Photograph, John Owens.
My family are from the city of Harar, which is now part of Ethiopia. When I was 11 we left Ethiopia because of ethnic wars and went to Egypt. We stayed in Egypt for a couple of years but it was very hard living there as a foreigner. You can be deported if you donít have a visa and it was difficult to access education. My brother lived in Australia and decided to bring us all here because he knew it was a good place for families and young people to live and study.
I arrived in Australia in 1992 with my mother, sisters and brothers. I can still remember the smell of Australia when we arrived. It was winter and cold and I could smell the grass and vegetation. This memory still sits in the back of my mind.
We lived for a while in the Springvale Migrant Hostel, which was an amazing experience. People from many different backgrounds lived together and we all played soccer, basketball and volleyball.
Later we lived in Clayton South, which is a special area and is kind of like my home town. I now have more memories from Clayton South than I do from Ethiopia. Clayton South is a beautiful area to live in because there are so many people from different countries and the schools are full of migrant children.
When we arrived in Australia I went to school at the Westall English Language Centre. I didnít speak any English and I found it very hard. When English is your second, third or fourth language it takes a while to learn. I was left out of conversations and I felt that I was dumb or stupid, although of course I wasnít.
After we left Ethiopia I didnít go to school for a few years but when we arrived in Australia I went to school straight away. I found this difficult and I had to force myself to learn and to do things like write essays. At first I just didnít know how I was going to start because I had never written essays before.
Most school students get help from their families but my family was also struggling with English. They were trying to educate themselves too. Sometimes I just wanted to communicate with someone and ask questions in my own language.
The African community is a small minority in Australia and this made things hard for us. Vietnamese and Italian kids had other students who could give them tutorial classes but we had none of that.
Being African is not always easy in Australia because we face some racism and on top of that people stereotype us.
African kids growing up in Australia also find it hard because at home their families have certain rules and certain things they are not allowed to do. We have to make compromises and find a way to live in both cultures.
I tried to avoid conflict with my family and my culture because I knew my parents were going through a lot and I didnít want to be a burden on them. But I think being male is easier than being female because females cannot get away with as much as young males.
Sometimes I found things so difficult that I thought I would just drop out of school. But I didnít. I kept questioning myself and pushing myself. I knew there was nothing wrong with me and so I never gave up. Life is an experience and a test.
I think I have achieved a lot over the last few years even though I havenít been in Australia long. I decided to explore the artistic side of myself and I studied photography, graphic design and art.
I am now doing Media Art at Victoria University and I have had a few exhibitions and publications. The Leader Newspaper Group recently named me one of the most talented young Australian artists.
I also work with African youth at the Ecumenical Migration Centre. I help out by talking about issues and difficulties. Some day Iíd like to go to a third world country and work with young people.
Actually, Iím quite proud of myself. I think I am filling in the gaps that I missed when I was younger.
Article Cat. Blended Voices
Article Ref. 162