In 1991 I was 25, a B.Sc under my belt, a brand new sales rep at a medical company in North Ryde, NSW. I was to meet with medical professionals in major hospitals and sell them consumables for kidney dialysis, including bloodlines – the tubing sets that take blood from patients, pump it through artificial kidneys and return it, purified. At my new company these tubing sets were assembled in a small factory downstairs, and the CEO deemed it necessary for me to spend a few days becoming familiar with their production before I was sent out to sell them.
It was thus I found myself, one morning, a cleanroom gown and elastic shoe covers over my smart suit and heels, my neat blonde bob in a hairnet, at a big, white, laminated table. I was surrounded by women from the Subcontinent and the Middle East chattering in various languages over the hum of the laminar airflow system while gluing lengths of medical-grade PVC tubing to drip-chambers, injection sites, T- and Y-pieces according to diagrammatic instructions on charts in front of them.
Having mastered my task of applying a smear of glue and attaching a short length of tubing to a drip-chamber, I turned to the middle-aged woman to my left. I learned that her name was Salma. She had arrived in Australia two years previously with her husband and daughter. They were refugees from Afghanistan.