Jaafar and I

“When two human beings of different culture and language meet, all they need is a sincere heart to surpass any barrier which divides them. ” — Adrian Hoe, Feb 12, 2015 Down under.


When I arrived at the Swan Hill train station in the afternoon of February 12, 2015, the air conditioner was blowing cold air with full blast. The station was quiet, only the ticket sales attendant and I were in the station. I sat on the bench in front of the ticketing booth and waited for my bus to arrive. I was to take a coach from Swan Hill, Victoria to Albury, New South Wales to catch a train to Sydney that night.

The main purpose of the visit was to meet up with an entrepreneur and investor to talk about my startup Mind Companion. I was also to attend a talk by Professor Peter Gøtzsche at the Hall of Assembly, St. James Building, Sydney. Professor Gøtzsche is a Danish physician, medical researcher and leader of the Nordic Cochrane Center at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark. His topic was “Mental Health — Overdiagnosed & Overmedicated.”

After a while, a man of Asian ethnicity walked in. His dark beard on his rounded face and brown eyes suggested that he should be of Middle East or Central Asia origin. He wore a long sleeve shirt. Our eyes met, we smiled and nodded to each other. Without saying a word, he went to the lockers behind where I was sitting, opened one of the lockers and took out his luggages. He seemed like moving to somewhere else.

He shuffled his belongings, packed up and then moved them to the bench next to where I was sitting. He sat. Relaxing a bit and he took a sip from his water bottle and rubbed his mouth with his sleeve.

“Hello!”, he said and smiled. “Hello! Where are you from?”, I replied and asked. “Afghanistan.”, he replied without hesitation. “Where are you going?”, I was eager to find out. This time, he replied in a language I didn’t understand but familiar. I shook my head and said to him with some simple hand gesture, “Do you know English? I don’t understand Afghanistan.”. He replied, “No Englishy.” I asked again with some hand gesture, “Where are you going? I’m going to Sydney.”. “OH… Sydney! Me Shepparton.”. I nodded and smiled then we went back to whatever we were doing before the conversation started. There was silence.

Having waited about 30 minutes or so, my coach arrived. I rose, took my luggage and walked to the bus. He stood up and grabbed his pieces then followed behind me. We were on the same coach!

I chose a window seat on the left of the aisle. He came up to the coach a moment later, looked around and sat on a window seat on the right side of the aisle, same row with me. We looked at each other and smiled.

The bus embarked on time, and I was looking out the window all the time, thinking about the meeting which would be tomorrow afternoon. It had been a while since the bus took off from Swan Hill and arrived at Echuca, a town located on the banks of the Murray River and Campaspe River in Victoria, Australia. The coach stopped for meal break at a service station.

He looked at me when the bus stopped and everyone started to alight for toilet and meals. I held a gesture with all five fingers pointing to my mouth and said, “Eat!”. He responded, “Ah…” and nodded with a wide smile. I alighted the bus with him after me. I walked into the shop and proceeded to the Gent’s room straight away. When I came out, I saw him browsing the food and drinks and then walked out without buying anything. Maybe he wasn’t hungry or the food did not appeal to his appetite, I thought. I bought a can of Mother’s Frosty Berry.

Mother’s Frosty Berry energy drinks.

The weather was sunny but cool and nice, it was 28°C. I strolled around the bus to enjoy the cool sunny late afternoon and to stretch my muscles for a while. It would be a long haul trip. The coach would arrive at Albury before midnight and then I would board a connecting train at midnight and would arrive in Sydney around 6AM.

The sunset at Echuca and my coach.

After 30-minute meal break, everyone boarded the bus and continued the journey. I felt hungry and took out the breads and raw carrots which I prepared for this trip and ate. That was my dinner. I turned my head and our eyes met again and I raised my hand showing him my food and asked, “Do you want some?” He replied with a hand gesture signaling “No, thanks.” and smiled then turned away.

But after a while, he moved away from his window seat to the aisle seat and extended his arm to tap on my shoulder. He pointed to my bread and then make a circular motion with his another hand on his stomach. Immediately, I understood that he was feeling hungry and asked if I could give him some breads. Without slightest hesitation, I took two pieces of breads and handed over to him and said, “Eat, eat.” He accepted the food I handed over and started chewing. I gave him some more breads and he accepted with two hands and thanked me.

We continued eating the breads on our seats. I looked out of the window and began to reconstruct his facial image in my head. Deep lines ran across his forehead, his skin was rough and pores were big and obvious. Some grey hairs in his beard and on his head but obviously, his hair was darker than mine but he was definitely older than me, I guessed. He must be a refugee seeking safety away from his war-torn country Afghanistan. He was alone so he could be separated from his family or he might have lost his family during the war. I did not want to ask because for every man, he has a secret sorrows that the world knows not.

I had two raw carrots. I gave him one and ate the other. At first, he stared at the raw carrot. When I showed him my carrot and bit it, he understood and started to bite his. We both were busy chewing carrots like two giant rabbits for a while. When we finished, I asked “Full?” and patted my tummy. He answered, “Ya.”

“My name is Adrian.”, I said by pointing my finger to myself. “What’s your name?”, I asked by pointing my finger to him. He did not understand so I repeated another time slowly. “Ah…”, he replied and said; “Adrian.”, pointing his finger to me and then he said “Jaafar”, pointing his finger to himself. We shook hands and then exchanged our phone numbers.

We started with some simple conversation with non-standard sign language. I learned that he was in the UNHCR’s refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur before he came to Australia. I also learned that he was working in orchards and farms picking fruits and harvesting vegetables. He was going to Shepparton for more new jobs.

Time flies. Our bus was arriving at Shepparton. He alighted the coach at the station. We took a photo before we parted our own ways. We shook hands, hugged and patted each other on shoulders and backs. Before I turned away to leave, he gently patted on my left arm and said, “Brother, you good man, good heart.”, and then he softly pointed his finger to my heart.

I returned him with a wide smile and patted on his left arm and said, “You too brother, take care. See you real soon.” And I went up the bus, waved to him from my window seat when the bus continued the journey.

The sun had set, another day was soon going to end and a new day would begin. I sat quietly, looking out from the window. It was getting darker outside and I could only see lights from other vehicles, street lamps and some houses far away.

When I first arrived in Australia, I had endured some days and nights with hunger when my food supplies were running low. I knew the feeling of being in hunger and I was glad to share my food with someone in need. I could see his eyes filled with tears but he tried every effort to not let his tears ran down his cheek. He “swallowed” his tears while eating the food I gave him.

Although our encounter lasted merely several hours with some short and simple conversation and sign language, we touched each other hearts for sure. If the human race is not consumed by greed and selfishness; if they treat each other with utmost sincerity, love and good hearts instead of doubt, hate and atrocity; the world would be a better place. And to Jaafar, he would not have to be separated from his loved ones; he would not have to flee his beautiful country.

This trip to Sydney was worthwhile and filled with the warmth of two sincere men, their new friendship and love. I would never regret making this trip even if the meeting would not bring any significantly positive result to my startup.

I found a purpose of life and treated a man I barely knew with heart felt sincerity which I had never experienced before. That, would be one of the founding basis and culture for Mind Companion.

Originally published at adrianhoe.com on February 12, 2015.

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