I was 5 when my family had to flee Azerbaijan. My father had supplied computers to the previous political party, and when the new party came into power, they started to imprison anyone who had been associated with the previous party. They didn’t imprison my father but said that he would have to start paying them a large cut of the profits. When Dad couldn’t pay, they threatened to harm his children – myself and my younger sister. So he made a plan to quietly leave for Dubai, and we escaped.
We had nothing when we arrived, but Dad was able to start a small business importing computers. The first year was incredibly difficult and sometimes there was only enough money to buy food for myself and my little sister, and it would be something like one little jar of frankfurts.
After about a year, business began to pick up, and my mum, who was a violinist, found work teaching and performing. But meanwhile, the government in Azerbaijan were looking for my Dad. They would kick in my grandparents’ door in the middle of the night, looking for him, which went on for years.
We really needed a place to settle because it was very difficult to become a citizen in Dubai, and Dad found out that we could apply to Australia through the skilled migrant program. However, we needed an agent to make the application for us and it was an expensive process we couldn’t afford. Thankfully, we met an amazing man who basically said, ‘Pay me what you can, and when you migrate, pay me the rest in instalments for as long as you want.’ He had heard our story and felt compassion for us. That action saved us.
Our Australian friend, Emily, an ex-student of my Mum, offered for us to live with them for a month while we found our feet in Australia. When we arrived, we went straight from the airport to her house in Kellyville and my first impression was that Australia was this rugged land covered in forests. After the first half an hour sitting in her backyard I was already terrified because I could hear what I thought was a boy screaming in the distance, going ‘Ahhh!’. Later, I found out it was actually just a crow! But my first impression of Australia was of a terrifying place surrounded by wild animals where children were being tortured off in the distance. I wasn’t particularly happy. Thankfully, it only took a day or two of being shown around the suburbs before I felt better.
Emily was a Christian and she and other Christian families helped us find accommodation in Pennant Hills. They played a big role in getting us settled in and invited us into their homes for meals. One thing I noticed was that Australians smiled when they greeted you; in the Soviet Union, people only smiled when they tried to get something from you. So it took us a while to get accustomed to hospitality and kindness!
Dad found work in a computer cable company, and Mum continued to teach violin. And eventually a few friends, primarily from the Christian community, loaned us money to help us to purchase our first house, which was amazing. I was invited to a youth group where I made some lifelong friends, and I soon felt Australian, and that I could call Australia home.
After high school, I decided to get my teaching degree and taught for three years in Glenorie. But at the moment I am studying in a Bible college with the hope of working with mission organisations to help refugees to settle in Australia. With my wife and daughter, I’d like to give back to people who are experiencing what my family experienced.
I am very grateful for the generosity and hospitality of Australians, particularly the Christian community, who played a major part in our navigating a new life here. Without them, our lives would have been very different.
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