We moved to Australia when I was a toddler. Despite hearing the stories, once, twice, thirty times, there’s so much I don’t remember.
I don’t remember how difficult the decision to migrate was or if my parents debated over which country would grant us a visa. “Jamal, we can’t speak the language, we don’t know anyone, and is the air even that much cleaner?”
I don’t remember my mother lying awake at night, wondering what our future had to offer. “If we stay in Iran, will my children experience oppression or will they build resilience? I know my experience and all I want is for them to be stronger.”
I don’t remember my father pacing the lounge room, considering his next steps over and over. “Will my children have a stable upbringing if we’re suddenly foreigners? With foreign names, foreign food and a foreign calendar? Will we still feel connected if we don’t understand the meaning of words or their vernacular?”
I don’t remember the day we said goodbye to all our family or how the mood was excruciatingly somber. In the mid ‘90s, there wasn’t social media or free international calls for 90 minutes, not much that will shorten the distance of 6600 miles and a whole lot of water.
I don’t remember our family going to the airport or crossing a symbolic border. Sometimes we show photographs and mum’s favourite story is when I looked up at the plane and said, “Thank you, Mister Pilot, for bringing us to my father.” Like many protective parents, he decided to come to Australia earlier. He found us a home, built a small network, made sure things were settled for when we arrived in the summer.
Someone who does remember all of this is my brother. When we boarded the plane, he was almost a teenager. He left behind a life where he understood the playground rules, where he could graduate with his cousins and where he never felt like a stranger.
He remembers my parents describing our new home, why we were moving and how it might be different. “We don’t know what’s to come either but, son, it will be our next big adventure.” He remembers breathing in the Melbourne air and remembers how the trees appeared so much greener. Occasionally, someone would remind him of home, “Mum, there was a boy in my class eating tahdig with rice, do you think he could be a Middle Easterner?”
He remembers how the first five years were difficult while we found a routine and adjusted to our new chapter. For a long time it was just the four of us spending the night in, making up games and filling the house with laughter. Sometimes we’d hear from family in Iran with news of a wedding, a birthday, a newborn or general banter. Even though it’s not the same, it still felt like a spiritual reunion whenever we opened a letter.
My brother remembers the highs and lows of meeting someone new, explaining where we’re from and sensing a strange, vague pressure. “Say your last name again,” or “How can you be Persian when there’s no such place as Persia?” Ask him right now and he’ll reply, “Mate, just look it up on Wikipedia.”
As I’ve grown older I can see that there is much we can both remember.
We remember that our parents are very intelligent people because, damn, the air really is cleaner. We remember that they sacrificed so much, not for themselves, but for their son and daughter. We remember that they showed us how to get through anything, particularly uncertainty, with patience and hard work and a room full of laughter.
And all four of us remember how beautiful it felt, when after 24 years in Australia, we looked at my brother’s newborn son, and smiled at all that lay before our little Oliver.