Featured in this photo essay is Yasmin – a Kurdish-Australian woman from Syria 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 Yasmin at her family home in Cringila to get to know her a little. Pictured above is Yasmin (on the right) and her younger sister Sidrah.
Yasmin is 20 years old and a twin with Nasrin. She is one of 6 children (5 girls and 1 boy). Her and her twin are the eldest, followed by their sisters – Shirian 17, Sidrah 15, and Rahna 11, then their brother Hassan 8.
Yasmin was born in Syria and has been in Australia for almost 4 years. She lives with all her siblings and her mum and dad.
Can you tell us about your family?
“We are a really close family… we really love each other and really support each other.
We talk about everything! We don’t keep secrets from each other. Everyone who sees us, says ‘wow, they are a really nice family!’ Even my mum, we don’t see her as ‘Mum,’ we call her by her name, because she is really close to us. Sometimes we tell her, ‘You are my friend.’ We don’t have lots of friends here.”
What was it like to study in Australia?
“HSC is scary but it’s not that hard, you have to be really passionate about things and of course be confident about yourself. It was difficult to finish… because of the language, but I think we did better than the Australians! It was really good.
My favourite subject is English, and I did really well in that. I came first in my English class. I [also] did Arabic continuers and Arabic extension, and I got first in Arabic extension too! So every time I got a really good mark, that pushed me to keep going.”
How did it compare with studying in Syria?
“In Syria, you can’t choose a subject, they’re all compulsory. We studied about thirteen subjects… when you hold [your school] bag, it’s really heavy!
We [would] study from 7 am to 12 pm. You can choose the morning routine, or the afternoon routine; it’s up to you. Here [the days are] really long, but [there are] less subjects…
There are negatives and positives to school in Australia and school in Syria. In Syria, you have to really study and get a really good mark, because if you don’t get a good mark, you’ll fail and you can’t go to the next year.
Here, you have a lot more freedom, you don’t see lots of people caring about education. If they don’t want to go to school, they don’t.”
Is there any particular food you miss from Syria?
“There’s no food from Syria that we can’t have here, because my mum can make everything! …when my mum travelled overseas, my dad cooked for us. It was really delicious!
If we can’t find the stuff we need to make something here in Wollongong, we go to Sydney to get it and we make it at home. In Syria we didn’t have to make a lot of things at home. We used to buy desserts and everything. In every street there would be lots of shops… not like here where you have to go to the shopping mall.
What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?
“Sometimes I send Australian music to my friend overseas, I say ‘it’s really nice, just listen to it, you will not understand, but just listen…’
English music makes me feel comfortable and happy. The Arabic music is really sensitive. It’s all like ‘Oh my God, you broke up with your boyfriend,’ or ‘You want to cry,’ or ‘Someone died…’ [laughs] it’s really sensitive, it makes you really sad.
The Kurdish music makes you really cry straight away, so I don’t always listen to that, but I do sometimes…
I get some English music from my younger sisters. You can feel that they’ve grown up here. They have lots of Australian friends. They know more about Australia than us… and listen to English music more than we do. So sometimes when my sister is listening to music, we’re like, ‘Oh this music is nice, send it to me quick!’”
“In Arabic we have [an artist, called] Fairuz, She’s really famous. People are always listening to her in the morning.
Sometimes before work, you sit on the verandah drinking coffee, listening to her; she makes you really comfortable. People of all ages listen to her… we all listen to her in the morning. When we were at school (in Syria) all the cars would be playing her in the morning.”
This video had over 21.5 million views at the time of publication!
“You are not allowed to speak Kurdish, [in Syria]. But we did still speak it in the family; we couldn’t just forget it. It’s your language, it’s your mother language. The government only uses Arabic, and at school you speak Arabic.
We really want to learn Spanish too… I’ve started learning a little bit… there are a lot of similarities between Arabic and Spanish, because Spain was occupied by Arabic people once upon a time.
I think [learning another language] is really nice, because when you have the knowledge of different languages, you know how some countries are nearly similar, so you will have an idea of other cultures too.”
“Sometimes I try to convince my mum to go to SCARF “Coffee & Conversations” I say ‘Mum, let’s go! You will improve your speaking.’ But she says, ‘I have to cook, I have to do this.’ I say, ‘just leave it!’ Sometimes all 6 of us children speak English to mum, and she says, ‘too much!’
“Sometimes we think about going back to our country, but the war will not stop. It will take ages. We will be grown up. I miss everything about Syria. Everything was nice.
In Australia shops close early. In Syria the shops don’t close at all. Life is going 24 hrs. If you go out at 3 am, you will see people out. It’s not dangerous.
In Australia there’s no-one out at night and it’s really quiet, everything’s green, and we feel scared.
We lived in Damascus, so there were high buildings everywhere. So when you are looking around all you can see are buildings, there were not really trees. So it was really hard when we came to Australia, we thought where are we coming? We’ve come to a village! But now we get used to it. We really feel comfortable here now. But we needed time to get used it.”
What do you hope for the future?
“I have a friend, she’s from Iraq, she works for a women’s rights organisation. I’d really like to be in that position. Every time she calls she’d say, ‘Are you going to uni? You have to study law and international studies.” She’d always really convince me with her words.
She’d say, ‘You have the power in you.’ She says we are all waiting for you to come to Iraq to support other women, because there are lots of bad things happening there.
She says, ‘after you get your degree you have to come to Iraq and support other women, because I know you have a pure heart. You want to help everyone.’ It makes me feel really special and inspires me to do something to change the world.
Do you have any special items or sentimental objects that you brought with you from Syria?
“Sometimes we get sad because we don’t have any memories, but I have this photo.
My dad, when we were young, had a camera… he loved to take our pictures, always. When we are moving here, when we are sitting here, always he [would] take our pictures.
In this photo my mum tried a lot of times for us to be still for the camera. We gave a copy to our Grandparents that week we moved to Damascus.
Then when we left Damascus and were in Aleppo we took it back again from them.