ARNOLD ZABLE, launching Trouble Tomorrow
(authors: Serafino Enadio and Terry Whitebeach)
Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival, Hobart - September 16th, 2017. MC: Anne Morgan
I read this book yesterday in Hobart, much of it down by the waterfront. The smell of fish, boats languidly plying the river, fishing boats, boats of leisure, boats of play, cruising on placid waters, low-slung hills ringing the port, scatterings of homes sloping on gentle inclines. An air of unreality, a surface of tranquillity, such a sharp contrast to the horrors I was reading of in the waterfront cafe. Yes, I know that this place too however has known its share of horrors, dispossession of people who faced an invader, acts of terror and genocide whose hidden stories are still being brought to light and are still to be brought to life. It is important to acknowledge this in the launching of this book. This is not a story that is totally different to what has happened here – despite the surface tranquillity.
Trouble Tomorrow is, among other things, a thriller. Written with great clarity, an extraordinary attention to detail; the research would have been monumental. It is written in the present tense, with a sense of intimacy and immediacy. The reader is put into the shoes of Obulejo and accompanies him on his epic journey towards freedom. Now, to contextualise this epic journey, and the book itself, I would say this: after nearly forty years of listening to and telling tales of dispossession, both fiction and non fiction, and many years of conducting workshops with asylum seekers and refugees and other dispossessed groups, I have learnt that the stories of the search for a new life, the quest for freedom, can be seen as a three-act drama, albeit with many variations.
Act 1 – the time before: once I had a home, a people. a community, a way of life. In the case of Obulejo, a village, a clan, a tribe and a close knit family. The picture books, When I was a Boy in Sudan, and When I was a Girl in Sudan, depict 'the time before'. And they are a very beautiful depiction, and part of the project that has led to this book. In Trouble Tomorrow, much of this is learnt through back-story, with moments of intense nostalgeia. Nostalgeia is a Greek word, often misunderstood in its English version - 'nostalgia'. Algeia is pain, nostos - the return: the pain of longing for the return. No-one chooses to be a refugee. And there are times in the novel when Obulejo is in agony remembering those wonderful moments in childhood when they were all together - in Act 1.
Act 2 – the rupture. The knock on the door in the dead of night, the descent into fear and warring. The abrupt change that can turn lives upside down; the moment when the bonds of civility are torn asunder – this is where Trouble Tomorrow actually begins, with the sound of gunshots interrupting Obulejo's dreams. Thus begins a tale of escape, ruthless separation from family, countless near-death encounters, abduction by Rebel soldiers and incarceration, encounters with wild animals, raging rivers, the need to make perilous decisions – do I move on or do I return? – the trails, unexpected friendships, border crossings, life in the vast Kakuma refugee camp– Now the descriptions of this infamous camp which held 170,000 at that time, are extraordinary. Life, as a ruthless battle for survival, the constant threat of marauding gangs, wild sandstorms, relentless hunger, the erosion of hope; disillusionment and the process by which young men and children are driven to violence. And, as it is described in the book, the process by which Obulejo himself for a time becomes a ruthless predator. That's how it is. And the counterweight of unexpected kindnesses; the saving grace of the Kenyan priest, Father Angelo, among many others.
The journey to Dadaab camp, the threat of the shiftas - ruthless Somali warlords - and, again, conflict – Christian versus Muslim, tribe versus tribe, and always, relentless hunger, scavenging. And, again, the counterweight – enterprise, Maku's and Obulejo's small business venture, selling birds and firewood, that eventually grows into the cafe, Hotel Bombay. The return to Kakuma, the realisation that 'friends are more precious than gold or diamonds.' The relief and release in dance and song, church services. And again, boy soldiers turned into vicious amoral survivors; regroupings, the adventures of 'the Six Musketeers'. And so it goes. And so much more. Read the book!
Then finally, Act 3 – the time after. the long aftermath in the new country. Arrival in Hobart on a cold day. The long roller coaster that awaits the newcomers. There is a sequel in this, and it is hinted at in the brief epilogue: times to come - of elation, and times of new struggles, and times of intense nostalgeia. It can hit at any time, it can come back. And I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, Sarafino. You must have experienced those moments in Hobart when you thought, "Ah, home! Once I had that beautiful home." So it's not easy.
Now, while I am wary of the labels, in this case I would say this is definitely a young adult novel. First, the fast pace will hold the attention of young readers, secondly, the clear rhythmic prose will make it easier for them to stay with it, thirdly, the story will trigger many important conversations, and fourth, and perhaps most importantly, it will spur discussion in at least these three specific areas:
1. how to engender greater understanding of the communities – in this case, the South Sudanese – who have come to live in Tasmania. And many other cultures who have recently made their way here. As such, it will act as a counterweight to racism and prejudice – which I am afraid is on the rise, aided and abetted by political leaders who fail to make their opposition to racism and the rise of the far right absolutely clear and unambiguous. They are playing with fire. And they speak with forked tongue. That's what they do when they say, "We're all for multiculturalism", and then they stir the pot to get an extra few votes. And that, my friends, is the truth of it.
2. Secondly, there is the critical role of education in young people's lives. Education is Obulejo's salvation. The course in agriculture he undertakes and his subsequent journey towards becoming a young teacher of science, business, education and history in the camp itself is extraordinary. It's quite amazing.
3. Thirdly, there are the chapters devoted to the peace education program that Obulejo chooses to take part in. AS the instructor says to the participants, having experienced so much conflict, you are the experts on peace. This is underscored by the words of Obulejo's father, Moini, back in the good times, when the family was intact. He says, "Everybody should be treated as though they are family." And this indeed is the underlying thread of the book, depicting, on the one hand, uncompromisingly, how the struggle for territory, for survival, for scarce resources, can rip lives and communities apart, and on the other hand, trying to find a way beyond these fault-lines towards a common humanity.
Now, without knowing the details of the partnership of the co-authors, Terry Whitebeach and Sarafino Enadio, and how the labour was divided, Trouble Tomorrow is certainly a case of the sum total of one plus one being far greater than two. I wish to say a word or two about Terry, and to Terry, a friend of mine. Terry, I know you have been through an extremely difficult time in recent years, yet despite it all you stuck it out, you pursued the project to the end and you did whatever it took to work with Sarafino, to bring this to fruition and to make it work, including undertaking an extraordinarily brave journey to South Sudan – an amazing act of commitment. Congratulations, it really is amazing.
Sarafino, this is the first time I've met you, but through the pages of this novel I have come to know a lot about your resilience, courage and intense desire to use your struggles and hard-earned experience to make the world a better place. And one extraordinary paragraph sums it up:
He sees himself as the UNHCR workers must see him, just a number, just another refugee crammed into the camp, needing to be documented, housed, fed. moved about. No longer is he Obulejo, a Ma'di, with a name and a family and a proud tradition. He is just a boy, any boy without a country to belong to, a home he can call his own.
Yes, you and your people have certainly come a long way and I hope that you are now, again, at home.
So I congratulate you both, on your achievements, your years of persistence, dedication, skill and love, and it is my pleasure to declare Trouble Tomorrow launched.
SARAFINO ENADIO (a response)
'The main character of this book is Obulejo, and the name Obulejo means "trouble tomorrow", so the title reflects the name. Arnold has said it all: this book is a very important book: everyone present here today needs to read and understand the story. Although it is the story of a particular trauma experienced by one refugee, in many ways it describes similar suffering experienced by millions of others. This situation is as urgent today as it was twenty or thirty years ago. And today, I would like to include this book, if possible, as part of the wider diversity of stories in the literature of Australia, and it could be used across the curriculum. My concern, Terry's and my shared concern, is promoting this story of largely unheard and unrepresented individuals and groups. We all know that when we become familiar with other cultures the less likely we are to make wrong judgements or have wrong perceptions. Understanding the culture gives you a better understanding of the people themselves. I am a passionate advocate for peace and human rights and I take courage to speak from the wisdom of the great Martin Luther King: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." '
TERRY WHITEBEACH (a response),
Terry acknowledged the traditional owners of the land, before going on to mention the good wishes sent from those unable be in attendance including A&U - Eva Mills - publishing director - books for children and young adults.
'Sarafino, my friend, it is a long journey we have taken together - sometimes walking in harmony and mutual understanding as we shared both happy and traumatic memories and experiences, and a few memorable times gazing at each other with baffled frustration across seemingly unbridgeable gender and cultural divides. I will never be reconciled to boiled peanuts nor Sarafino ever to the lack of sweetness of Tasmanian pumpkins! But we have walked our shared walk with a good heart for nearly a decade now and arrived to this point - 7 years ago there were no books representing Madi life and experience as part of the Tasmanian and wider Australian story - and now the launch of our fourth published book, Trouble Tomorrow.
'I celebrate the chance meeting that made us colleagues, and then friends. I salute the courage and resilience you have acquired through tremendous hardship, and I honour all you have achieved in your life. I thank you too for bringing your peace education and conflict resolution skills to Australia, where they may be utilised for the common good. Working with you has made my world larger (and yours too, I hope) and widened the circle - one door - of family. I hope the gift of my writing skills in the creation of these books and the drawing of you into that process, are received by you as they were intended - as genuine and ongoing acts of friendship and solidarity.
'I am grateful to many people; to the Madi storytellers, especially Sarafino and Paskalina, to our families - especially Albino Okano, friend, brother, uncle, helper to all - and to the love, generous participation and support of the Madi community and the Tasmanian writing community, in particular writers Julie Hunt and Anne Morgan, Illustrator Gay McKinnon, book designer Julie Hawkins, publisher and all-round writers' friend, Ralph Wessman who published A Little Peace and to the Tasmanian Writers' Centre who took a chance and embarked on their first publishing venture - the bilingual picture books; I thank Chris Gallagher for her vision and hard work, Marion Stoneman for her endless service and courteous efficiency, and I thank those who helped raise funds for printing and those who purchased the picture books, to enable us to use the proceeds of sales to send multiple copies of the books to school children in Sudan.
'But - back to Trouble Tomorrow. Arnold Zable reminded us in his social justice and advocacy writing workshop on Thursday that it is sometimes through fiction we can tell the deepest stories. It is that the intuition that prompted me to want to write the novel after completing 3 non-fiction texts?
'The novel is set in equatorial South Sudan, in the Kenyan refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab, and finally, briefly, in Tasmania. Its main protagonist is Obulejo - a Madi teenager whose name translates as "trouble tomorrow". The narrative is based on the experiences of Sarafino and his fellow countrymen and women during the second phase of the Sudanese Civil War. But Obulejo both is, and is not, Sarafino. By the time I started writing the novel, I knew Sarafino's story well, but whenever I consulted him on narrative or character issues in Trouble Tomorrow I always referred to Obulejo in the third person - as 'he' not 'you', so as not to constrain the imaginative work of novel writing by verifiable facts or individual lived experience. Nevertheless the currency Trouble Tomorrow deals in is truth.
'A significant part of the endeavour has been to make the unfamiliar familiar - to bear witness to the lived experience of the newest Tasmanians, the South Sudanese, and to draw Sudanese stories into the body of Australian literature - and to assist in the creation of xenophilia (another word gift from Arnold) - to make the "stranger" known and to cultivate friendship, understanding, mutual respect and fellow feeling. To draw all of us into the same circle of family. Curiously we hope this has been achieved through a narrative of separation, dispossession and exile.
'But for me another level of the novel is the progress of a soul. And whilst the events in the narrative and the experiences, consciousness, suffering, trials and triumphs of Obulejo are located in, and specific to, South Sudan, and Madi culture, and provide a necessary and significant witness to Madi experience, the story also opens out to embrace universal issues that face not only young people but us all.'
Where is home?
When all certainty is swept away, how do I go on?
Make my own way?
Face my fears?
Admit my weaknesses, discover my strengths?
Accept the former, build on the latter?
How do I forge my own identity?
How may I overcome?
Writing Trouble Tomorrow probably has been one of my greatest challenges as a writer and historian and as a human being. The labour has been vast, the responsibility huge, the trials many and the joys likewise. And always I have given Sarafino the right of veto, as you must when telling someone else's story.
Thanks to those who saw the book through to publication.
Many have facilitated the process of getting the book to publication stage. I would like to thank Julie Hunt, who inspires me with her creativity and fun, and who introduced me to Allen & Unwin. And most particularly Sarah Brennan, the commissioning editor whose heart and mind were open to the stories of refugees. She taught me so much as she scrutinised the manuscript, leaving few stones unturned as we worked together over a period of months - and with her encouragement I even mastered the mysteries of Track Changes! When Sarah retired, Sophie Splatt carried on Sarah's brilliant work. In fact all the staff I have dealt with at Allen and Unwin have been courteous, considerate and consummately professional.
I hope this novel opens your eyes, makes you remember things you may not have experienced, binds up wounds you may never suffer and, to quote Piero Ferruccia, sheds light on "What We May Be". If you decide to read Trouble Tomorrow we ask you in the words of Eastern Arrernte elder Kathleen Kemarre Wallace to 'listen deeply, let these stories in.'
Arnold Zable is one of Australia's most acclaimed writers, an outstanding educator and human rights advocate, particularly in the area of migrant education. His books include Jewels and Ashes, Cafe Sheherezade, The Fig Tree, Sea of Many Returns, and The Fighter.