Saba Abraham’s Story

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Saba Abraham and her family

Saba Abraham is an exceptional and generous woman, who through war, separation and loss, has created a remarkable life for herself, her family, and other refugee women from Africa through immense determination and hard work.

Saba and her family opened their home to exhibition Curator, Naomi Takeifanga and photographer Hannah Roche to be part of their Eritrean Easter celebrations on May 1 2016. Gathered are Saba and her husband Michael, and their daughters Selam and Ariam, and their nieces Adiam, Meron and Betty, along with family friend, Asayas who is a recent asylum seeker. Saba’s eldest daughter Reem is unable to join the family due to work commitments.

The atmosphere is a frenzy of food preparation, punchy aromas, bright colourful clothes and friendly faces. It is now a rare occasion for them all to gather in this way, preparing a traditional meal, in traditional clothes, but each year they gather to celebrate Fasika, Eritrean Easter. The prepared feast includes: spicy Chicken which is traditionally divided into 12 pieces based on joints, and served with 12 eggs, this is an important at Fasika tradition.

Michael and Saba joke about his parents watching him, their portrait has been moved to the area of celebration today, resting on a seat, so they are part of the Easter day Fasika celebrations. It is a joyful experience.

This is Saba and her family’s story about their Tradition Now.

My name is Saba Abraham. I am from Eritrea. Eritrea is in North East Africa, a tiny country in the Horn of Africa. I came to Australia the summer of 1992/ 93, and before that I had been around Kenya, Sudan and Egypt. Most of my life is out of my country, out of my people, and that is because of war and hate.

I see myself now as lucky. I live in a peaceful country, a country that respects human rights, and the rights of women, and the opportunity to have your input for change. During the wars I lost two of my brothers and a lot of my colleagues at a really early age. When I see all this loss, I feel sad and guilty. The very important thing I see is the rest of my life, what I have learned from the past and what I need to do for the future to come. Though I am a human being, I am only one person. There’s a lot of things I can do in my capacity to change.

I left my beloved Mum, I wanted to be around her. I couldn’t get that, I couldn’t be in the land I was born in and grown up in because there was no peace. My mother and father, they are very generous, peaceful and accepting of others, not judgmental. I grew up with that value and accepting others. Brought up with mentality of equal rights for women and social justice for all.

As grew up there was always war and I couldn’t study past year 7, the war came too close. I chose to join the independence movement, I chose to realise my dream, to fight for freedom and democracy. During the civil war, I fled to Sudan as a refugee, still continued my struggle, for the freedom of my country. Sudan was never safe for me as well, from Sudan I went to Egypt, there I connected with the Australian embassy. I became a political refugee, with my 10 year old daughter we resettled in Brisbane. Resettlement is still hard, even though I love all aspects of Australia, I didn’t come with English or skills.

“A good family is very important for life achievements, it empowers you, family connection is the basis of your successful and meaningful life, those who struggle for a happy life may not have the strong family connections.”

As the family gathered to eat, I asked Saba and Michael’s daughters and nieces how important it was for them to come together like this. They all agreed that it was very important, to celebrate their culture. Michael adds, they are Australians but they still value their Eritrean culture. Selam noted that her school is very multicultural, especially Harmony Day and the Arts Evening where all students have the opportunity to showcase and share their culture. There is always a lot of respect shown towards celebrating culture at those events.

What traditions have you continued from growing up in Eritrea, to your life in Queensland?

MICHAEL: To keep language and culture strong is the root of the family and social base, Australia is great in that it is very multicultural. Eritreans are very proud of their backgrounds and they can see how it adds to the Australian culture as a whole, and they are proud of that. You don’t feel isolated from your roots, it gives confidence to the family and the children. We are in contact much with family overseas, very much, technology makes contact back home very easy, through facebook and viber.

What do you value most about your family Saba?

SABA: A good family is very important for life achievements, it empowers you, family connection is the basis of your successful and meaningful life, those who struggle for a happy life may not have the strong family connections. Family is my identity, without a family I wouldn’t feel that I am a full person. Your family is sometimes hard, relationships not always healthy, but if something happens, you always jump to help your family, because it is all blood relations.

Times of goodness, we would not have today’s celebrations where we can eat and laugh together, and argue, living of life, I would be isolated and feeling lonely if my family not here today, so the value of family is really important in my personal life.

Sometimes you can take for granted and not really appreciate them, but when bad times come you have your family, and then you fully appreciate how important they are. You can celebrate what is good, and in bad times support each other, people to share your pain or your worry and a get a solution as well. One mind thinking up and down on a problem doesn’t work, if the family is there, maybe everybody suggests something and together as a family you work out a solution.

What are your hopes for your family’s future here in Australia, you have made an incredible life, both in your inspirational role in your family and in your Mu’ooz family?

SABA: My hope is by doing as much as I can to build up a strong Eritrean community, and strong Eritrean values, family values, for me how can my kids and the kids to come, create individual cultural identity in Australia.
Many Eritrean children who are born and grow up in Australia, may not get the chance to go to Eritrea, to be connected, physically and practically to their homeland. So by creating Eritrean culture here, the history and base of their cultural practice in Australia in part gives them a sense of belongingness, and makes them proud of their base, if they are proud of their identity then they will be proud of Australia. I would like to see a very successful generation of Eritreans to come, that reflects, based on their cultural identity and be proud of us at the same time.

MICHAEL: As Saba said, family is not a separate issue from community, so if you have a good family, it is first for your benefit, what they say is the family that prays together, stays together. If you have family values, family love, then the recipe is absolutely perfect for the nation and the community. And yes, we are a very disciplined family, when we see a bright future and the young generation and if they are successful they can play a positive role in the wider community and Australia as a nation.

“As the family gathered to eat, I asked Saba and Michael’s
daughters and nieces how important it was for them to come
together like this. They all agreed that it was very important, to
celebrate their culture. Michael adds, they are Australians but
they still value their Eritrean culture. Selam noted that her school
is very multicultural, especially Harmony Day and the Arts Evening
where all students have the opportunity to showcase and share
their culture. There is always a lot of respect shown towards
celebrating culture at those events.”

Because I have been around the world many times, I lived in Germany for 5-6 years, they know Australia and say it is a very lucky country and it is perfectly true. When you go anywhere you, relatively speaking you have bad people in every society, blacks against blacks, Christians against Christians, Muslims against Muslims.

We are definitely happy and proud to be part of Australian society so, we are grateful for our kids, they have a bright future. In 20 years our children will be grown up, we hope to be proud of them and that they are doing good not only for the family but for the wider society as well, to be good contributors to the nation.

You have a beautiful family, full of girls, can I ask how you view marriage for your daughters?

SABA: I don’t agree with arranged marriages, you need to find common ground and know that you can live together. Sometimes there are questions if brought up from a different culture, there are differences, they grew up purely in Africa. We struggle between wanting to give them freedom, but we need to make sure they make good choices. Ideologically we agree that our children can marry into another culture.

First generation of Eritreans, they can see the problem of it though, when you come from a different cultural background and exercise your culture, there is a problem created by language and cultural barriers. Many of the relationships I have witnessed in my experience across cultures don’t always last. And the kids can struggle across cultures, if the parents split up. We live in reality though.

MICHAEL: It different from family to family, relatively speaking we are an open family, there are families more conservative than us.

Saba and Michael finished the interview with some very sobering thoughts. They said that essentially everyone wants the same thing, everyone wants peace, everyone needs to be loved and everybody wants to be accepted.

And that by not accepting differences between each other, it creates cultural gaps. There is the fear of the unknown, and communication is the key to sharing cultures and connecting communities.

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