The visas and tickets to Australia had arrived.
Years before, Alireza and Shannaz had lost their family, their friends, their country and their much-loved careers when they were forced to flee Iran. Since then, they had been living in an unstable limbo in Turkey.
But now they held the tickets to a new life in their hands. “Ah!” cried Ali. “It is finished!”
But of course it wasn’t.
For the third time they had to learn a new language. They were often lost and confused, and grief for their lost loved ones was an ache that never left.
“For a migrant, you come by yourself. Not by force,” explains Ali. “You can go back to your country when you would like. We cannot. It’s harmful and painful…I can speak to my siblings and parents. But it’s difficult. I cannot go back. But it’s a life. Sometimes you don’t have any choice.”
“My English was zero,” says Shannaz. “(It was) very important for me to improve my language.”
To adjust to their new lives, they watched documentaries about Australia, researched the culture, economy and law, went to English language classes and watched only English speaking movies.
Then, through Baptist Care’s Friendship Program, they sought out English speaking friends.
They were matched to local volunteers, George and Alice, childhood sweethearts whom Ali describes as having “laughing faces”.
Alice had heard of the Friendship Program through her job as a nurse. She had migrated to Australia from Germany as a child, and remembers all too clearly the difficulties of learning English.
The two couples hit it off instantly. Soon they were visiting beaches, cafes and local sites together, going to parties and sending group Messenger texts. Together, the four of them have shared their disappointments and triumphs, and laughed over cultural differences and misunderstandings.
“The media drives so many pre-conceived ideas about refugees,” says George, who shares a passion for fast American cars with Ali. “Shannaz is a graphic designer. Ali is a commercial diver. They are intelligent, funny, hard working professionals.”
When Alice was ill, Shannaz was the first person to bring her a meal.
“I love George and Alice,” she says, “They are special friends. Good friends to us.”
In just 12 months, Ali and Shannaz have achieved so much. Their English is excellent and Ali has his driver’s license. But there have been setbacks too. Neither have been able to return to their careers.
For Ali, his hopes of returning to his “crazy job” were dashed almost as soon as he arrived in Australia, when he learnt he must completely re-train. The expense means this dream remains out of reach. For now.
“I don’t like to think about the future. I don’t like to think about the past. Sometimes my mind takes me to the past in my country. But we try to live in the present,” he says.
…Anytime we spend with George and Alice is interesting to me. And joyful. Because…they are happy and they are laughing…I get positive energy from them. This is very good because life is short. You have to enjoy it,” he smiles.
If you would like to learn more about Baptist Care’s Friendship Program please contact Volunteer Coordinator, Bryan Hughes on (08) 8118 5228 or visit www.baptistcaresa.org.au