Like an actual sunny day in Melbourne, it was a welcome sight to see Majak Daw smiling for pictures in February when he rejoined his teammates at Arden Street for the 2019 North Melbourne team photo. Though his gait has changed slightly with the introduction of a slight limp, seeing Daw in great spirits and happy to be back in action was fodder for his fans and admirers. Seeing him up and about was phenomenal and undoubtedly a welcome sight after his hiatus from the public eye.
Last year ended on a rough note for the Australian sporting world when news of North Melbourne AFL player Majak Daw’s fall from the Bolte Bridge made headlines. I remember being shaken by the news when I first heard it. Footy fan or not, Daw’s name is hard to miss – being the first South Sudanese player drafted into the AFL in 2010 - Daw became the beacon of a diverse Australia in the sporting sphere.
Daw released a statement for the first time since the incident last month, thanking everyone for their love and support and expressing gratitude for a second chance at life.
When an incident like that happens, it sends shockwaves within the community. Daw is a role model to migrant communities nationwide. When someone with such a public platform overcomes what seems insurmountable, it injects hope into the community. Daw’s record recovery and return to footy was the news all his fans have been waiting for.
I remember my own struggle as a new migrant in Australia all too well – I have written about how I was depressed but didn’t even have the language for what I was going through. I have also struggled with the idea that as a first born, I am expected to be financially responsible for my siblings among other things.
Making it as a migrant in Australia usually consists of earning a living as quickly as possible to help your family, both nuclear and extended
Less well-off relatives write-off any right to complain – they cannot even comprehend the idea that life overseas might be anything other than sunshine and dollar signs.
Making it as a migrant in Australia usually consists of earning a living as quickly as possible to help your family, both nuclear and extended. In African culture, those with an income are expected to carry those without. First born children are expected to help their parents to look after their younger siblings, especially financially. Money is a primary love language for a huge proportion of older Africans.
I’ve had personal experiences where I’ve had to re-evaluate my relationships with relatives whose only question to me in the 12 years I’ve been in Australia is “how much money can you send me” or “what will you bring me when you come home”. Very few are concerned with my actual well-being. It makes me wonder what I would have to offer if it all came crumbling down – what would they ask for then?
Any amount of money or fame cannot be enjoyed unless one is happy and whole. Each of us carries with him/her social conditioning from childhood. Regardless of race or creed, there are certain ideals that were imprinted in our minds as children that subconsciously form the basis of who we become. If we don’t turn our minds to this fact and figure out who we are, we can get lost in a society that tries to mold us into who it wants us to be.
A direct result of years and years of social conditioning is an equal proportion of psychological baggage. In the African context, sharing problems is viewed as a sign of weakness, especially so for men. I recently got back from holidays in Kenya and thought it telling when a friend said of her son who had fallen on concrete and was writhing in visible pain, “you’re not in pain, you’re a boy!”, as if boys are born with the inherent ability to subvert any kind of pain. I look back to that moment and think it is no wonder the boy child finds it difficult to speak publicly about emotional or psychological pain, if showing emotion about a fall that may leave physical evidence of pain is considered an abomination against manhood.
Life’s struggles apply indiscriminately and do not stop to assess whether one is a migrant or not
There are few other things that pose a similar threat to the status quo of a patriarchal African society: having children outside of wedlock, divorce, loving someone of the same sex and an unmarried female who has crossed the threshold of her young and supple 20s into the expired age range of 30-plus. You will struggle to find a single African migrant who hasn’t experienced the harmful effects of social conditioning, especially when juxtaposed with the Australian community which has, to a large extent, a very liberal view of these things.
Leaving the place you were born and migrating to a different country is not an easy thing. At least for me, it wasn’t. I liken it to going to a clothing store where nothing fits. Everything around you reminds you that you are viewed, always, as an ‘other’. You sound different. You look different. Finding a hairdresser who understands your hair will take priority over anyone’s search for ‘the one’. The food! Oh the food…you are in perpetual mourning over the lack of taste in GMO food and in a constant state of nostalgia over all your native meals. You must learn to abbreviate U-turn into u-ie and against all better judgment, call a utility truck a ute. You are no longer surrounded by people speaking your dialect – older people gossiping about the younger ones in mother tongues until the young grow up and catch on and sadly, friends and relatives you left back home move on with their lives – you miss a lot of births, deaths, marriages, graduations and trips, chasing some semblance of ‘the dream’ in Australia. In the midst of all this, some irresponsible commentators insinuate that where two or three Africans are gathered, danger is in the midst of them.
Life’s struggles apply indiscriminately and do not stop to assess whether one is a migrant or not. Community programs that encourage social integration and provide employment opportunities for migrants would go a long way in helping to manage the anxiety caused by resettlement. Another major challenge migrants face is the new bureaucratic constraints that are often as alien as the country migrated to. There is limited understanding of the law, visa and migration requirements, health services and so on. It is important to address these and take into consideration that information is key, so is the manner in which it is disseminated. English language proficiency, level of education and background are all factors to be taken into account when considering how best to assist a migrant who has left their home country to live in Australia.
Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or
Lifeline on 13 11 14
MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78