed, and some that I’d never thought of but were so intelligent and beautiful, they even solved some of life’s quandaries which had often eluded me. But no alcohol? I wondered. In ignorance of my own alcoholism I though why are we being asked to abstain from something that a/everyone does and b/ is harmless fun? No pre-marital sex…..well they’ve been chatting with the Catholics, and no one does that anyway, so I wont worry about that one.

Hmmm, I had been presented with an option of taking on board a new way living.  Would I get that serenity and peace that my student has? Would I become such a wonderful person as he? Maybe, but anyway not possible because I’m not prepared to give up the champagne. Never did it occur to me that this blindness was a hint of a problem.

Christmas Island and the Baha'i pioneer.

I had already been working at the immigration detention centre on Christmas Island for some months when I really started to struggle with the challenges presented. I was really heart broken by the unjust treatment the ‘clients’ received at the hands of government policies and the employees. I was bullied and ostracised by my manager for the hard work, respect and compassion I offered my students. This detention centre has been called a mental health farm for its ability to cultivate poor mental health, very apt.

In desperation to improve my health, I made a decision to remove all depressants from my body. Alcohol had to go. A friend had given me a ‘big book’, the bible of Alcoholics Anonymous. To prove to her and myself that I was not an alcoholic I abstained from alcohol over the following months. My colleagues came home from the detention centre where the refugees were self harming and they self harmed through alcohol abuse.

One day I woke and thought the only way forward was to throw myself off the sharp jagged cliffs into the raging ocean below. Out of left field came a memory of my Towoomba student telling me that Christmas Island had a Baha’i centre and community. Great, I haven’t drunk for over a month, so I could sign up!

Without a minute to loose I was not perched on the cliffs, rather on my scooter following my nose. Strangely, it never occurred to me that I had no idea where I was going. All I knew was that I was looking for the Baha’is. I was desperate to be in the presence of their sublime selves. Underway, I passed the library and thought I’d stop off to get some Baha’i literature. As was my expectation, there was a book about the Baha’i faith….of course, every library has one….doesn’t it?

Unable to see through the tears streaming from my face I parked my Honda and took refuge in the Buddhist temple I had come across. I sat and cried and cried. It bought wonderful relief and I enjoyed the ambiance and fragrance of the burning incense.

Feeling better I lifted my head, I found myself sitting opposite a building with a sign, “Baha’i Community of Christmas Island”. As I retell this story I laugh out loud at the divine assistance.

I went over and peered through the window. I saw an old man doubled over. I thought, “cricky Is he ok!?” I said, “hello, hello!” He looked up and said, “ What do you want?” “ I want to become a Baha’i” I replied. He invited me in and an incredible discourse followed. “Why?” He asked me.  I told him that I had had a wonderful student in Toowoomba who lived his life in a way that I’d like to live mine, in short I want to be like him and have what he has. I continued to say that I believed God manifests himself in many ways, but I thought the Baha’i way is one that I could develop a healthy relationship with Him. In addition, I, having found a wise and compassionate listener, commenced to tell him about why I was so suicidal today. I told him about all the injustice I had witnessed at the detention centre and how it had broken my heart and that I had lost my faith in my fellow human beings. He listened speechless and held my hand, I cried and howled and cried. I felt no shame, I felt relief, I felt compassion, love and understanding coming from my audience. He spoke very few words, but each was a pearl. After explaining all and why I wanted to become a Baha’i he looked at me in the eye and said, “good, come back at 7pm we are having (a) feast." Great, I thought I like this religion they don’t have mass, they have dinner!

At 7pm I arrived to meet more people. I felt no social anxiety, the people were so welcoming and put no pressure on me. And yes, there was my favourite Persian food too.

In the following days I was relocating to Perth, so I was really happy that there were two ladies there who were really nice and they lived in Perth. They became instant best friends. One lady suggested I meet her in the morning to ‘declare’. This meant, ‘sign up’.

The next day, I arrived at her place and she had prepared a lovely morning tea. We sat on the balcony enjoying our tea and each other. She explained to me a little about the administration of the faith and what it was to declare. It sounded really good, “Where do I sign?” I asked naively and eagerly. She had written up a really beautiful card with a lovely prayer on it. Together we said the prayer. I felt the most incredible love and serenity. I had no idea that morning what joy awaited me.

I had become a Baha’i.

I write this memory one year on. I have journeyed already so far. I have learnt about the beauty that is being with God (mother nature or the universe is how I prefer to call this energy) and the joy of seeing humanity prosper thanks to her handiwork. 

Many times people and doctors have told me, you make choices in life, you can choose to be happy or unhappy. You can choose how you react to people and things, you just need to get over yourself, or change your attitude. How to do this? How?
Having recently completed a course of Baha'i study and read Portals to Freedom and The Seven Valleys, I’m now beginning to understand my aforementioned questions. Detachment from earthly desires. Unity of religion and mankind. Renunciation of all prejudice.  Comunion with our most loved one, mother nature. These were the qualities that were required of me. This has involved some incredible mental and spiritual gymnastics. I now feel that I am on my path to having what my student has in being a Baha’i. This is my path to happiness.

I wish to express the greatest gratitude to all my Baha’i. All of you have contributed to my journey and have served to facilitate my growth and the growth of all our brothers and sisters on earth.


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