Let the truth be told
“They told me I have to change many parts. Because many, many parts have contradiction with Islam rules and something like that. I didn’t accept that. I said, ‘I translate the book from English to Persian and nothing else.'”
This interview took place on
There’s a conference or workshop of some sort in the Pearl Room upstairs in the Darebin Intercultural Centre. Suriyan speaks to a lady among the group of women re-assembling after a break. Possibly in her early forties, Sara stands little more than five-feet tall. Her black pants and top contrast with sparkly gold fingernails and the hoops in her ears. When Suriyan introduces me she smiles warmly and agrees to tell me her story. We sit at the table in the breakout area and start right away.
Could you tell me why you left Iran, if you don’t mind?
It happened fourteen years ago. My husband lent money to one of his friends to help us to buy a house because he [the friend] had so many hands in all places. He was in a governmental organisation. He told my husband if you lend him some money, he’s able to help us to buy some house.
All the savings we had in all the years, we gave it to him. And he didn’t return back the money. For a long time, my husband started asking and asking him. He never answer him for returning back the money. We find out that he’s not going to return the money to us. My husband was trying to file this court claim [against the friend]. He told my husband that if you follow this court claim you’re going to be in trouble.
We didn’t listen to him. I encouraged my husband – follow this court claim. One night when we were going to some family house my younger son, who was eleven years old, he told me that he’s not coming because he wants to stay home doing his homework.
[Tears fill her eyes]
I listen to him [younger son]. I went to my family house. When we came back he was hanged. Eleven years old.
[Wipes away tears. Pauses.]
We knew this was his job [the friend was responsible]. We couldn’t do anything. This was the only person we were suspecting. We tried to follow the case with police but soon after we got advice [from police] that we shouldn’t do that. After a while, when my husband didn’t listen to them and followed the case, one day he called my husband and told him: ‘Follow the case by court and something more terrible is going to happen to your family.’
That was when we changed our house. I sent my older son to Netherlands. My stepmother was living over there. We changed our place. We didn’t get in touch with any family or anything else. I cut down all my relationship with friends. I started a new life, translating and working for various companies.
Before that, what were you doing?
I graduated from United States in the late 1970s, from high school…
So you lived in the US?
For five or six years, I was living with my parents, before I got married. That was many many years ago. Ages ago.
Which part of the US?
Los Angeles, California.
Was that good, did you like it?
Yes, I loved it so much, but back then I was living with my family. You know, Persian man are very restricted and my father told me, ‘I am coming back to my home country, you have to come with me.’ It was not like these days.
So I came to Iran, I married and started a family. And this is what happened to my family.
And then after the trouble you started working?
I was interpreting in Iran, for business companies, translating articles from Farsi to English and English to Farsi. I translated many articles.
And one guy from translation organisation got in touch with me and said he read my article, likes my translation and he wants me to translate a book. ‘This book should be translated as soon as possible because somehow it depends to people in a [government] Ministry.’
I said, ‘okay,’ and I translated for him very very soon. It was about one-hundred-forty some page, and he promised me that he will publish that book under my name – but he didn’t.
He had very powerful situation in the ministry. He paid me. He paid me for the translation but didn’t publish the book under my name. He published under his own name. His name is Dr [removed] and if you search his name on the Internet you will see many translated book but none of them are translated by him. All of them are translated by other people. He puts scam on them, like me.
I tried to follow the case, by rule, by government, anything. Nothing was useful. And again, I was advised, ‘If you do that you’ll be in trouble.’ This was the second time.
No use. I started continue my whole life, as ordinary as it was. I started translating and interpreting for business companies. One day from some organisation related to animation, they got in touch with me. They gave me book – very heavy book – it was seven hundred pages. I still have it. If you want it I can send it to you by email.
I translated the whole book. I gave them the book. By the time I came to speak about the translation with the people, they told me I have to change many parts. Because many many parts have contradiction with Islam rules and something like that. I didn’t accept that. I said, ‘I translate the book from English to Persian and nothing else. I didn’t add anything. This is the whole book.’ Seven hundred pages of the book should be cut down to three hundred something. I didn’t accept that. They paid me money but they told me, ‘you’re not able to publish it.’ This was the third time.
That was when I decided: this is not country I’m going to live again, this is not place I’m going to continue. I like to write freely. I’m not able. I like to live like human being, be respected for what I have in my mind. I’m not able to express something. I’m not even able to express something somebody else written. So I took the book, came out and decided to make this trip.
“All nine days I was looking in the sea and I was telling myself, ‘This is the night I’m going to die.’ In the morning time I see the sun and I tell myself, ‘Thank god, I haven’t died yet.’”
What did your husband think of it?
My husband didn’t support me that much. But by the time he find out I’m really insisting it – because this is the only life I had, this is the only life I’m able to express my own feeling, my own opinion, I’m human being, I’m not like a machine that somebody uses the way they want it – so he supported me when I come…
I got out of the country. Some people gave me some numbers of people smugglers. I didn’t get in touch with none of them because it’s too dangerous. Telephones are controlled in Iran.…I got out of the country. First I went to Malaysia.
How did you get there?
I flew there. I got a normal visa and were in Malaysia for three days. From Malaysia, I thought a little bit dangerous, straightly come from Iran to Indonesia, because many many government know why people are going to Indonesia. After the three days I went to Indonesia.
Did you come on your own? Your husband didn’t come, right?
No, he didn’t come. But a friend of mine had a son. His son came with me. I’m not his auntie but he used to call me auntie, because I was much older than him. He’s about twenty-six, twenty-seven.
Did you feel safer with him?
I felt safer. It was much better than being alone. But I was under so much stress. I forget many things. Like the dates, the places.
Right after we got from the airport, the day after, I got in touch with numbers some of my friends gave me. Two or three people who are being introduced to me as people smuggler. I chose one of them. And the time I chose he [people smuggler] told me, ‘okay, pass the phone to the driver.’ I wasn’t familiar with places in Indonesia and the driver took me to some place. It was many many apartments. He said, ‘you can go third floor or fourth floor, the door is open.’ We went there and stayed there for less than one day.
In the night-time somebody else came in the room and told that he was a people smuggler. I was so afraid. We had no choice; we had to trust him. I gave the person about four-thousand eight hundred. I was so scared I didn’t know what to do. He said, ‘stay in this room I’ll call you back.’ After two days he said, get ready.
So on the third day, it was night-time when he came over and said it was time to make the trip. He got us some aeroplane tickets and in the aeroplane we went to some other place. I forgot the name…
Java or Sumatra or one of those islands?
Let me think…I really don’t remember. It was some other city in Indonesia. He told us a van is coming to pick us up, to take us to some other hotel. There were some other people with me, I think nine people including the driver. It was around eleven o’clock in the night. The driver was not able to speak even one language in English, only Indonesian. We all very scared. Driving in the city and we don’t know where was it.
After, I think, two hours he stopped in jungle. That was the time we find out he was not going to take us to hotel. In jungle walked a long time and go to the sea. And getting the ship, we were running in the sea for almost twenty-four hours. After twenty-four hours we found that the ship is broken. We got out of the ship on some shore – we don’t know where it is. We were about sixty or seventy people.
Were they all Iranian?
Some of them from Afghanistan. And it was night-time so I didn’t have much chance to see them. And when you are under so much stress you cannot remember the faces or anything else. You only try to support yourself for being alive.
Person who was there, one of the man, helped us to find a van. It was a van for sheeps I think. We stand like this [demonstrates with elbows tucked in] and this was taken by the people who was responsible for people smuggling. This bus was taken to the hotel. We stayed in that hotel for one night. On the day after he bought us some airplane ticket again. We came back to Jakarta again.
The day after he took us from Jakarta to some place, an Indonesian name…he categorised people from being in family or single. Single were in some other places, families were in different villas. Single woman, supposed to live with families but single man, have to be living with single man in some other place. [Sara was separated from the family friend.]
After three weeks in the villas, son of my friend called and we came back to Jakarta, back to the same apartment. We stayed for one night and the night after they called us and said, ‘You’re going to have this trip again.’
The same process. There were people who were scared because it’s their first time, but I wasn’t scared. It was horrible night. Walking long time in the jungle. It was dark and about eighty-one people. Some parts in the sea – you have to run in the sea that’s until here [indicates waist]. I had put my money in some plastic and in my body. All the food I had was wet.
Did you have a bag?
Yeah, I couldn’t take so much things. It was some food. He told us before, everyone who had bag much more than the size he was thinking about, should throw it away.
We got in the ship and again it was categorising families from single people. Families were in one part, single were in the other. We were in the ocean for nine days. Nine whole days.
All nine days I was looking in the sea and I was telling myself, ‘This is the night I’m going to die.’ In the morning time, I see the sun and I tell myself, ‘Thank god, I haven’t died yet.’
At the end of nine days we were arrested by navy – Australian navy. And they told is they cannot get us in the night, because of some rules, they took family again in some navy [ship], single people, another navy.
When I arrived in the navy it was best time in my life. Because I found that I’m not going to die. I’m not going to die. And I remember when I walk on the steps, and put my steps on the navy [ship], that was the best time of my life. Right after I arrived in the navy, I fell asleep. And it was the best sleep I ever had.
“I sit down and kiss the ground. Said, ‘Thank god.’”
Where did you land?
After two days we arrived in Darwin. In the Darwin it was only me. [Sara and her friend’s son have parted ways, a later conversation revealed. She hasn’t seen him since.] I sit down and kiss the ground. Said, ‘Thank god.’
How was the camp?
It was fine. Considering about the points I’m hearing about Christmas Island – I heard many many trouble from people being experienced on Christmas Island but it [Darwin] was fine. There was some issues which were not that good, for example the food, taking care of the people…but it wasn’t that big. When compare my situation with the people who are in Christmas Island, I think mine was best.
How long were you in the camp?
For forty-five days. After forty-five days immigration people came up and said, ‘Your visa is issued, for one year you’re not allowed to work on this visa. Everywhere you go, changing your address, you have to inform immigration.’ But we didn’t care about this.
First, I was in Sydney for one month. I have some far far relatives living in Melbourne, which I found on Facebook. I didn’t know she was living in Melbourne – because long long time I didn’t have a contact. So she called me, advised me to come to Melbourne, Melbourne is a much better place for people like us. I arrived to Melbourne and it was some other process.
For two months I lived with her. I was planning to find a place of my own. It was long time process for some person who doesn’t have an idea of a country. You don’t know people, you don’t know city…but I could manage.
I think my situation much better than my friends because I could make connection with other people.
So you’ve found a house now?
Yeah, I found a house, thank god. Very good Phillipino couple I’m living with, students here. They’re studying and working at the same time.
It’s a little bit hard because I used to have a house of my own. I had permission to do whatever I want to do in my home. It’s different experience but this part of my experience is much better than when I was in the sea or in the camp. It’s much better than being dead in the sea.
Do you talk to your husband anymore?
Yes, yes, I talk to him. Once a week. I talk to my son almost once a week. He’s still in the Netherlands.
Didn’t you think of going there, instead of here?
No, because after thirteen years of living in Netherlands my son still doesn’t have a permanent visa. The other reason is that I can speak English and make connection with people. In the Netherlands, I have to stay home. I would not be useful. Here I can make connection, I can talk to people, I can improve my English. Finally, I maybe able to find a job. But in Netherlands, at my age, I have to sit in home. Which is not the reason I left everything behind.
What are you doing now?
I have two volunteer jobs. Two days a week I’m here. One day a week I work in the church. From nine to one o’clock I’m volunteering. I’m planning to be home tutor, volunteering for NMIT.
That’s great. What will you be teaching?
English, yes. Home tutoring.
A lady from the workshop or seminar happening in the Pearl Room comes over and taps Sara on the shoulder. ‘We’re starting now,’ she says. ‘I’m coming,’ says Sara and politely takes her leave.
Black Socialist, White London
“When I started watching the movie with white guys, I realised – they’re laughing at me! When they’re shooting the Native Americans, suddenly I realised I am them!”
“I just escaped. I didn’t have time to apply for student visa. I could come as a student to Australia if I wanted. But I didn’t want it. I wanted to stay and try to build a better country [in Iran] but I couldn’t.”