Being postgraduate students from overseas studying at the University of New South Wales is how the two men met, but what connects them now has only a little to do with being students.
Antoni and Mohammad are from different countries; they speak different languages; they are doing PhDs in different subjects. Antoni is a disability activist from Indonesia, researching Indonesian Disability Policy; Mohammad is a linguist with a passion in ‘dying languages’. They met on campus. Both were looking for new friends, both were struggling with making friends other than with overseas students.
Antoni loves Mohammad’s humour: “He’s a really, really funny guy. That’s why I like him a lot. He keeps me happy all the time. Actually, I learned to make jokes from him.”
Mohammad is also pretty straightforward. He talks about his thoughts when he first noticed Antoni: “Ok, such a person who is in a wheelchair, he has got lots of problem with moving around. In his life his father and his mother are helping him with everything. I thought ok – maybe he’s not very smart. He just got something out of his government and came to Australia.”
That opinion changed pretty quickly when they started talking and competing. Mohammad tells the following in his usual humorous way:
“He’s got a first in the Faculty of Art and Social Sciences. I got a second. Then we went to the finals. He got the third place, but I, I did not get anything!”
And about much more serious matters, Mohammad says to Antoni:
“You are a kind of representative for your community of disabled people in Indonesia. I really long for such a chance in my country for people with disability, because we’ve got lots of disabled people as result of the war between Iran and Iraq in 1980s.”
Antoni is great at bringing different people together: “During Ramadan, I always invite Muhammad to have Iftar, the fast breaking. So I introduce him to other Padang people (the region Antoni is from) living in Sydney.”
And Mohammad adds: “He not only invited me for the lunch, but he invited lots of people from different religions; Buddhists, Jews and Christians to come over to his place. I really admire his sense of friendship and promoting this kind of brotherhood between the students.”
Antoni will soon be finishing his studies and he is asking Mohammad to hold him to his promise to take him to a nightclub to celebrate.
Mohammad downplays the whole idea and then says laughing: “I admit. I went to some clubs. Just looking around to learn about the culture. Because I’m a linguist. I should know about the language of dance, the language of drink, the language of everything. But, for you Antoni, I think it’s not necessary.”