NARGES, MASOUMEH & GOLSOUM
Featured in this photo essay is Narges, Masoumeh and Golsoum – three generations of Afghan-Australian women living in the Illawarra – in conversation with SCARF Volunteers and Communications Team Members, Sarah Pulling & Maddie Burkitt.
Further essays will follow over the coming weeks and months. To read the introduction and background to this series, click here.
As a photo essay, this is best viewed on a desktop or laptop computer.
We sat down with Narges, her mother and grandmother, at her grandmother’s home in Wollongong a few weeks ago to have a relaxed chat and to see what would unfold.
My name is Narges and I am 21 years old. I am from Afghanistan but I was born in Iran and I’ve been in Australia for 4 years.
I am studying bachelor of Medical Science, it’s actually Medical and Health Science and I want to do Medicine hopefully next year and to become a Gynecologist.
Actually, my sister is studying Nursing, but she wants to be a midwife, so we might be working in the same area.
Hello I am Masoumeh I am 40 years old and I was born in Iran, my nationality, Afghani. I have 4 children.
4 years ago, I came to Australia.
When my parents came to Iran, my mum [was] pregnant [with me] and, after 2 months, I [was] born.
Now I look after my children, and study English class. And I work cleaning schools or offices. I worked in my country, just sewing – making dress[es]. I have 4 children. Three girls and one boy.
GOLSOUM (aka BIBI)
Born in Masar, Afghanistan. I am 71 years old. [I have been in Australia] 7 months.
I like [it] here. Just the only thing is, my son, I want my son to be here with me, then I will be more than happy. He is in Iran, Mashna City. [I came here with] my [other] son and my husband, the youngest son.
I just applied for a visa, and am just waiting for a reply. I really miss my sons, and I am about to cry.
“When I came to Australia, the only thing I wanted to do, was study Medicine. I was in IC (Intensive English) at Warrawong High School… the course was for 1 year, but I did it in 3 months, because I didn’t start from Level 1, I started from Level 3. And, the plan was that after IC, I would go to High School and do Year 11, then Year 12.
But, at that time, I was really worried. I was like “Okay Narges, you already did Year 11, and half of 12, you don’t want to waste time.” And so I told my teacher, “I want to go to University. ” And she said “You can’t go to University, you’re not prepared”.
But I, myself, went to the university, and I told them, I want to do Medicine, and the lady just said, for Medicine, it’s a post-grad, you have to do an undergraduate degree, so you must first apply for an undergraduate degree… I said “Okay, what do you have in undergrad degrees?” and she just gave me a list, it was like ‘Medical Science, Nutrition, Exercise Science, Nursing, and things like that, and at that time I just translated with my phone, putting them in dictionary, and I found “Medical & Health Science,” [and thought that] sounds like it’s related to Medicine.
Now I have some regrets, I wish that there was someone that told me, “There’s not many job opportunities in this degree.” If I did something like Exercise Science there may have been more opportunity to work while I’m studying. But, I’m happy with this.
For that degree, [in order to get in to] Bachelor of Medical and Health Science, they told me, “Write a letter to explain your situation, it helps.” And so I wrote this letter (see image below). It’s not good at all, I was learning English for just 3 months, and I wrote this letter, my handwriting is very bad, and my grammar…”
“My name is Narges, a 18 year old girl. My nationality is Afghan, but I was born in Iran, and I am here from 17 July 2013.
I am so interested to study hardly in your university. I finished high school in Iran (in fact I didn’t) it means I had studied for 12 years there and I must pay lots of money to government every year.
I was a student at Keomi High School, and then I received my diploma in Science, it’s attached. but after that I couldn’t continue studying because the government of Iran don’t allow Afghans to studying in university, but now I am here, Australia, and I can do lots of studies, I will exit from final level of the intensive english program at the end of term 1 2014 in Warrawong High School.
Also I am really interested to study medicine and health science because I want to be a doctor just for helping people. I will have a hard trying as well. I will become so happy and glad. Thank you for helping best wishes, Narges.”
“I applied, and they said “We accept you with condition” and the condition is, to do a bridging course at UOW college, and if you pass the bridging course, with an average of Credit, you can do the Bachelor.
And I did the bridging course for 1 year, and I passed, and actually graduated with average of High Distinction. And I got a certificate, and I got a special academic achievement award for Physics and Mathematics because I got the highest mark in the class. In 2015, I got a scholarship, which was really really valuable to me.”
Do you have any hobbies outside of studying?
“I really like shopping, like a lot, I love shopping. Just going shopping. [I like to buy] clothing and makeup, but most of the time I don’t buy anything, I just go and watch, you know? And maybe I just buy a small cheap thing. But I really like shopping, it just makes me forget about everything.
And I love playing volleyball and I’m really good at it. I’ve been playing for maybe 12 years. Indoor volleyball. I really love volleyball. Always just for fun. Here in Australia we had a team before with SCARF, but because SCARF was out of budget we couldn’t continue that. And after that I was looking for a team and couldn’t really get into one. And you know for volleyball it’s a bit challenging to play, you need 12 people, at least. Or even, less, like maybe you can play with 8, but you still need a few people. It’s not fun if you just play with 2 or 3. That’s why I really want to play if I find a team. Indoor volley ball, I don’t like beach volleyball. Because I’ve been playing volleyball for years in Iran, that’s why, when I tried beach volleyball in Australia I found it really hard and a bit different. When you play, the sand just push(es) you back and just slows you down.
Also, I love watching movies, like Hollywood Action movies. I watched Jamunji 2 and I watched another one, maybe it was “Death City”, a zombie movie. I watched it at the cinema. I liked that one.
I actually watch Korean dramas, I like them. But after you watch a couple of series, you find they’re all the same, they have a similar story. But my sister, she doesn’t give up.”
What do you miss most from Iran?
“I really miss my friends, because I had heaps of friends. I really miss my school. And my uncles, yeah, I really miss them. I really miss all the celebrations we had, in Iran we used to party more, like big parties, a lot of people. In, you know Eid? it means party, as in celebration. We celebrate the new year, the biggest celebration in Iran, and we get really really excited, especially the kids. But still, we celebrate it here, but it’s not fun. It’s not as big as there, and also, because in Iran, it’s when Winter finishes and Spring starts. And the Winter in Iran is really cold, and so everyone is really excited just to have nice weather, and all the trees will have blossoms.”
“We all sit on the ground, we have like a mat we put down. I have it here (pictured above). My mum made this when she was 15, when she just got married. You just put it on the ground, and the whole family sits around. When you go to an elder’s house, like my grandmother, we sit all around it. And we put fruits, donuts, sweet cakes, like yummy stuff, chocolate, and a big mirror – they believe in [the] mirror, if they put the mirror they will have a year full of honesty. No lie[s]. And the Koran, our religious book.”
Seven Ss (Haft Sin Spread)
- Somagh (sumac) : symbolizes the color of sunrise
- Serkeh (vinegar): symbolizes age and patience
- Senjed (dried fruit from lotus tree): symbolizes love
- Samanoo (sweet pudding): symbolizes affluence
- Sib (apple): symbolizes health and beauty
- Sir (garlic): symbolizes medicine
- Sabzeh (sprouts): symbolizes rebirth; two weeks before new year, everyone will grow some grass – so it will have grown by new year. “To have a green year,” it means. Because in that area of Iran / Afghanistan, they are quite dry, and they don’t have much rain and they are not green anymore.
The goldfish are something separate – they’re in a bowl and it’s just beautiful and is a symbol of being alive. You know the goldfish is really, excited? Swimming around, it’s just really beautiful.
It’s a very old tradition, some of them may not even apply anymore to their society or their environment, but because our last generations used to do it – we just keep doing it…”
The making of the rug and Afghan culture
Masoumeh: I made this in one week. I love this and don’t use it. This rug is older than Narges.
Narges: These colors are Afghan colors. You make three, then you connect them together.
Masoumeh: This one [is] very long, and cut with the scissors. All of them [sewn together] with hand. Now I forgot how to make this. I really like it, but I can’t really remember how to make it. I was still talented at that time.
Narges: you are still talented!
Masoumeh: I used to do so many hand made crafts, but not anymore. Since I come to Australia, I just don’t do this anymore.
Narges: you are busy with kids. And learning English, And appointments.
Masoumeh: My appointment[s] [are] beginning to be a bit less, but now starting [to have to go to] appointments with my mum and my dad. My mum always, I love her! My cousin helped me at the start (to make the rug). My aunty helped me learn.
Narges: Now Afghan people still living in Iran, a couple of millions of Afghans, are refugee in Iran. Their lifestyles are now completely the same as Iranian. Now they just don’t know anything about Afghan culture, because it’s been three generations that they are in Iran. But the interesting thing is they are refugee, they are not accepted as citizen.”
How important is it for you to retain your Afghan culture and heritage? How do you keep connected to Afghan culture?
Narges: I just try to keep doing the stuff that I was doing in Iran. I try to celebrate the Eids – the parties we had. I try to learn, even this stuff. I can make rugs. I try to learn [how to make] them.
A treasured possession
Do you have an object, item, or artifact that is important to you that you'd care to talk about?
“[When we came to Australia] we were allowed to have 40 kgs each. It’s not much. From that 40 kgs we brought some of our furniture as well. We had no idea how life would be in Australia. So my mum she brought furniture, which just was not necessary at all, we didn’t need them. But you know when you have no idea what you are going to face in a new culture, in a new country, for you as a person who didn’t even travel out of the city. For us, we weren’t allowed to go out of the city, because we were refugee Afghani. We were in Mashad, one city. So, after the furniture, I just had a couple of kilos left to bring.
[I brought] my book.. it’s a poem book, about talking to God. It’s just that reading this book makes me really really relaxed. It’s all poems, about talking to God. Like telling God how beautiful the God is, and how much you are thankful from God that he created you. It’s nice, every time I have so many things in my mind, just crying, I have so many hardship and problems- and I had been crying, and I just started reading this book and it makes me relaxed. It makes me calm. I really love this book.
The author, his first name, the full name, is the same as my grandfather “Abdulla Ansari,” but this guy, he was living centuries ago. The author, was maybe 15 centuries ago. It’s a classic book, but it’s other people that have brought it together in a book. It’s from the 4th century.” – Narges
Do you read it often now?
“Not often now, because I don’t really have many problems. But you know, when we were applying for my grandparents and they were in very very bad danger, you know? From the Taliban, and their life was in danger- I just used to go to all the lawyers and searching immigration, legal aid, and they were just closing the door in front for me- those days were really bad for me, and I used to read this book a lot. But now that they are here, I am happy.
One lawyer, she told me “Sometimes you have to accept that you can’t bring your grandparents here.” That, what she told me, made me really really sad, really upset. And I just told myself, I didn’t tell her, but I told myself, “Just watch! I’ll bring my grandparents here.”
Narges: My mum just said, “Yesterday we lost her (Bibi / Golsoum). We went here and she wasn’t here, so we were looking for her everywhere – the beach and the park and everywhere! And we thought she might have fallen in the water or something, because [that] once happened to her. And other people had to take her out of the water.”
And she came here, and my grandfather and my sister. And they said “Oh no! Bibi isn’t here.” Even her case worker from Red Cross, everyone was looking for her. And her case worker was going to call the police. [They were looking] a couple of hours.
They got really worried. But they didn’t know that I took her to a medical appointment. And I actually told my mum about that, but she forgot!