A discovery of connections

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Ive often wondered what it means to belong to a religion. Im a Muslim and Islam is defined as either meaning peace or submission. Although it is both of these things, for me it represents renewal and the ability to make a brand new start at each point in the day. We pray five daily prayers, a tenet of my faith, and in each prayer there is a new beginning where old and new intentions meet, passing each other by just enough to say hello.

Night view of the city of Launceston, Tasmania, with houses in the foreground and the Sacred Heart Church in the background. (Getty images/Jess Swallow)

My family and I came to Australia in December 1998. We arrived at Launceston Airport, greeted by a motley group of Tasmanians who were excited and I suspect nervous about becoming a support group to a single mother, her five young children and my dear uncle who at 16 years old despite his best efforts — was a child himself.  The group had come together by the chance enquiry from one churchgoer who asked another if they could dedicate time to this — to us. So, we clambered into a mini van with our meagre possessions, and the myths and half-truths we knew about Australia followed suit.

Since being displaced by the Somali Civil War in 1991, wed been living in Dadab refugee camp — one of the largest in the world. I was born there a few years later. As night fell, the stories we had heard of the Western world, far from the plains of Kenya would come to life. Money falls from the skies, one dweller would proclaim. He would be met with, And dont forget, you never go hungry. Food is everywhere!

They said we were headed to a utopia. And, they werent far off.

As we drove through the green Tasmanian landscape, our eyes darted in excitement at nature and infrastructure easily co-existing. Somalia or Kenya had nothing like this: buildings there were often clumsy and didnt quite belong, but here they got it right. We arrived at a quaint red brick house in an inner city suburb, our first home outside a refugee camp. My mum and uncle were in animated conversation about how we had made it, us kids heads popping up like meerkats trying to get a closer look.

A few years passed and life was good in Launceston. But, it was quiet and amongst a micro Somali community, another place, Melbourne, was often discussed at great lengths. Slowly families began to move and finally so did we. During this upheaval, I became a child fixated on the meaning of life, grief was an emotion I had become so used to and I had many questions, to which the answers I found, were in books this became my form of escapism. This love of words motivated me to pursue a degree in writing.

 

'It was not until I had grown up that I realised how impactful was the kinship extended to us from our Christian brothers and sisters. My mum went on to return the gift of charity extended to us. She founded a non-profit organisation in 2007, The East African Women's Foundation...'

 

We managed to stay connected to our friends in Tasmania, and through the trials of life, death and everything in between we only grew closer. Ive even been back a few times, a couple of years ago. My siblings mock me for that. How could I, the youngest, who had the least recollection of our childhood, keep going back? I guess Tassie felt like my real birth place.

It was not until I had grown up that I realised how impactful was the kinship extended to us from our Christian brothers and sisters. My mum went on to return the gift of charity extended to us. She founded a non-profit organisation in 2007, The East African Women's Foundation, dedicated to helping future generations. I volunteer for the organisation, partly from obligation, mostly free choice.

And what of Tasmania and the community there? Well, theyre still doing Gods work and helping the new wave of immigrants and refugees to find how to call this place home.

In 2014 after the shock death of my uncle, we reunited with a dear Mercy Sister. I hadnt seen her for over a decade. So, when I saw her hobble toward me, arms outstretched, a sense of overwhelming familiarity enveloped me. Weve been inseparable ever since.

Recently, she invited me to a poetry day, where a small group of people shared poems and discussed them. I said Nah, poetrys not my thing’. 

She responded, Rubbish, youre poetic! You just dont know it.I nodded, politely. Did I believe it? Nope.

So the next time we met, she gave me some poems that had been shared at that poetry day. I read most of them, aloud, at her request, amused but nothing more. Then, I read, i thank You God for most this amazingby E.E. Cummings. As I read the poem, my throat became tight with emotion and I cried. I knew this appreciation of God and nature, but in a different language. As Cummings says:

 

How should tasting touching hearing seeing

Breathing anylifted from the no

Of all nothinghuman merely being

Doubt unimaginable You?

 

So, too in the Quran it says, Which of the blessings of your Lord will you deny?

No longer was poetry an afterthought for me.

 

now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened.

 

 


Najma Sambul is an aspiring novelist who wants to make a difference in how marginalised groups are perceived in the literary world. She has written a number of unpublished short stories that have accumulated dust and many red marks over the years, but remains optimistic about their future.

Main image: Night view of the city of Launceston, Tasmania, with houses in the foreground and the Sacred Heart Church in the background. (Getty images/Jess Swallow)

Topic tags: Najma Sambul, Islam, poetry

 

 

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Beautifully written Najma- gifts from God gleaned from experiences in His garden .
Susan Vasnaik | 14 February 2020


So good to see your eloquent expression of friendship, hope and gratitude, Najma - like the words of the Psalmist: "How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me. . ."
John RD | 19 February 2020


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