It’s not always as straight forward as 1: graduate, 2: survive an internship and 3: land the full-time job you’ve always wanted. Nayran Tabiei grew up in Damascus, Syria, where she lived until she was 22. A worldly young woman, she travelled regularly to support her immediate family spread across the globe (United States, Thailand, Dubai, Sweden, and China). ‘I was the youngest and I would often go to my older sisters to help them through their pregnancies and things,’ she dutifully explains.
At 23 on one such caregiving stint, Nayran met Majid, who was working in the IT industry in Dubai, and the pair later wed. They lived in Iran raising their four young children, before relocating to Syria in 2006. There, Nayran was happy running her coffee shop and booming baklava delivery business, when the Syria Crisis began. After the bombing of her home and business in 2011, she fled with her family to seek safety in Beirut, Lebanon. ‘I don’t mention much about what happened in Syria, because the media tend to “bold” and focus on that. But that’s not all my story,’ says Nayran. ‘I like to focus on the journey since then… my life here. I want it to be happy and I don’t want to make trouble for myself.’
Majid flew from Lebanon to Dubai and Qatar hoping to secure longer-term stay visas, work and schooling for their children. but it was to no avail. Nayran decided it best to then send her three teenage sons to Iran to live with their paternal grandmother, while she and her young daughter travelled to her brother in Thailand, Majid later joining. The family was unable to stay and moved on to Bali, Indonesia, with the financial support of Nayran’s family. After months of hopping from country to country in grave uncertainty, they were down to the last five days of their legal stay in Indonesia.
Nayran confided in a local Syrian restaurant owner, who explained it would be near-impossible for the family to establish themselves in Bali, and advised travelling to Jakarta to have their status changed and visas extended by the United Nations. ‘In the end, they did not accept us,’ explains Nayran. ‘If you could have seen our faces when we came out – we were crying, we had no idea what to do, and were honestly thinking, what will happen with us?’
In the moments of despair that followed, the family was approached by a smuggler, who reassured them in comfortingly fluent Persian and Arabic. He promised passage to Australia. ‘My brain just knew, ok, I am going,’ tells Nayran. ‘As he was talking, I imagined the sea and the sharks ahead, but then everything that was behind us. My husband was pulling me saying, “Don’t do it. What are you doing?” But I knew, yes I’m going, I will even swim!’
After 27 days of moving from place to place by night, hiding from police, trekking through dense jungle and boarding boat after boat, the family made the crossing. The small fishing vessel on which they were aboard with more than 65 others reached Australian waters, and they were taken to Christmas Island on October, 18th, 2012.
‘When I arrived, for me, it was heaven. Some people talk of the wire, officers, guns, but I didn’t see any of that. I just saw heaven because they gave us shelter and food,’ remembers Nayran. ‘When I see the Australian flag now, as I first saw it then, my heart jumps, because I now feel myself to be Australian.’
The family spent three-and-a-half months there in detention, before another month in Adelaide, three months in Port Augusta, followed by three month’s curfewed community detention in Melbourne. Nayran now laughs, as she looks back on their Syria style-attempt of walking door-to-door on Ballarat Road, Sunshine, with all the money they had left, asking to rent a house. The trio have since settled in Braybrook, where Nayran has become an invaluable member of the community. Her contributions to the area, and Melbourne more widely, are nothing short of astounding… she’s also been a Salvation Army volunteer for four years straight!
Since late last year, Nayran has also dedicated herself to her role as a Cooking Instructor at Free to Feed – it is this casual position, and social enterprise, that we spotlight today for an incredible Dream Job story.
Amelia and I were fortunate to join Nayran, Free to Feed co-founder Loretta Bolotin, volunteer assistant Daniella, and course participants for Nayran’s Syrian Breakfast class last month. In between spoonfuls of the best muhammara ever tasted, and bouts of her contagious laughter, Nayran shared the next chapter in her story.