By the age of 25, I had a great job, my own import business which I was running on the side, my own apartment, a very good car, and a good group of friends. Life was treating me very well. But then all that changed.
In 2009, our president was re-elected, but as most Iranians believed that the results were rigged, there were protests. After a few days, it became very violent and the government started shooting at people. I was so overwhelmed and shocked that I went back home and couldn’t leave the house for 10 days.
The next year, my father died in a car accident. One day, my mum rang and she was screaming and crying and I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Then someone else came on the line and told me I needed to go to that place straight away. I was so worried on the way there. My father was my best friend ever. We did everything together. When I got there, I found out a truck driver had smashed into him when he got out of his car. I was the first person to see him, and when I hugged him, he felt too light. The whole experience was very traumatic. After that, I had to become the head of my family, and I became very concerned about how to support my family.
Next, the US put sanctions against Iran, and my business went bankrupt almost overnight. After that, I had to sell my apartment and my car to pay off my debts.
With the money I had left, I decided to go to Australia to do a Masters of Engineering Management at the University of Wollongong, as I remembered my father had always said that I should leave the Middle East if I wanted to have a calm life.
I’m a project planner so of course I had a perfect plan for how I would be able to live for 2 years without working, but then soon after I arrived, my sister had all her money seized at US customs, and I had to support her financially with what I had left.
After that, I got a job cleaning at a bar from 3am until 7am. But it wasn’t enough to live on so I had to get a second job in a kebab shop from 1pm to 9pm. I really suffered from the lack of sleep and I ended up losing about 22 kilos. But I refused to be defeated. I told myself, ‘This is a test that you have to put yourself through.’
I was also struggling because I had to pass an English exam to be able to apply for my permanent residency. But I kept failing the writing part. Luckily, I met Catriona at uni. She not only helped me a lot with my writing, but she also took me to her home and introduced me to her family, and really helped me to become absorbed into the Australian community. I have told her so many times that if our world had more people like her, it would be a better place.
In my final year of uni, I had a Project Management subject at university which I was already very familiar with, so I said to the lecturer, ‘If you allow me to not attend, I’ll run your last lecture this semester, and talk about the projects we deliver in Iran despite the difficulties caused by the sanctions’. And he agreed! Then right after I delivered that lecture, he offered me a job as his assistant lecturer.
After that, things started looking better. I had a job that paid better money and I got my permanent residency. But I really wanted an engineering job, and unfortunately, no matter where in the country I applied, I didn’t get an interview. In the end, I decided to take my resume in person to every company in Sydney. I remember one day I walked 33 kilometres! But none of the companies showed any interest in me.
Then one day I received an email from a manger at one of the companies. He said that although they didn’t have any engineering roles, they might be able to offer me a job in the office to get some local work experience. I was so excited and said I was definitely interested, and he said he would contact me when he got back from his holiday. But I waited for 2 weeks, and then it became 3 weeks, then 4. Finally, I called. The lady who answered said that unfortunately he had died in a car accident on his holiday. I was so disappointed. I couldn’t believe that after applying for about 150 jobs with no response except for this one person, he had died.
Finally I said to myself, that’s enough, I need to go back to Iran. But the next day, I was walking along the beach deleting my Australian numbers when I came to one number which didn’t have a name. I was curious who it was, so I called and a lady answered from one of those companies I had visited. When I hung up, I suddenly remembered a quote from my dad. He used to say that you cannot have a thing for which you crave too much – that if you want it, you have to stop caring about it. And I thought to myself, ‘Why do you want this work? Is it only for money?’
Then, something in my mind told me to call back to offer to work for free. This time I was very lucky that the manager answered. I told him that I wanted to work for free, and he showed some interest. At the interview, he was quite surprised about my capabilities, and said they would be happy if I started work right away and that they would even offer me a small salary rather than an unpaid internship. You cannot imagine how happy I was! It meant that after working 10 hours a day, 7 days a week for 3 years, I could finally have weekends.
Two weeks later, the manager came to the office and asked me a question and very luckily I had seen the answer five minutes earlier in a drawing. When I answered right on the spot, I could see the change in his face. He said, ‘Oh my goodness, you are the best! Come to my office’. Then he offered me a very good package and a full time job.
I’m now working in a different role as a master scheduler. I’ve managed to purchase a property for myself in Sydney, and last year, I brought my mum to Australia for a visit. I felt so proud to show her what I have achieved despite so many challenges.
Before I came to Australia, I could have whatever I wanted. But now I have become so strong because of everything I have faced. I believe you just have to work very hard and keep trying.
Someone once said something to me that I really like: ‘It will all be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end!’
Photographer: El Earl Photography
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