3 — ‘Leaving home’ and ‘On the road’
To follow are three texts that address the issues of ‘leaving home’ and being ‘on the road’
Surviving on hope in Somali camps
Begin with discussion of the difficulty of leaving home, illustrated by the example of Kadija from Somalia. Kadija had to leave her elderly infirm grandmother behind with her eldest daughter who is only 13 (around the same age as the students).
Display the article about Kadija titled Surviving on hope in Somali camps on the whiteboard and paraphrase it. Somalia is the third largest source of the world’s refugees. Kadija might be defined as an example of an ‘internally displaced person’. Reinforce the difficulty of making such a decision by playing an audio interview with an aid worker who spoke to Kadija.
We have heard how the mother felt — that it was the hardest decision she ever had to make. How might the girl have felt? How would the students feel if their parents departed with their siblings and left them to look after one of their grandparents, with no food? Discuss this in pairs or small groups.
The Happiest Refugee
Read the section in The Happiest Refugee (chapter 2, page 9, to first paragraph page 10) describing the boat that takes them from Vietnam to Malaysia.
In pairs students briefly imagine being stuck on such a boat with 40 people. Consider what they might need, the difficult issues such as lack of water, and the good that might come of it, such as friendships emerging. Read a section from The Happiest Refugee (pages 22–24), having summarised what went before (from page 13).
Discuss the irony of Anh Do’s story. If pirates had not attacked a second time they would have died of thirst, but they were thrown a gallon of water by the youngest of the departing attackers. How surprising is it in a narrative when someone who is ‘bad’ does something good?
Introduce Mahtab’s Story: Mahtab is from Afghanistan, which since 1979 has been the main source of the world’s refugees with over six million people having fled because of war and persecution. Twenty-five per cent of refugees are Afghanis.
Read to the class from pages 6 to 9 in which Mahtab’s family must decide whether or not to flee the Taliban, the repressive regime that took over in 1996 and immediately banned girls from going to school and women from working or leaving home without a male relative.
Reflection in learning journals
In their learning journals, students privately reflect on how they would feel if they overheard their parents or caregivers talking about leaving their home. How hard would it be to suddenly have to leave everything behind: home, friends, pets and school? What would students take if they could only choose one personal possession?
The journey to find a safe refuge is full of risk. We saw how Kadija and her family had to walk for days without supplies, begging on the way, to seek refuge at a camp in the capital Mogadishu.
In Gleeson’s novel, Mahtab’s family are hidden behind furniture in a truck to cross into Pakistan. The novel begins dramatically within the journey, with a scene in the truck. Before reading out this section, discuss this explanation of what a scene is:
A scene … gives the feeling that the action is unfolding before the reader. A scene makes the past present. The reader sees the characters in action, sees their gestures, hears their voices in conversation. Their participation (involvement) in the story is greater … As soon as we see the scene, we feel it, smell it, hear it, and believe, for the moment, that we’re in it.
Scenes work on the principle of ‘show – don’t tell’. They might involve a description of a setting using all the senses; characters’ dialogue, thoughts, actions and gestures; they might take place in one location or one interrupted piece of time; for example, the characters might be walking along, moving through locations, but action occurs in one time frame.
Read the first scene of Mahtab’s Story and the first two scenes of Chapter 3.
In pairs, students discuss what travelling hidden in the back of a truck would be like. They might recall a long, uncomfortable drive they’ve experienced. What are the differences between their experience and Mahtab’s?
In small groups, students discuss the aspects of a scene evident in these extracts; for example, dialogue and sensory language. They underline the words and phrases that show the feelings of the characters, including indirect expressions such as gestures and figurative language (similes and metaphors) and grade the meaning of this evaluative vocabulary into high or low intensity.
Have students share findings with the class that illustrate that a scene shows what characters are doing and how they are feeling. They would have found that the evaluative vocabulary was high in intensity. Discuss how the expression of characters’ emotions develops empathy and suspense in narratives.
Students can now be scaffolded into writing their own fictional scene, an episode from a literary recount. They must choose Somalia, Afghanistan or another contemporary refugee source, study the country’s map and write two scenes — one describing the ‘leaving home’ and another describing ‘on the road.’
Have students refer again to ‘The Journey’ schema.
Students should use at least one metaphor or simile in their scene to vividly illustrate the physical sensation of the journey. Refer back to scene at the beginning of Chapter 3 of Mahtab’s Story, where the motion of the truck is compared to being inside an elephant or a dinosaur having difficulty climbing a mountain. They should use emotionally intense evaluative vocabulary.
Students discuss the scenes and the process of writing, in particular how difficult it was emotionally, or share their writing with the class.
Students reflect on what they have learned about the journey as a narrative form, the dramatic scene in imaginative writing, the four stages of the journey of the refugee or asylum seeker, the difficulty of making the decision to leave, and the trials of the journey. Reiterate that they will be choosing an interview with a particular refugee, and using their story and background research, their empathy and their imagination, to write a scene from each stage of their journey.