Lamia with pizza - Iraqi style
Lamia with pizza – Iraqi style

When I drove across Adelaide for my first interview with Sabah and Lamia from Iraq, I had fanciful ideas about 5000 years of Chinese civilisation meeting 5000 years of Mesopotamian culture. You might remember Sabah from my previous post as the playwright, who discovered, taught, and fell in love with his leading lady, Lamia.

I took off my shoes at the door, as Chinese people do (and probably Iraqi people too judging by their bare feet) and exchanged greetings, and saw that Lamia had laid out a feast on the coffee table – a three-tiered plate of nuts and Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a six pack of coke with Italian crystal glasses to drink from, three kinds of cake and a platter overflowing with fruit.

At the end of the first interview, the family invited me for a biryani lunch the following week before the second interview. I foolishly declined. I was thinking of all the cooking that Lamia would have to do. You see, I used to teach Lamia English and she used to come into class tired from all the cooking and cleaning she had done in the weekend, and I wanted to spare her that. But as I drove away, I realised what an opportunity I had squandered.

I turned up mid-afternoon instead for the second interview. This time I met their grandson, playing on an iPad. Lamia gave me a tour of their home, I saw their fruit trees, the pergola they built, and she showed me a newspaper cuttings of their youngest son who does gymnastics and Parkour. Their younger daughter, Ranin, joined us mid-way through the interview, munching on a cucumber, and I found out that she has her own personal fitness business. Some of the before and after photos she showed me were spectacular and I wondered if I should sign up. I reflected on the many similarities between our families – chess, gymnastics, guitar strumming, picky eaters – and just by observation, I thought that both Lamia and I, as mothers, spend a lot of time shopping, cooking, and serving food.

The second interview was much more relaxed than the first. In fact, we were just chatting towards the end and Sabah said, ‘We’re going off topic.’ But it was in the chatting that I dropped my writer’s hat and simply became someone making new friends. And it was in that moment that I think I got closer to understanding what it cost them to flee Iraq, and what life is like for them now.

I’ll be spending the next few weeks writing up their amazing story for the book, Place of Refuge – a collection of creative non-fiction stories of displaced people who have made their home in Adelaide.

Sabah has kindly supplied the photos below.

Lamia Alkhad on the stage
Lamia Alnashi on stage.
Chess is a favorite game in my family
Chess –  a favourite game of the family
My family in Morialta 2015
The family at Morialta, 2015

    3 replies to "Ancient civilisations meet"

    • Ragnhild Duske

      At tafe we celebrated Harmony Day and listed the number of countries represented by students and teachers. Just under 40. Forty different languages, cultures, stories. Uncountable memories, loved ones left behind or still in refugee camps. What does Australia mean to them? Freedom from persecution, yes. But for many also loss. Loss of the familiar, the family structure, the sense of belonging, however precarious.
      Sabah is still one of my (at times frustrated) students. He gave me a slim book of poetry by Babylon-born Adeeb Kamal Ad-Deen. His poems speak of love, beauty, sadness, hope and the refugee’s place between places. In the poem ‘Magic Country’ he says

      In the land of the kangaroo,
      You must fly
      Without a head or a wing,
      Without a compass or a direction.


      • The Curious Scribbler

        Thank you for giving us a glimpse of your Harmony Day celebrations and for sharing the poem which captures Adeeb’s feelings so well.

    • […] my life. In Iraq, I lived with people who shared my memories, people who knew us: Sabah the writer, Lamia, the actress; here, nobody knows […]

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