The Dentist


Running. I am running In the forest with people hunting me. I hear their feet running behind me. I look back at scary faces and red teeth. They scream as they run, lift their spears. I have no shoes – but I run. Closer – they are coming closer.

I can see the ocean and now I am stuck between these screaming people and the ocean. I lift my hands up. Surrender. Closer – they come closer. The chief throws his spear toward me.

I wake in fright.

It is the middle of the night.

I hear a scream. This is the scream I just heard in my dream.

Afraid, I rise and search for the screamer.

Walking along a corridor I find many security from the Papua New Guinean army.

They stand in a circle around a table. Their teeth too are red. Later I find that this redness is the result of some kind of herb. Seli is screaming, curled against the excruciating pain in his teeth. A security officer takes his leg, clamps it down tight.

Another officer takes Seli’s face, holds his head, forces open his jaw, shines a candle into his mouth.

Mark takes some wire from the fence. Mark knows how to use the wire. Here in Manus camp, he has many patients.

Mark heats the end of the wire with a cigarette lighter, pushes the red tip into the hole in Seli’s tooth and tells him not to make too much noise. The wire sizzles against the nerve. Mark quickly pulls the wire out, heats the tip again, sticks the red tip in the hole, pulls it out, heats and repeats. This goes on for an hour.

Seli has lived with this torturous pain for five months. There is no clinic, no one to treat him and the many others who also suffer here in Manus camp. Mark has become our dentist in this place where there is none. He knows how to use the wire and sometimes his wire will alleviate the pain – for a while. He has treated many people with his wire over the past 15 months.

Added to this treatment are the painkillers that we take every day. Every day we stand in line at Medical, waiting for pain killers. Over and over we take these drugs.

It is our daily routine.

A few days ago, we were happy. After 15 months, immigration was sending us a dentist. It seems the media’s pressure forced this issue.

When the dentist arrives he starts work on the more than 300 people who have bad teeth and bad pain. Seli is one of them.

Yesterday I was surprised to see Seli in the medicine line again. I asked him, ‘Seli – why are you here? Seli, are you ok? Are your teeth good?’

He answered me with with a sardonic smile, shook his head, turned and shuffled forward in line for his drugs.

I think to myself, ‘Seli is now an addict.’

– Behrouz Boochani