THE MORE YOU KNOW – Narges, Masoumeh & Golsoum

Featured in this photo essay is Narges, Masoumeh and Golsoum – three generations of Afghan-Australian women living in the Illawarra. 

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. 🙂

THE MORE YOU KNOW – Narges, Masoumeh & Golsoum

INTRODUCTIONS

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.

 

NARGES

Narges is a 21 year old Iranian born Afghan-Australian.

She is studying a bachelor of Medical and Health Science at the University of Wollongong and hopes to do Medicine next year. She wants to become a Gynecologist.

MASOUMEH (Narges' mother)

Masoumeh is 40 and has 4 kids, three girls and one boy.

Narges is her eldest, followed by Maryam who's 20, studies Nursing and wants to be a midwife; Mohadeseh is 18 and, at the time of interview, was about to start studying Engineering at uni. Masoumeh's youngest is Mohammad; he's 13 and in year 8 at high school. Masoumeh was born in Iran, and like Narges, has never been to Afghanistan.

Masoumeh was a dressmaker in Iran, but since coming to Australia, spends her time looking after her parents and children, studying English, and working as a cleaner of schools and offices.

Masoumeh and Narges have been in Australia for 4 years.

GOLSOUM (Narges' grandmother)

Golsoum is 71; she was born in Afghanistan, but moved to Iran from when she was pregnant with Masoumeh, who was born 2 months later. She also has 3 sons.

She came to Australia with one of her sons and her husband; she has been here for 7 months.

UNIVERSITY

“When I came to Australia, the only thing I wanted to do, was study medicine.”– Narges. But she’d only just commenced the English classes she was required to do before even starting Year 11 and 12 of high school. “I was really worried… ‘you already did Year 11, and half of 12, you don’t want to waste time!’” she told herself. But her teacher told her she couldn’t because she wasn’t prepared. But instead of accepting this, Narges went to the university directly and told them what she wanted. It was explained that she’d need to do an undergraduate degree before she could enrol in Medicine and so Narges was given a list of options. “At that time, I just translated with my phone, putting them in dictionary, and I found ‘Medical & Health Science’; sounds like it’s related to medicine.”

She enrolled, but since she had no proof of finishing school (and in fact hadn’t), she had to write a letter to explain her situation. This is the letter she wrote – pictured 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…” – Narges

Narges was accepted with the condition that she do a bridging course at UOW college and pass with Average credit. She did and graduated at the end of it, with an average of High Distinction! She was also awarded a scholarship and, because her marks were the highest in the class, an academic achievement award for physics and mathematics.

We talked about all the things that Narges missed about Iran… her friends, her school; especially her uncles, but also all the celebrations.
 
“In Iran we used to party more, like big parties, a lot of people.”  She talked about Eid and explained “it means party, as in celebration.” She told of how everyone would get “really really excited, especially the kids,” when they celebrated the New Year, the biggest celebration in Iran.
 
In Iran, the New Year is not celebrated on January 1, it’s celebrated when Winter finishes and Spring starts, and since Winter in Iran is so cold, “everyone is really excited just to have nice weather… and all the trees will have blossoms.” 
 
“We all sit on the ground, we have a mat… I have it here – pictured. 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 elders 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 lies. And the Koran, our religious book.”

Seven Ss

Narges explained that they place seven things each of which “start with ‘S’ on the mat and that each of them has a meaning. 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.

“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…”

HAND WOVEN RUG

Masoumeh made this rug in one week when she was 15 years old. She told us how she loves it and doesn’t use it because “it’s older than Narges!” The rug is woven into three sections, which are then sewn together by hand. The colours of this rug are “Afghan colours,” said Narges. Masoumeh confided that she doesn’t remember how to make it anymore, and that she was “still talented at that time,” to which Narges responded “you are still talented!”
 
Narges explained how there are a couple of million Afghans that are refugees in Iran, and that “their lifestyles are now completely the same as Iranian..” and that they no longer know anything about Afghan culture, “because it’s been three generations that they are in Iran, but the interesting thing is they are refugee[s], they are not accepted as citizen[s].”
 

BOOK

Narges showed us a book she brought with her from Iran. She explained that reading the book helped her to relax, “it’s nice, every time I have so many things in my mind… I have so many hardship and problems, and [if] I had been crying, and I just started reading this book… it makes me relaxed; it makes me calm. I really love this book.” – pictured below.

 

Narges told us how she no longer reads the book very often, because she no longer has so many problems. “But you know, when we were applying for my grandparents and they were in very very bad danger… from the Taliban… I just used to go to all the lawyers and search immigration, legal aid, and they were just closing the door in front of 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.”
 
Narges said that one lawyer had told them “sometimes you have to accept that you can’t bring your grandparents here.” This made her very sad and upset, and she said “I just told myself… “Just watch! I’ll bring my grandparents here.”

“There are lots of other things that are really really nice, and relate back to my life, but it’s just hard to translate. It’s written in old Persian, you need to think about, it’s not easy to translate, it’s really hard. I speak Persian, I read it, but I don’t understand at the first point, I need to think about it, then I understand.
 
“You have weak people’s back.” This book is all talking to God, when I say “you” it means “God”. It says, “you always have weak people’s back,” and “you support them,” and “you always are the only person with the messenger, so that they are not alone anymore.” This book means “you are not alone”. When people are hurt, or something makes them upset, they just read this book.”

GOLSOUM AKA 'BIBI'

Golsoum came to Australia with her husband and one of her sons, but another remains in Iran and is believed to be unsafe there. As we sat talking to Golsoum, Masoumeh said something to her, which we couldn’t understand. Narges explained that her mum was asking her grandmother to get changed and wear something more beautiful! Her response was, “I really miss my sons, and I am about to cry.”

BIBI WENT MISSING

We talked with Golsoum about what she usually spends her time doing, here in Australia. She mentioned how she often goes to the park to walk. Masoumeh then told us how yesterday they LOST her! Apparently Masoumeh and her father went to her house to find her, and she wasn’t home, and they said “oh no! Bibi isn’t here!” They looked everywhere – the beach, the park, everywhere.
 
They feared 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.” So they were understandably very worried and looked for her for hours. “But”, confided Narges, “they didn’t know that I took her to a medical appointment!” and she was with her all along.
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Thank You

This project is a collaboration between SCARF (Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families), Bear Hunt Photography and women from the SCARF community. 
 
Narges, Masoumeh and Golsoum are the women featured in this essay. A heartfelt thanks is owed to these women for sharing their home and their stories for this project. 
 
SCARF is an Illawarra-based, independent not-for-profit organisation that supports people from refugee backgrounds to navigate the personal and practical challenges of building a new life in Australia. By creating connections and generating opportunities, SCARF helps individuals and families to establish a sense of belonging, experience social and economic inclusion and access the tools for self-empowerment and independence. To learn more about SCARF, visit www.scarfsupport.org.au
 
To read more about me, visit here, or to find out about projects I support or how a collaboration might happen in the future, visit here.