21st Century “Kunta Kinte”! Chapter 8: Life Goes on…

21st Century “Kunta Kinte”! Chapter 8: Life Goes on…

21st Century “Kunta Kinte”!
Introduction: Revealing the “untold”! | Chapter 1: The realisation! | Chapter 2 : The beginning! | Chapter 3: The dream! | Chapter 4: The flash Back (part one) | Chapter 5: The flash back! (part two) | Chapter 6: Back to reality! | Chapter 7: Turning point!

Chapter 8: Life Goes on…

I think after eight months of continuous preaching on the ‘hidden international conspiracy’ to attract skilled migrants to the developed world, it is worth asking the question to myself:

Is it really ‘happening’? Is it contributing to enhance the skill base of the developed world by attracting and ‘retaining’ scholars from the developing world?
Is there a ‘brutal’ policy hidden under the glossy cover of ‘Immigration Policy’?
Is it just my mind set from a very own and personal experience?

Recently, after watching the second season of one of the best television reality show on SBS, Go Back to your Country Where You Came From, gave me more confidence to ‘preach’ in the same line.

Can you believe that with all positive willingness, policies and programs in place, the Australian Government accepted around 190 people from Somalia in 2010-11 out of a total of 13,799 intakes under the Humanitarian Program grants.

By contrast, the skill stream outcome of 113,725 places accounted for 67 per cent of the total migration program in 2010 –11. The planning level for the skill stream of the 2012-13 migration program is129,250 places which also represents 68 per cent of the total migration program.

As we all know, Australia’s Immigration program has two components:
• Migration Program for skilled and family migrants
• Humanitarian Program for refugees and others in refugee-like situations.

I seriously question these ‘intake’ policies from a humanitarian perspective!

Can’t we reverse the intake order?

It will still be the same number of people coming to our country. Just under a different category without enhancing skilled migrants intake ‘in bulk’ to satisfy our ‘greed’ for ‘knowledge slaves’!

Can’t we support more disadvantaged international communities rather than attracting migrants immediately able to contribute to our economy with the knowledge they have acquired overseas?

I acknowledge the need for such skilled migration as well but can’t we balance it out based on the needs from the ‘world community’ rather than the need for their ‘talent’ to developed countries!

Recently at a Eid ‘dawat’ in Canberra, I had an excellent philosophical view about the issue of ‘retention of migrants’ from one of my very respected elder sister and obviously a reader of this series.

She raised a valid point on the differences of people going overseas for longer period of time between now and 30/40 years ago. She pointed out that in the 1960s-70s people still went to overseas to do study, job, travel and so on. But the biggest difference between then and now is people who were ‘literate’ came back to their home countries while people who were not skilled stayed in that foreign country for a much better life.

By contrast, probability of people staying ‘for good’ in a developed country is mainly the skilled ones, those who are highly qualified and happy to spend majority of their life in that country.

The question was what philosophical changes took place between then and now resulting such behavioural change among prospective migrants?

Back to my experience in the Heart of the Nation – Canberra.

I really didn’t know what was waiting for me in Canberra to reconfirm my belief towards ‘migrant slavery’! I really had to ‘discover’ few people’s attitude towards migrant workers. As if, we were their personal asset!

Yes, this is November 1998 and we are in Canberra. We left Melbourne for good. Melbourne is by now, nothing but memories for a first generation migrant from Dhaka Bangladesh.

Does it really matter to a migrant, which city they live in a foreign country? Which culture is around them? What sort of people they have to live with? What type of friends they have in a new town?

I strongly believe, you need to seriously think about your friends if you are moving to a new city. We were very lucky!

We are in our apartment in Kingston at least for next four weeks, provided by the ACT Government as my employer. We are in a very ‘depressed’ mood. Still trying to rationalise our move from Melbourne to Canberra!

It was the moment of truth, when I opened the door and saw our friends there, not only to welcome us but to share some of our pain. Yes, it was the smiling faces of Khuku vabi and Ehsan vai, standing outside the door with home cooked meal for us in their hands to feed us in an unknown ‘Territory’.

They were the FIRST guests in our Canberra ‘home’. We still value their friendship and respect their thoughts at that time. I still remember, Khuku vabi was comforting Nigar and she could not resist tears from her own eyes. But it was a very good session with lots of discussion about life, children, migration and our time in Bangkok. I don’t remember, what time they left but all I knew, it was very late and I was feeling very refreshed after their visit!

Next day, I went to work. I took the bus number 35 from Knigston (in 1998) to the City. Our car wasn’t still delivered by the removalists, we were car less!

I have to say, at that point of time, I was really proud to have a job with the ACT Chief Minister’s Department to work on regional strategy as a SOG C. I did not have any clue what SOG C meant at that time! But, the ‘weight’ I was carrying with me was ‘very heavy’ in my mind because I was ‘hired’ from a different state, as if there was no one equivalent to me in Canberra!

The salary was very attractive (around $55,000 per year plus superannuation) with all expenses that I had for the transfer from Melbourne to Canberra. With a prospect of additional income by renting our house in Melbourne, we were happy with the decision.

I met with my boss, Mr Peter Brady, team member Mr Gopal Rathuria (an Indian-Australian) and few other people in the office.

It was a strange feeling!

Everyone was a bit ‘fishy’ about my decision to take the job by accepting such a big move! Within three days of my commencement, I was surprised to know that I have to go through a three months ‘provision period’ before I get confirmation of my permanent work. This was news to me!

Obviously, I understand today that this is a normal procedure but at that moment it was something that I could not share with anyone!

Does that mean, after three months, if my performance is not satisfactory, Peter can send me back to Melbourne? Yes, he could!

I was confident that it can’t happen like that. I am a hard worker. I know my deliverables. I know what my strengths are!

However, at work, everyone had ‘interesting’ views about Peter! The moment they heard that I was going to work closely with Peter, everyone had a ‘strange’ smile.

On the first day, Gopal took me out for lunch and asked me to go back to Melbourne if I still had that opportunity. He worked for Peter over last two years and from his personal experience he identified Peter as one of the most ‘racist’ boss he ever worked for. He had a very strong view about Peter employing migrant workers. One of the reasons Peter employ ‘migrant worker’s’ so that he can ‘exploit’ them easily.

I absorbed Gopal’s view! I don’t think I have ever shared these initial views with anyone including Nigar.

But I was a fighter! I still had my boxing gloves on!

After crossing so many hurdles in last ten years of my ‘migrant life’ I wasn’t scared at all. But probably I was a bit nervous which I could not share with Nigar or any one as I was so full-of my achievements rather than considering the risks.

The first day at work went well – lots of catch up to do, lots of files to go through, welcome cakes and drinks – I found Peter very supportive rather than intimidating.

Two days gone, we are still at the Kingston apartment. Nigar will commence work on the following Monday. Her job was certainly a contract without any commitment to a permanent position at the end of one year period. She left her excellent permanent job with Melbourne City Council just to support my ‘career ambition’.

Another ‘sacrifice’ Nigar did!

It was around 8pm. There was a knock on the apartment door. I look through the eye hole.

Wow! It was another known face from Canberra came to visit us with his lovely wife. They were the second guest in our Canberra home.

It was Abed vai and Tulip vabi.

The moment I saw Abed vai, my memory travelled back in the mid 1970s when he was a student of Notre Dame College. He came to our home in Dhaka few times but I still remember his first visit and the ‘strange’ reason.

He was studying with my older brother Faridur Reza Sagar. That’s how I know Abed vai. It is interesting to think now, that this is the same Abed vai, who is a pride for Bangladeshi-Australians because of his excellent contributions in the field of science, came to our house because he needed ‘critical support’ to conduct one of their biology experiments.

His first visit to our house was to do a group project with Sagar vai where they needed to dissect a frog! Yes, a frog – a typical experiment in a biology course.

Interestingly none of them had the courage to catch a live frog for the dissection. While my ‘relationships’ with insects, ants, cockroaches, earth worms, frogs was always encouraging and somehow that news had been transmitted up to the Biology lab of Notre Dame College.

I was ‘hired’ by the two ‘boro vai’ to catch a frog from our backyard and pin that onto a tray (a book shelf drawer was used as the tray with an oilcloth on top of it to hold water – what an innovative operating table). The frog was pinned upside down for them to commence the ‘operation’.

I have to say, I was feeling very proud to be part of such a big operation! I was almost feeling like a college student myself.

Look at Abed vai now, I believe that ‘poor frog’ ‘cursed’ him and as a result he could not ‘divorce’ science from his whole life – it remained a life-long partner for him. Even though he has so many other creative talents as we all know. He is a writer, poet, speaker, councillor, organiser, teacher, social activist and so on.

This is the same Abed vai, the scientist, standing on our door step in Canberra with Tulip vabi.

I never met Tulip vabi before but I knew of her from her father, another great man that I had opportunity to meet with. He was a very good friend of my late father. They graduated from the same college in Calcutta.

So here they are, our second visitors in Canberra. It was really encouraging discussion we had with them. Tulip vabi particularly highlighted so many positive aspects of Canberra that I wasn’t thinking of any possible negative consequences after spending two days at work with Peter Brady and the team.

Our life was going on well.

Nigar commenced her work with Queanbeyan City Council, Kishoree was admitted to Red Hill Primary School in year 4 and Auditya started her day-care centre life at White House (close to the Red Hill School).

Our typical life, Nigar starts at 7.30 and finishes at 3.30pm to pick up the children. I start around 9.30am to drop off the children and finishes late. Our Melbourne house was adding little extra income after the mortgage payment as it was rented out through an agent. We rented a small town house in Isaacs in Canberra.

The whole way of life in this early period of Canberra reminded us a lot about the initial days of our settlement in Australia, just a little bit confident now!

Gradually, I realised that Peter Brady was becoming challenging. He basically wanted me to do all his work but took the credit with the big bosses. I know this is normal and we probably do it sometime as well! But the ‘cut off’ point did happen and I still believe he had crossed the line after two months of my employment.

There were series of incidents that I could still remember, pushed me to stand against Peter Brady.

One day, when I got a call from Kishoree’s school that she was seek and I had to pick her up early. On the same day, I had huge work pressure to deliver some report by next morning. Unfortunately in 1998, I did not have a ‘black berry’ or opportunity to work from home with ‘remote access’.

I went to the school, picked up Kishoree and brought her to work with me so that I could complete my task. Kishoree was/is always a quite child and seriously she was just sitting around the aisle without disturbing anyone. Peter crossed few times and said hello to Kishoree. I was happy and ended up my report for next morning.

Next morning, yes the drama started next morning!

I was called by the big boss, the newly appointed Executive Director (ED) of the Policy Area (Peter’s boss) of ACT Chief Minister’s Department. She showed me a formal complaint by Peter Brady regarding me bringing the child at work and how destructive that was for all other staff members. He also claimed that it had negative impact on our productivity and as a result of that the report which was due this morning was compromised qualitatively.

I have to agree, prior to this incident, I had few smaller debates and ‘hot e-mail’ exchanges with Peter regarding his knowledge on some critical issues. I was always confident that I was employed by the ACT Government and I would always try to support the policy and approaches of the ‘Government of the Day’. This was not necessarily Peter’s view. I challenged him in few occasions particularly when it was within my knowledge and experience.

I could gradually see the ‘racist’ Peter coming out of his shell!

He wanted to ‘capture’ me as one of his own shadow and wanted me to be influenced with his philosophy and work ethics about people from another culture and religion. He always had this ‘supreme’ attitude about every aspect of work. He could not take any criticism or constructive suggestions particularly from migrant workers.

I could see clearly now, Gopal’s concerns but I had my three months provision period, where I needed to have Peter’s agreement/signature to confirm my permanent job in Canberra!

So it didn’t took long, Peter came out with his ‘master-slave’ attitude towards the end of two months!

Every week over last four weeks was ‘hell’. I tried to share it with Nigar but did not have the courage, especially when she was enjoying her new job so much with a commitment for a permanency.

Yes, Gopal was the one, we shared a lot of common sadness. There was another planner guy, who sometimes joined with Gopal and me and shared some of his terrible experiences with Peter. Another guy, Rob Bollard, who is currently in a very high position with the ACT Government and at that time was the HR Manager of ACT Chief Minister’s Department, shared lots of sympathy.

I was still I the ED’s room. I am still very calm and at the same time my brain was running faster than the high speed ‘Curiosity’ that landed on Mars few weeks ago. I was listening and planning my ‘plan of attack’.

What to say? Where to start?

I was gathering all the evidences in my head to set my defence. Not only that, I was also planning to take this opportunity to ‘launch’ my ‘formal offence’ to Peter.

Evidence number one, I gathered the draft report Peter showed to the ED was an old version and I immediately provided her with the latest one I did last night. She was very satisfied.

Evidence number two, I invited Gopal into the room as an evidence to clarify Peter’s claim of my daughter being a cause for destruction. His evidence was good enough to embarrass Peter.

Yes, the whole time Peter Brady was sitting next to me in the room!

Evidence number three, I requested our ED to talk to my planner colleague to gather facts on similar scenarios from Peters previous staffs. She took the phone up instantly and talked to the person. I still do not know what she heard from the other side of the phone. But it certainly was not good news for Peter!

I was probably desperate to win. It was ‘do or die’ for me!

I do not think Peter thought of such ‘retaliation’ in response to his complaint.

I am still very proud of my actions to date. I believe, for the first time someone actually stood against Peter’s racist views, his philosophy of exploiting migrant workers!

I won! Yes it was a huge victory for me.

The ED agreed for me to work under a new boss and transferred Peter to a different area ‘on special duties’.

My three months went well, I became a permanent staff of the ACT Government. I had the opportunity to work closely with the than Chief Minister Kate Carnell and she actually came to one of our first ‘Pohela Boishak’ day long program at Stage 88 in April 1999.

This is 2012, Kishoree crossed the high school hurdle and continuing her study at the Australian National University. We as her parent are very proud of her personality and achievements. She was part of every bit of our struggle as new migrant, as our first child – as our first parental ‘experiment’ in a different country.

Auditya crossed her high school days and enjoying college life. We are very proud of her talent particularly when she strongly claims that ‘socialisation is my specialisation’!

Nigar got a permanent job offer from Queanbeyan City Council in 1999. She left the Council in 2006 to join the ACT Government for a brief period before moving to a Commonwealth Government Department. Nigar has also established her private architectural practice (a dream for her) in Canberra.

After ‘hurdling’ through private sectors and all levels of Australian Governments, Farhad Reza is continuing his professional works with a Commonwealth Department. In addition, still supporting friends, families and community events as ‘chirokaler kamla’.

Even after 25 years of living in such a nice country like Australia, I still believe we haven’t got equal rights like some other migrant communities in this country!

I believe, this episode is coming to an end. As I mentioned in my first chapter that this story hasn’t got an end as we are still ‘ACTING’ in it! Hoping the ‘Oscar’ will come one day!

But, like any other first generation migrant, we always thank god and strongly believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’.

And, you know very well, when some of your close friends get so much involved in your writing that they started to ‘dictate’ what you should write and what you should not, it is time to put the curtain down!

Thanks god for whatever we have until now.

(to be concluded in September 2012)

Farhadur Reza Probal

Farhadur Reza Probal

Architect Farhadur Reza FIAB MPIA

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