So, here you are, too foreign for home, too foreign for here. Never enough for both.
“I read this thing called Diaspora Blues* and I thought that is so me. It is really how I would describe my life here. I think my mentality and my upbringing is very Australian. But sometimes when I am here I don’t feel very Australian, I feel like there is always a piece of me still over there”.
A life characterised by frequent international and local movement, Maya was born in Sibenik, in the Dalmatia region of South Croatia. Daughter to a Croatian mother and Serbian father, Sibenik was home to Maya’s family until war broke out when she was only seven years of age. Maya’s father lost his job almost immediately, and unable to find work in Croatia, he took Maya and her brother to Bosnia, with a plan for his wife to shortly follow. However, the borders closed rendering the family separated for 9 months with Maya’s parents communicating via secret, metaphorical code in handwritten letters. By the time the family was fully reunited, Bosnia had become too dangerous and they fled to Serbia. For the next couple of years, a refugee camp in Belgrade, Serbia became their home.
“For a child, it was so much fun. It was an old army barracks. The place was full of families. So many kids my age. Every family had a 3 x 3 metre room. We all got along, went to school together, played together. We all had our first crushes together. A lot of those people emigrated all over the world from that camp. I still keep in touch with them and we are still so close”. Although their lives were stable in Serbia, their future was still uncertain. Maya’s parents applied for refugee status in Europe, USA and Canada and Australia was the only country that accepted their application. “For all the negative things I think there have been so many positive things as well. I think my parents made such a huge sacrifice because they ended up getting jobs in Belgrade, and when they got the Visa for Australia, it was such a hard decision then – should we go?”
On the 21st of April 1997, Maya’s family arrived in Australia under a United Nations Humanitarian Program. “It was such a surreal experience. We had these three nuns waiting for us with flowers at the airport and with a Bosnian family who acted as interpreters. They took us to an apartment in Campsie where we stayed for a week before we found another place”. Due to their frequent movement between cities and countries, Maya and her brother had attended eleven different schools before coming to Australia. The children were familiar with many foreign languages but had not yet learnt English. Communicating was initially challenging, however Maya, complimented what English she learnt in school with the available Australian pop culture. “The nuns had given us this little black and white television. Every day after school I would watch Neighbours on that little TV. That is how I learnt English”.
Currently working in community services, Maya radiates gratitude and empathy. “I think I can relate to people much more because I have gone through certain things. Although now permanently based in Sydney, Maya remains connected to the Balkans, travelling there as frequently as possible. Accustomed to adaptation, Maya seeks and welcomes change; movement is in her blood; “Whenever I have annual leave I will go off somewhere. I will always keep moving. It is part of who I am”.
*Diaspora Blues is written by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
My mother’s Pasticada
(Pot-roasted beef with red wine, prunes and pancetta)
1.5kg Chopped onions
1.5-2kg Scotch Fillet or Rump Steak
500g Dried prunes
400g Smoked pancetta chopped in small pieces
1 Teaspoon vegetable salt
400g Passata (tomato juice)
2 Sprigs of Rosemary
2 Bay leaves
3 Garlic cloves minced
3 Grated carrots
Dry red wine to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
The night before preparation; hollow small incisions in the meat and fill them with pieces of chopped pancetta. Place in a container with a deep layer of white vinegar. Place in the fridge overnight.
Lightly fry the remaining pancetta in a large pan, before adding the meat.
Once the meat is sealed, remove and set aside. Brown the onions with the pancetta.
Add the garlic, prunes and carrots. Stir thoroughly before adding a cup of dry red wine.
Add the vegetable salt, salt, pepper, rosemary, passata and bay leaves to the pan, and allow to simmer until fragrant.
Slice the sealed meat into thick slices (1-2cm) and place in an oven proof pot, adding the sauce between layers.
Cover with the remaining sauce and place in the oven to slow cook for 1.5/2 hours or until cooked at 150’c.
This is the eighth post in a special series dedicated to my collaboration with Settlement Services International in the lead up to their annual New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival during Refugee Week 2017. A big, warm thank you to the SSI staff and volunteers who have assisted in the project collaboration so far.