Since moving from their home in Bangladesh, Nasrin and Nasim have found their place in the Bendigo community and the beginning of a journey to independence.
By John Holton
“Home is freedom,” says Nasrin Shah Naaz. “Freedom from the outside world, freedom from judgement, freedom to be yourself. Home is somewhere warm with love. A place where you can laugh and cry without fear.”
For Nasrin, who migrated with her husband Nasim and daughter Janeeta from Bangladesh seven years ago, home is also about people; her parents and extended family who still live in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh; her sister in Great Britain; and her friends and neighbours that have become such an integral part of her family’s new antipodean home … first in Adelaide, and now Bendigo.
“We’ve been blessed with the people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made since coming to Australia,” Nasrin says. “Our first neighbours in Adelaide still treat me like their family and never miss a birthday.”
That same sense of community has followed Nasrin and her family to Bendigo.
“When we moved into our new home in Bendigo it happened to be on the day of Ramadan. We had no food in the house and we were tired after the move. Someone knocked on the front door and it was our new neighbour with a cake. She thought a cake would be a great way for us to break fast. It wasn’t just her generosity that touched us so deeply, but the fact that she knew we’d been fasting; that without even knowing us she cared enough to consider our beliefs.”
It’s a story Nasrin likes to tell whenever she can as a way to break down the negative stereotypes so often reported in the media. For her it was a key moment in her understanding of home.
“Home is not just about the place where you live, but the peacefulness of your surroundings,” she says. “Bendigo has already given us so much. Our son, Keyaan, was born here; Nasim and I both started our professional careers; we built a home … we strongly believe we are meant to be here.”
Of course any move that involves crossing continents comes with sacrifice. For Nasrin and Nasim it meant leaving family behind as well as their beloved Bangladesh – a country that Nasrin describes as being very different to many people’s perceptions.
“Bangladesh is a country blessed with natural beauty. It’s green and lush with rich, fertile river flats, forests, and the world’s longest beach. The air has a special quality … it’s almost as if you can ‘feel’ the oxygen. It’s not how most people think of Bangladesh.
“Dhaka, where I grew up, is developing fast as a modern metropolis. It’s known as the city of mosques, but it actually has a very secular outlook. It celebrates all cultures and religions. My parents are Muslim, but they also go to Hindu and Christian celebrations. In Bangladesh, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu festivals are all celebrated as national holidays.”
While there’s a lot Nasrin misses about her home of almost 30 years, she feels lucky that technology allows her to carry that home with her on a daily basis.
“Thank goodness for Skype,” she says. “I can see and talk to my family every day, so it always feels like they are close. We can catch up with family every year, both here in Australia and with trips back to Bangladesh, so the children don’t miss out on seeing their grandparents. I also have a sister living in Ballarat, so I’m lucky to be surrounded by that sense of home.”
Nasrin believes she is a different person to the one who left Bangladesh in January 2010, and describes her arrival in Australia as the beginning of her journey to independence.
“In Dhaka, I lived like a princess, where I was surrounded by so many supports to carry out day-to-day tasks. I was totally focused on my career as a teacher and wasn’t spending time with my family. But after moving here, I found the other side of life – the balance between work and family – and I became self-dependent.
“While there are many things I miss about Bangladesh – especially my students and the cultural celebrations – moving to Australia has been very positive. I feel like I’ve become a real mum here. I’ve learnt to drive, to cook, to clean … and our children will be a lot more independent as a result. It was God’s plan for me.”
Nasrin is a community development worker at Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services, while Nasim is a pharmacist at Chemist Warehouse.