What About Your Neighbour’s Trauma?


Facts can be lost in translation and mislead people, often intentionally, if it suits the politics of the day

By Beata Stasak, an Art and Eastern European Languages Teacher from Eastern Europe with upgraded teaching degrees in Early Childhood and Education Support Education

I squeezed my little three year old daughter’s hand as we stood in the crowd, proudly chanting: “Let us be free!” Just then there was a commotion as the soldiers tried to disperse us. One of them knocked my daughter’s tiny head with the back of his gun and she ended up in my arms. We hear of similar things happening now from Iran and other oppressed parts of the world. Soldiers with guns that surrounded us in the time of the Velvet Revolution, today still threaten unarmed civilians with violence. And yet, when I held my bleeding daughter in my arms once again, it was not in Eastern Europe under Russian oppression but in a free democratic country. The woman who picked up the stone that hit my daughter the next time was a neighbour.

My daughter hid the stitches under her fringe, but carried them with pride. “This is the cost of freedom,” she pointed to her head when arguing with our local Catholic priest about including girls as altar helpers.

“They're called altar boys for a reason,” Father Walsh would not budge.

“Mum, why did you enrol me in a Catholic school when we came to Australia?”

I sighed as I tried to explain to my inquisitive daughter that it was the best school in our neighbourhood that we could afford, as we didn't have to pay fees. We came from a Catholic background in Europe. I gathered my eight year old daughter in my arms. “It will give you the opportunity to study religion without becoming religious. You have the freedom to obtain all the knowledge you can absorb, before you make up your own mind about the world.”

She nodded solemnly and then started a lifelong search for truth during long afternoons spent after school in local libraries. Later on, she'd spend hours on our home computer during her teenage years after winning a scholarship to the nearby Catholic College.

“She'll make a good lawyer one day. She questions us constantly about every fact that we present,” her teacher informed me. “She really gives us a run for our money.”

My daughter’s final exam asked this question: ‘Is the Virgin birth a fact?'

I advised my daughter not to ruffle the feathers of her Christian teachers, for whom the idea of Jesus’s virgin birth fulfilled a faithful prophecy. Instead of answering me, she handed me the Koran in Arabic and a pile of leather covered books in Hebrew and Aramaic. “Reading sacred original texts is the mark of a scholar. The faithful all around the world revere it, all except Christians.”

Then she handed me a dozen Bibles written in our Eastern European language, English, French and even Chinese and Japanese. “The original bible included Jewish texts in the Old Testament and also a New Testament written in Greek. Nearly every quoted word in the gospels is a translation, as Jesus and his followers spoke Aramaic. For centuries, the Western Church’s bible was a translation. The original Hebrew and Greek was translated long before reformation into Latin. So do you believe the idea of the Virgin Birth is just a mistranslation?”

I shook my head. “I don't think you can change a thousand year-old faith in which the virgin's birth is carved in stone with your one single-minded opinion.”

My daughter opened one of the original Hebrew Old Testaments at a marked page. “Isaiah said here ‘an almah’ would give birth, which means ‘young girl’. But the translation of Isaiah’s Hebrew into pre-Christian Greek, translated it as ‘parthenos’ or virgin.”

I nodded, taking my Russian collection of Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoyevski from the shelf. “I don't believe that the English translations do these books justice. But I also understand that most translations aim for a text that belongs to a distant time and place accessible to new-age readers. That demands certain decisions.”

“So facts can be lost in translation and mislead people, often intentionally? If it suits the politics of the day?" 

I nodded and we hugged each other. My daughter added dreamily: “Mum, I want to study history and politics. I strongly believe that we have so much to learn from the past. At the same time, while laying out the facts, we can use history as a compass rather than a battleground, like we do today when we fight for the right opinion and create endless division.”

After she qualified with high distinction as a lawyer, my daughter was capable of commanding a large salary in any financial institution of her choosing. Instead, she followed her heart, becoming a ministerial aide with lousy pay, helping to run departments with budgets stretching into billions. “Good government requires a healthy stream of good ideas and new people. What would happen if we all chose cushy jobs and new sports cars and the best apartments in inner Sydney? Rather than serving our country and our people?”

And so my young daughter, fresh from school, aided her exhausted MP, becoming part social worker, part legislator. Her voting records were scrutinised and her inbox was full of hate mail. On the day that I visited my daughter in Canberra, she'd just collected election leaflets on behalf of her MP. They'd been smeared with human faeces.

I watched her pale fragile body that screamed out for rest, bending over the unfinished MP’s speech in her tiny rented room before I grabbed her hand. “That's enough for today! Let's go out for some fresh air.” She nodded and we left. I noticed that she steered me back toward Parliament House. “I have to collect a conference speech to edit for my MP.”

We became caught up in a demonstration at the front of Parliament house. An angry mob was demanding that some politicians be hanged, as they were part of a paedophile ring. An elderly women threw a stone at my daughter as she tried to enter the building. I rushed to her as she fell, gathering her into my arms and wiped her bloodied forehead with a corner of my blouse. The woman approached me, holding another rock in her hand. “Protect your kids from the paedophile ring! Join us ‘sovereign citizens’.” I looked up at her wrinkled face, filled with hate. “You can read what these politicians do on our website. They want to poison us with their vaccines. Protect your children from them!”

“Can’t you see that I'm protecting my child from you? You mad woman!” I cried, my tears flowing. But then she was gone, off to throw her stone at a politician or aide.

After waiting in a nearby hospital for my daughter's forehead to be adorned with new stitches, my phone rang. I listened to my husband’s weak voice. He'd just completed his latest round of chemotherapy. I didn't dare ask him how he felt.

“I had a call from one of my countrymen today. You know, Jofo? He has the same cancer as me and he wanted to know what I'm taking.”

I tried to sound cheerful. “That's good! You can share your treatment details.”

“I don’t think so,” my husband replied after a short pause. “All he talked about was how the vaccines were poisoning us and that I shouldn't have them. I told him that I'd had four and will get the fifth when it's available, protecting me against Covid and keeping up my immunity. It makes no sense to me. He's happy to have radiation and chemotherapy daily but he thinks the real poison to his body is the vaccine!”

I sighed as he continued. “Did you hear the news about that principal and his brother who shot a young policewoman? Apparently because she was part of a government paedophile ring. She was our daughter’s age! What's wrong with this world?”

I looked at my shaking hands, still covered in my daughter’s blood. I wondered to myself: “Is this the freedom that we've been fighting for?"

[Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not official policy of Greens WA]