…around 18 months ago today I went to the Department of Home Affairs to have my citizenship interview and citizenship test.
I have now lived in Australia for 15 years and I have had the luxury to decide if I wanted to become a citizen or not. A luxury because as an English citizen, I have many freedoms here and I do not lose my English citizenship.
The catalyst for my choice was travelling around Australia for a year. It made me realise there were things I wanted a say about, things I needed to vote on.
My interview was at 11.20 and as I made my way into the lift a Muslim woman in a hijab was literally shaking.
Her name was Hadin and I asked her if she was sitting her test, she said “Yes. I am very scared.”
We spoke for a little while as the lift rose up and I gave her a squeeze on the arm to try and reassure her.
“I do not know if I will get all the answers”
“You will be fine”, I said. Of course, I had no idea if she would be.
“Inshallah – If God wills so. “Inshallah – If God wills so.”, she kept repeating as we walked out of the lift.
My number was C347 and Hadin’s was C345.
We were directed to sit down and I went and sat next to the only other African woman in the room at that time, she had given me the ‘I see you’ nod and smiled.
Her name was Caroline. She was number C346.
She was Kenyan and had lived in Australia for 5 years (the minimum amount of time needed to apply for citizenship) and was hoping that if she is granted citizenship she wants to become a public servant for Australia. She had been practising her answers for months.
We both affirmed that our nerves were lessened when we saw there were people of colour sat behind the desk. People who looked like us would be interviewing us. “It makes me less afraid, said Caroline, “a little less afraid anyway.”
From where I was sitting I could see Hadin, who had her eyes tightly closed most of the time until they jerked open with every number called.
“B671, C340, D432.”
To my right sat Caroline and at an interview desk close to us I could hear an elderly couple of Mediterranean descent were asking lots of questions about the test, their questions cracked my heart open.
“But can we not do it on paper.” asked the husband
“Unfortunately, it has to be online.” Said the women behind the desk.
Understandably the citizenship process takes a long time, you have to gather all of the correct papers together (I had an assistant to help me and it took weeks) then you send the papers off to be assessed, your precious cargo into the unknown; and you may not hear anything for up to a year, for me it was 9 months.
Then you have an interview (I had a week’s notice) to asses if you are fit to take the test, this couple seem to have been assessed as unfit to sit the test that day.
The husband was rubbing his wife’s back, and she had her head in her hands.
This couple had never used a computer before and right there and then were being taught how to use a mouse by the woman behind the desk.
“When you have learned to use the computer come back and sit the test. You can try twice on the same day, but if you fail both times, then we may have to start the whole process again.” The assessor said.
“Your grown-up children should be able to help you”, the assessor said.
Hadin jumps up. It is not her number. Her number is C435.
Getting my citizenship is something I want to do, but it is not something I have to do.
Getting citizenship for many of the people in that room felt like a life or death test.
Their whole future is based on the answers they give to a set of multiple choice questions.
These questions will determine everything.
Then my number is called. My interview goes well and I walk into the room to sit my test.
Hadin has her head buried into her screen. Caroline smiles at me as I walk in. Hadin is still sat there as I leave.
The test took me 5 minutes. I get 95% of my questions right.
English is my first language. I am educated in English.
I don’t think I am a better person than Hadin. I don’t think I am a better person than the elderly couple.
English is my first and only language. I was granted the birth lottery.
There but for the grace of …. who?
Wishing you a weekend of grace. xxx