My hard life – an interview with Kartia Kehagias

Kartia

Kartia Kehagias

By Ajak Mabia

This is my third in the series of articles on Greek migrants in Australia looking at the lives of migrants who came before us.

Kartia Kehagias works in Sydney in a women’s refuge, and is an advocate for women in abusive relationships. She helps to convince women why they should not return to an abusive partner or husband.Kartia told me her story in an interview.

I came to Australia from Greece in 1955 with my parents when I was two years old. We were part of what is called the ‘Greek Diaspora’ here in Australia.

As migrants, my parents were given ‘assisted passage’; they were given 75 pounds to come here. We spent two months on the voyage, and I remember we passed through the Suez Canal.

We arrived in Bonegilla, a town on the border of Victoria and NSW. It was an old army base. It was very hot there, and full of flies. We had to deal with the very bad conditions, which we were not used to. We had a group kitchen and lived in a very small room. Bonegilla was an Aboriginal community area. We were in their community, but we didn’t understand them. It was our first contact with ‘black people’.

We were interned for six weeks at the army base, during which time we were provided with food. But in those six weeks, the husbands or whoever had to find work, because after six weeks there was no assistance provided. I remember my father had to leave us behind in the second week we were there, and he went to Wollongong  to look for a job in the steel works. During this time we relied on relatives and friends. We didn’t expect any assistance because we knew when we signed the papers to come to Australia, we would have to find our own means of survival. It was hard for my parents though, but accepted by the migrant children: there was nothing we could about it; we didn’t know any different.

Two weeks later my father asked us to join him, so my mum and I took a train from Bonegilla to Wollongong where  my father was living  in one room with other Greeks. In those days, when migrants had been here for a few years and they felt comfortable, they would buy a house and rent it out to others. The whole family would live in one bedroom. We had to share the kitchen and the bathroom, and we had to know what time we could cook.

As  children we were not allowed to play in a back yard because the workers slept during the day. We had to be very quiet, otherwise we could be thrown out and have nowhere to live.  As we were growing up, we didn’t enjoy ourselves much, or laugh or play with balls or toys because otherwise we would disturb the night-shift workers.

My father didn’t want to work in steel factory any more, so we moved to Sydney.  I remember my mum had to push me on a trolley to a woman who looked after children, and she left me there with a little lunch, like one piece of fruit. I used to look after myself. I used to go from house to house to be looked after. I was three years old. When I was five, my grandmother came from Greece, and she used to pick me up and take me to school.

My father was now working for the Sydney Water Board. A large part of Sydney was not yet built, so they were laying water pipes and sewerage. My mum was working in a laundry in a hospital, ironing bed sheets all day. I was happy at school but my English was poor. I loved to play with other children because I never had any toys – I was 8 years old before I had my first toy.  We were the generation that never had a childhood; we were there to help our families, our younger sisters and brothers.

Because we learned English at school we were the interpreters for our parents. Most parents were working in jam factories and the huge glass factory in Botany Bay. If they ran out of work, they had to go and line up in the factory at six o’clock in the morning. They only knew how to say, “Job please?”  That’s what they would say in English. If they were given a job, they started at 7 o’clock. If something was wrong, nobody could say anything because you’d be sacked. They didn’t have social security or Centrelink to fall back on if they lost their job.

My parents eventually bought a small house and they had to rent one room. I had to share a bedroom with them.

One day, my father sold that house and we moved 40 kilometres out from Sydney. My father didn’t want me to become accustomed to the Australian way of life. We had neighbours who were into fashion, they had old style cars and they played rock and roll music, so my father was worried I might melt in to Australian culture, or those who played that music might influence me. So my mother had to leave at 6 am to travel to her work.

When my grandmother died and my younger sister was born, I had to be the mother and look after my sister. There was no staying home and looking after the children; everybody had to work to survive. My mother arrived home at 8 oclock at night from work. We were always told that we were very lucky to be brought to this lucky country. My parents were loyal to this country.  If my mother heard the Australian National Anthem, she stood up.  But my father wanted us to maintain the Greek culture and have nothing to do with Australia culture.

[Kartia broke down in tears when she talked about her painful childhood, how she felt so traumatised.]

But you had to do it because you had no choice.  I cooked for the family and studied and maintained the house and looked after my sister until I was 21. Then my father decided to marry me off.

In those days, if you were not married early, nobody wanted you, so my father organised an arranged marriage. I was a very pretty girl and outgoing regardless of what I had endured during my childhood. So I got married to this man and had two children by the time I was 24. It was then he wanted us to go back to Greece to look after his older parents. I went to my father and told him, ‘I don’t want to go back to Greece because I don’t even speak the language’, but my father wouldn’t support me and my mother couldn’t support me either because my father would bash her if she did.

So here I was alone with nowhere to turn and I had to go with him back to the place my parents didn’t want to live in. My father didn’t want to deal with the shame. So he forced me to go back and I went to Greece with my two children at age 24.  I stayed there for eight years.

Because my husband was self-employed, he could take time off when he wanted to. So we used to go to the village, and here there was no running water, no toilet, no electricity, no shower. There was some kind of toilet out the back yard of the house so when you went to the toilet, you had to carry the water with a bucket. Here was I, an Aussie girl growing up in Sydney and I ended up in this village, doing what I did when I was a child, looking after his old parents, cooking for them, cleaning up after them, getting them water.

On top of that I had to look after his mother’s animals. She had goats, emus and donkeys. I was back to the primitive life that I lived when my family first arrived in Australia and I had worked so hard to get a better life. That’s what my father forced me back to. It was a primitive village and I had to do all sorts of primitive things.

Then his father died, and his mother got cancer two years later, so I had to look after her. When she died, I had to prepare the body: bathe her and dress her for burial. They open up the casket so when everybody comes to the funeral, they can see the body.

When I think back now to that time, I can’t think of any Australian girl who would do that at 28. Forcing me back to live in Greece was so confronting. I was a ‘showoff’ wife –  I looked so different from other Greek girls.

After all of this, my mother sent my husband a letter saying that I needed to come back to Australia. “You took her away so she leaves me back in Australia, and I want to see my grandchildren”.  A socialist government came to power in Greece, so he couldn’t make any money and he had to think about our three girls when they got married. They had to have money and men to marry, and as he couldn’t afford it, we had to move back to Australia.

Nine months after we were returned to Australia, my mother died, at age 63, because she had worked so hard and was abused by my father, so her body created the disease to get out of the situation. I had no support when we came back, only a suitcase. My father didn’t want me to stay with him in the house because I was an ‘unsuccessful daughter’. My father was more supportive of the man, my husband, than his own daughter who lost her youth to look after the family while they were all at work.

With all the support, my husband found his footing again, so we moved to our first home and I got pregnant again with a fourth child. He was very angry because he had to work so hard to buy the house. Before we left for Greece, he had houses but he sold them all because someone in the community told him to sell all his properties so he doesn’t have to come back. They said, ‘If you have house back in Australia, you always want to come back’.

A few days before my mother died, she called me to come and sit beside her bed and asked me to promise her that I would do in my life what was right for me. I said, ‘When did you realise that?’ She said, ‘When both my feet are in the grave’, and at lunch time, she died. It was her way of telling me to leave my husband.

It took me another ten years to leave him. The final straw was when he and my daughter bashed me up because my older daughter wanted to leave home, she told her father that I was the reason she wanted to leave home. She used me as her scapegoat. In those days, it was okay to be abused by a man, but not the child who you gave birth to. I cried for five years saying, ‘This child who I brought into this world raised her hand against me’. Her father threatened me and told me if I left him, he would slash me.

So I found a house about a kilometre away. I rented it with money I hid from him and went to Centrelink, and I paid the rent for nine months before we moved in with my three children. I had to plan it out, and I educated myself by going to college to study natural therapy. When I got all my papers from college, I knew that I could create a life for myself and my children.

The morning before we left, I told my three children that there was a truck coming to take us somewhere else to live. ‘Do you want to come with me?’ I gave them a choice. They said,’We’re coming with mum’. So at 7: 30 in the morning, I prayed, ‘My dear Lord, please take him to work, please God, let him go before 8 o’clock’. He was a builder so he could come and go as he pleased. That morning I was scared to death. So all I could do was pray. Eventually he went to work. The interesting part was that the truck was from a company called ‘Angels Removalists’. I think it was God who sent it to me. I told the truck driver he had one hour to move us. I had to move all the furniture. I included all his beer loaded in the fridge so he couldn’t even drown his sorrow in his beer. I knew I wouldn’t get any money for the children from him.  He was making millions of dollars, and he started hiding all his money and paper work, hiding them in his office and he started to send money to a separate bank account. He knew that I had had enough.

The minute my father found out that I had left home, he shut his door on me. That was the 7th, March 1997.

Women should be aware of their financial situation, where the money is going.  Women should save their own money, even keeping $10 from the grocery money every week is enough to make sure you have a little money for an emergency. As a woman you never know, so always keep it in time of need.

Reflections on Collingwood: interview with Anthea Sidiropoulos

By Ajak Mabia

This is my second article in this series looking at the lives of other migrants who came before us.

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Anthea Sidiropoulos

Anthea has tasted and seen it all; the bitterness, the sweetness, the poor and the rich. She knows what it was like to grow up in Collingwood in the 1960s and 1970s. If new migrants think they are doing it tough now, they need to find out about the lives of previous migrants who lived in Australia in 50s and 60s.

Anthea is a singer-song writer and community leader, who has enjoyed a music career spanning over 15 years as an indie-artist.

Anthea’s father was the first non-Australian born person who went into Parliament after serving in local government as a Collingwood councillor. Her mother was a hairdresser (see Interview with Pipo).

Living in Collingwood meant Anthea had to deal with the complex and contradictory environment of a multiethnic society. “It’s not easy being a teenager and trying to find your spot in society, let alone being picked on by peers because you look different”.

“I was a rebel as a child”, she says, “but I just wanted to be a normal Aussie girl”.  She changed her name from Anthea to Julie, and wanted to be blonde.

As a singer, her influences were Australian music, American blues, American rock, and Greek music. “I listened to pop music, such as the Beatles, Aretha Franklin and the early Tina Turner. My influences were from American music in the 1960s, particularly the civil rights movement singers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Soul music for me was very positive and non discriminatory. All the lyrics were about peace, love and brotherhood, always having a good time and living together harmoniously as a community”.

Her experiences as a child seeing aboriginals in Collingwood and Fitzroy were formative.

“There were pubs on every corner on Gertrude Street. I was 10 years old and my father was concerned with Aboriginal issues. He had no idea how to deal with it. There were many Aboriginal people living there, but they were not really present – they were only in pockets in Gertrude Street, and they always lay on lawn and there was beer everywhere. I was not allowed to go there because of the alcohol. We had a shop there and indigenous people always came to our shop and my parents were very helpful to them, on a basic level”.

Anthea has a theory about the way aboriginal people are treated: “The Australian Government wants to sabotage the indigenous race so if they are on alcohol they will be disempowered, they will not be educated, they will lose their identity and language, and therefore you have zombie community”.

Anthea remembers as a young girl she had many questions about the Collingwood community she lived in.

“We lived in a mono-culture, but I grew up bi-cultural. I had my school life which was English but my home life was Greek.  I had to juggle the two.  At the same time I was exposed to the horrible ways some people treated human beings; firstly because of their colour and secondly, because they were poor. It wasn’t just black people, it was poor white people too”.

“There was a little girl I used to go to school with, and her parents were so poor, she lived in a shelter. I visited her house one day and her wall was made of paper. I remember asking my father, ‘how come we have our walls solid with no holes and I just came from my friend’s house and her wall is made of paper and there are holes in it?’ ”

Collingwood was originally an industrial city. “If you at look Collingwood’s original houses, they were very tiny and were built to accommodate the workers. They used to chuck them in there, where they ate and slept. The Yarra River was lined with factories and the workers used to pump water from the river to make the machinery work. It was terribly dirty; it looked like a hurricane on the Yarra River. That’s all changed now. When the human rights and socialist movement arose, they demanded the Council address these issues. They didn’t care whether you were black or white or yellow – they just wanted the fair treatment of the worker and environment for all the residents in Collingwood. They were committed to working towards a better life in the area for every resident, rather than getting themselves into a political career. That’s why my father got in to the Council”.

“An elderly man called George, who was in Council, wanted my father in Council. But nobody else wanted him. They wanted an Australian-born person. My father was officially Australian, but he wasn’t Australian enough to be considered a Council position. He could speak English, but with an accent and with his looks, it was obstacle. This was in 1963.  It took George five years to convince the Council to consider him”.

“My father’s position in Council made him very popular in the Greek community. He became skilful and he knew how to address the community issues and help the community with their bills and so on. It was a struggle and a tough time, and it was very exciting because there were social changes, which had never happened before”.

“It’s easy sitting back now and telling the story as 52 year old, but at the time, I don’t think they had any idea how much impact they made in Collingwood’s community. My father was responsible for Collingwood, Fitzroy, Clifton Hill, North Richmond, and Abbotsford. There were so many different nationalities living there, but the majority were Greeks”.

“The household was very busy. There were meetings every night. Mum was always cooking, with me on the sink from a very earlier age, washing dishes. I witnessed a lot of frustration. I didn’t completely comprehend what the frustrations were at the time. I understand it now, as a older person. There were mixed feelings at same time among the residents: sadness and positives. Then the Vietnamese refugees arrived and that was another interesting story. Again different; there were so many frustrations but positive outcomes”.

“Coming from first migrant parents who worked 7 days and 7 nights a week because they couldn’t find a decent job, working hard so their children could have a better education. It was the last thing they wanted to hear that one of their children wanted to become an artist or musician. When I was 16, I applied to the Alliance Music Competition and won a scholarship for a whole year of singing lessons. I went home very happy, but my mother said, ‘No I didn’t have you to become a theatre singer’. I was very upset. The next day I turned up with a saxophone and drove my mom crazy, as revenge. I was in a school play and my teacher tried to convince my mom, but she still said ‘No’. I pursued my music career and went on to sing in cover band, singing Aretha Franklin songs”.

“I did all this to be accepted. I didn’t want to be a Greek at all. I had my cares at school because I am dark, even though I changed my name my when I was 6 years old and wanted to be blond. But I couldn’t change my colour. And it breaks my heart to see these issues are still exist and continuing to”.

Anthea said somethings have changed for better compared to 60s and 70s. “It is great time to be alive. But there are challenges ahead of us that need to be solved in the 21 Century. When is segregation going to end? When is gap between poor and rich going to close? When are human rights abuses going to end? How far is a piece of string?”

“We just have to get on with life, and regardless of what I’ve said, I am very optimistic and sceptical at the same time”.

Talking about early Greek migration with Pipo Sidiropoulos

By Ajak Mabia

Many migrants or refugees who come to Australia have their challenges to settle in.  But it is hard to compare who had it tougher: the ones who arrived in 50s, 60s and 70s or the more recent arrivals. No doubt the older migrants cleaned the back yard for us.

It’s important for new migrants to understand how tough it was for those who came before them and how they overcame their settlement issues: we can learn from them. One knows that it’s always struggle, but in long run, new arrivals will follow the same steps as those before them.

The Australian Government’s post-war migration policies aimed to increase the size of Australia’s population, and especially to provide unskilled workers for its burgeoning manufacturing industries. In 1952 the Australian-Greece Assisted Passages agreement providing a financial incentive for Greeks to leave their unstable, impoverished homeland, and make their way to Australia.

Many from rural areas migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of the turmoil of WWII and the chaos of civil war, very few in this generation of migrants had post-secondary qualifications. Consequently, in many cases, immigrants were illiterate or poorly educated.

By 1961, the number of migrants born in Greece and now residing in Australia reached 77,333. Between 1961 and 1966, 140,000 Greeks immigrated to Australia. Aged in their 20s in the main, they were soon employed in inner Melbourne factories either through family contacts, friends, or through job allocation processes at the Bonegilla migrant centre.

Many Greek migrants worked on assembly lines at Ford and GMH, in breweries and tanneries, in food processing factories like Rosella,  Arnotts, and in sewing machines, textile and footwear factories like Kayser and Pelaco. Many took second jobs cleaning office buildings in the CBD. A smaller number of people went to live in rural and regional Victoria where they worked on farms or in smaller industries and businesses. By 1971 there were 160,200 Greece-born immigrants in Australia. Forty-seven per cent lived in Melbourne.

* * * * * *

Pipo Sidiropoulos came to Australia when she was 24 years old.

She owned small hair dressing salon back in Greece. She met her husband there when she was 16 years old. They had a secret relationship for five years. They were not allowed to marry because her parents were poor and couldn’t afford to pay the dowry, besides she was Orthodox and he was Protestant.

So, his father told him, if you want to marry her you will have to go to a very far away land.

Australia was great option for him. He came to Australia first and in 1954 he sponsored Pipo. One year later she arrived and stayed with another Greek family for two months. They were married in December 1955.

Pipo is sitting at her home in Kew when I asked her how she met her husband. She explained, with tears in her eyes, how romantic it was. She stood up and looked adoringly at a picture of him hanging on the wall. With a handkerchief she cleaned the frame and said, “my darling husband waits for me”. The way she said it was like a Romeo and Juliet love story.

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Pipo Sidiropoulos in her living room

“He was very handsome”, she said. “Darling, wait for me”, she whispered again. “He was the reason I came to Australia. How cruel it was not to allow us to marry and stay in Greece” she said. She was looking after her parents and four brothers and sisters while they were at school using the money from her hair business. “But we were in love and we couldn’t share that with our families”.

“Many hearts were broken when I left Greece. But Australia has been very good to me”, Pipo said.

She said coming to Australia was the best thing that ever happened to her. “Australian people are beautiful, and I had nice neighbours. But when I started working in battery factory, I had no English. When the boss told me what to do, I didn’t understand what he was saying. All I could do is cry and cry. Whenever I was very upset, I cried. I cried so much then”.

“But I was so lucky to marry the man I met in Greece, because many Greek migrants married by photo; families chose girls and sent over their photos”.

She was the first Greek-speaking hair dresser in Australia, and she was earning enough money to live because all the Greek brides came to her.

She had no family here. “My neighbours were my family. You have to create your own family. If you smile at people, they will smile back at you. If you don’t give love, there is no love”.

I asked her whether she was treated differently because she was Greek. She responded: “One day I was in the salon and a person yelled, “Come here, you bloody wog”. And I said, ‘I am not wog, I am Australian'”.

Pipo said, “We all come from somewhere. Your mom might have come from England; whoever comes here comes from somewhere. I came from Greece”.

“This is my story. If you want to live happily, you need to have short memories and a thick skin”.

Gazelles: gentle, speedy teasers

We have recently adopted the name ‘The Gazelle’ for this blog.  But how many people know about the variety of gazelles in Africa and how they they behave?  Our resident gazelle expert, Thokgor Reech reports:

I watched gazelles when I was young boy living in a small village Makuach in South Sudan. Gazelles were very common in Makuach, but in 1990, the number of gazelles was greatly reduced because of the many gunmen in area during the Sudanese civil war.

Gazelles are very gentle, speedy, high jumpers.  Gazelles tease and insult other animals and people; they wait until you come near and then begin their gentle jump.

Gazelles are found in many places in Africa including Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa. The larger herds of gazelles are found in open, grassy plains, living together as individual males and females or in herds up to twenty in number.

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Gazelles are grass animals; scrub and leaves keep them continually grazing and they have little need for water, as they are able to extract moisture from their food.

The gazelles vary their diet according to season. They eat herbs, foliage from shrubs, short grasses and shoots. Grant’s Gazelles obtain the moisture they need from their food and have unusually large salivary glands, possibly an adaptation for secreting fluid to cope with a relatively dry diet. They typically remain in the open during the heat of the day, suggesting they possess an efficient system to retain the necessary fluid in their bodies.

The gazelles are a main food source for all of the major predators in Africa, including man. The coloration and the open savannahs in which they live make them rather easy to spot. The gazelle’s horns are no protection against attack and they must rely upon nimbleness, speed and their impressive leading ability to avoid becoming a meal.

Even with all the predation, the Thomson’s gazelle and Grant’s gazelle prosper with impressive numbers. The Grant’s gazelle inhabits a wider range of territory in Africa while the Thomson’s gazelle has a larger population. Both species share grazing ground and the herds frequently interact. Even so, to tell them apart is fairly simple.

Stotting

The Sand Gazelle is not a leaper but instead escapes predators with unbelievable rushes of speed, sometimes reaching 60 kilometre per hour. Stotting is a specific step used by gazelles when being chased by predators. It includes a high, stiff-legged jump that actually slows the gazelle down, increasing their risk of being caught. It may act as a boast of the gazelle’s great fitness. Whatever the reason, it seems to work as most cheetahs will break off a hunt when a gazelle stots.<
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Physical characteristics

Grant’s gazelles resemble Thomson’s gazelles but are remarkably larger and easily distinguished by the broad white patch on the rump that extends upward onto the back. The white patch on the Thomson’s gazelle stops at the tail. Some varieties of Grant’s have a black line on each side of the body like the Thomson’s. In others, the line is very light or absent. A black line runs down the thigh. Grant’s gazelle’s lyre-shaped horns are firm at the base, clearly ringed and measuring 18 to 32 inches long. On the females’ black skin surrounds the teats with white hair on the underside. This probably helps the young recognise the source of milk. When a fawn is older and moving about with its mother, the dark line on the white background may serve as a signal for it to follow.

The Thomson’s gazelle or Tommie, is smaller and has a remarkable black band, stretching from shoulder to hip, bisecting their tan and white colouring. Tommies are exceptionally alert and rely heavily upon their impressive sense of hearing, sight and smell to detect any threat.

Some gazelles, especially those that live in desert regions, are critically endangered. The Sand Gazelles, Cuvier’s Gazelle and Dama Gazelle have seen their population radically decline in the last few decades. Drought, habitat destruction and poaching are all to blame. Laws and regulations have been passed to protect these species, but they are rarely enforced so these gazelles continue to reduce in number.

Breeding

Grant’s gazelles live in standard male-led herds. In more closed habitats, the herds tend to be smaller and more sexually-segregated. Male gazelles have developed several ritualised postures to determine dominance.  Younger males will fight, but as they grow older, the ritualised displays often take the place of fights. If neither competitor is intimidated, they may confront one another and clash horns trying to throw the other off-balance.

Most gazelles give birth to one fawn but it is not unusual for the Cuvier’s Gazelle to have twins. The Damn Gazelle is the leading of the species, weighing about 190lbs and standing about 42” high at the shoulder.

Breeding is seasonal but not firmly fixed. Gestation is approximately 7 months and the young are born in areas that provide some cover. The newborn fawn is carefully cleaned by the mother who eats the afterbirth. Once the fawn can stand up and has been suckled, it seeks a suitable hiding place. The mother watches carefully and evidently memorises the position before moving away to graze. Females return to the fawn three to four times during the day to suckle it and clean the area. The lying-out period is quite long –  two weeks or more.

The fawn eats its first solid food at about 1 month but is nursed for 6 months. Grant’s gazelles become sexually-mature at about 18 months. By that time the young males will have joined an all-male bachelor herd, but it will be some time before they become territory holders, if at all. Males from the bachelor herds challenge the territorial males, but only the strongest win territories, which they mark with combined deposits of dung and urine.

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Professional Pronker

Characterised by their long slender legs, gazelles when nervous or excited, will exhibit a behaviour called “pronking”, a method of locomotion where the animal jumps vertically into the clear. Some theories suggest that by making themselves more noticeable, they are signalling to predators that they are aware of the danger, or they may be showing off their fitness and strength to intimidate animals on the prowl for a meal.

Information sourced for this article has come from the National Geographic.

Abdul, are you Muslim or Communist?

By: Abdulkhalig Alhassan

My full name is Abdulkhalig, but in Australia a big chunk of it has been chopped out to become Abdul. However, the literal interpretation of my name in Arab-Islamic culture is ‘the servant of God’. The classic commentaries and interpretations of Koran say Allah has 99 names. Therefore, there are 99 names starting with Abdul, but they all have the same literal meaning; ‘the servant of God’. Unlike Christians, who prefer to be sons of the God, the Muslims, for some reason, like to show full submission to Allah, that’s why they have chosen Abdul servant and submit it to the rest of Allah’s names.

Despite these basic facts about the origin of my name, however, the stunning fact is, that I was named after the founder and leader of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), Abdulkhalig Mahjoub. Abdulkhalig is a prominent figure in Sudan’s political history. The 1960s and early 70s are considered the peak of both his influence as a charismatic leader and the party’s ideology. Hundreds of thousands of new-born in this period were named after him and his comrade Al-Shafie Ahmed Alsheikh, a leader of the Railways’ trade union. My little town ‘Atbara’ is also considered to be the stronghold of the communist ideology.

Abdulkhalig and Alshafie were executed after a failed military coup backed by the communist party in July 1971. His murder and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 were a big blow to the party and its influence. However, the legacy of Abdulkhalig is still there. He was subjected to an unfair military trial and they sentenced him to death. His last words; ‘A bit of awareness’, when he was asked by the judge; “What did you do to the Sudanese people?” still echo and inspire generations upon generations in the North of Sudan.

However the cost of being named after him in a traditional and conservative society is definitely high. To some degree, the party’s ideology has succeeded in co-existing with the Islamic values of the North-Sudanese society. Nevertheless, some sort of hostility still exists. It could take the form of jokes, sarcasm or even loathing. The jokes usually come from those who are close to you. Like someone, for example, chanting your name in a rhyme; Abdulkhalig adu alkhalig (Abdulkhalig the enemy of God)! Or when you swear by God to someone to confirm that you will tell the truth. He will immediately say; but you don’t even know the God, let alone believe in Him. The religious ones, mostly, show their pettiness  by saying you are an ‘infidel’ and you have been misled by anti-Islam propaganda.

In my situation, the stereotyping was overwhelming. This has much to do with my secular attitude as well as my belonging to Atbara, the city which is considered to be the stronghold of the ideology. Ironically, I  have never been a communist, despite the fact that my father is one, and that’s why he named me after the godfather of the party. However, through all of my life, not one of those who came across and threw their jokes and sarcasms around stopped for a second to ask if I am a communist or not. I was left with no choice than to accept it as a de facto truth  and live with it. Fortunately, I haven’t been bothered by such labelling as I never have had any tendencies towards any religious beliefs.

Coming to Australia the stereotyping has gone in the opposite direction. Overtly, the name has regained its authentic connotation. By this I mean the religious meaning. Wherever I go and say my name, an instant question pops up; Hi Abdul, you are Muslim, aren’t you? I always feel taken back by such a question. There are many reasons for that. Firstly, the scepticism that surrounded my name through my early life has denied me the right to be a ‘Muslim’ at least from the perspective of the society in which I grew up. . Secondly, the entrenched secular traditions in my town have made it difficult to think of religion as a way of redemption let alone make me  a religious person.  Therefore, I always feel I don’t have a clear cut answer to such a question. All I know is that I have never been in a struggle with myself  over whether Allah existed or not, nor I am in need of adopting  an Islamic identity. However, the question is always striking and confusing although it has became very expected. The answer has never been easy or normal. Till this moment, it takes me some time to get the ‘right’ answer. This usually comes with mumbling and confusion.

As you see, it is all about stereotyping. Labelling people and putting them in small boxes has become a norm in this era. Yet, people who have been subjected to stereotyping are left with no choice than to fight back. It could be an exhaustive task, but it might be interesting and a rich experience too.