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Monday, 7 March 2016





Meet Zahra- a public tenant.

Zahra is originally from Eritrea.

She is one of six children. She has four sisters and a brother. Her father was a policeman. She had a very happy childhood.

Her culture is one in which relatives, neighbours and friends are always visiting one another, sharing meals and conversations. Children play together and there is a strong social network. “Everybody is happy together.”

Zahra was married when she was only thirteen years of age. It was an arranged marriage. She doesn’t remember much about her wedding day. “I was too young.”

Throughout its history Eritrea has been embroiled in many struggles with colonial powers, as well as fighting for its independence from Ethiopia. Many countries wanted domination of Eritrea due to its strategic position on the Red Sea.

A 30 year war ( 1961- 91 ) against the Ethiopian government left Eritrea in ruins. Billions of dollars were spent in arms against Eritrea. Infrastructure and services were destroyed leaving towns without electricity, water and transportation for many years. The ports were bombed. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands became refugees.

It was during this war that Zahra, who was a young mother with two sons, fled the country with her husband. Refugees left Eritrea by foot or by camel, stopping each night to rest and to sleep. She remembers the planes overhead dropping bombs and the noise of the helicopters.

“ I was in the middle of a war. I was scared. I felt very sad too.”

 It took one month of walking before the family reached Kasala in SudanZahra and her family settled in Kasala and lived with relatives there. She had three more children. Zahra has three daughters and two sons.

Her husband returned to Eritrea and the family lost all contact with him.

Life in Sudan was good in spite of people having very little. “Everybody helps each other. Everybody shares.” Zahra raised her children and lived in Sudan for the next thirty years.

Seven years ago Zahra’s sister helped the family to immigrate to Australia. Zahra wanted her children to have more opportunities in life. Her three adult daughters are living here. One is married with two children. The other two are studying at university. One son has since died and the other son still lives in Sudan.

Zahra misses both her sons. She would like to see her surviving son very much. She has not seen him in seven years. She and her daughters have applied for him to come to Australia, but have so far been unsuccessful. Zahra has become depressed and pessimistic about being reunited with her son. She has diabetes and insomnia.

Her adult daughter, Nahla, returned to Kasala recently for a holiday. All their neighbours, friends and relatives made a huge fuss over her. They roasted a whole lamb and held a feast in her honour. There was music and dancing. Whenever they spoke of Zahra they cried, because they miss her so much.

Zahra is a Muslim. She gains a lot of peace and comfort from practicing her religion. She prays five times a day. She enjoys cooking for her daughters and her two little grandchildren. She cooks delicious Sudanese food; rice, beans, salad, meat, chicken and fish.

She is very happy with her Public Housing flat. She visits the Mosque and shops at Barkly Square in Sydney Road. She buys her fresh produce at the Victoria Market.

Every week she joins other Muslim women from the Eritrean community. They share a meal and enjoy each other’s company.

Zahra has lived in Public Housing in Australia for seven years, but has only lived on the current Housing Estate in Carlton for three months. She likes it here. “The area is nice. The people are friendly”

1 comment:

  1. I am a public tenant because I am a member of the general public- Anthony - public tenant