As published in The Border Watch.
Written by Jocelyn Nickels.
Refugees explain cultural differences at 10-year settlement celebration
Life in Australia is a world away from a childhood spent in Thailand camps for Karen refugees Nerr Soe Kapan and Lizar Lee. Never setting foot in their own country of Burma for fear of being killed, the two grew up restricted, never leaving the boundaries of the camp.
“One night before I was born, at around midnight, my parents saw a flash in the mountains near their village in Burma,” Nerr Soe said at Saturday night’s celebration of a decade of Karen and Karenni settlement at Mount Gambier North School.
“Everybody started running and people were getting shot, my mother was hit in the leg and my father in the tummy.
“This is when they fled across the border into a Thailand camp where they lived for over 20 years.” Born and raised in the camp, Lizar said she did not realise living there was not a normal way of life. “I was happy, as a child I was so innocent and I didn’t know that it was a dangerous place to live,” she said.
“When my parents told me we were moving to another country I was upset, I didn’t want to leave my friends and family, but now I know it was the best decision they made.” Ten years ago, both Nerr Soe and Lizar’s families moved to Mount Gambier and became some of the first refugees to settle in the Blue Lake city under the humanitarian program.
However, the culture and way of life in Australia were vastly different and many challenges were faced. “The toilets are very different here, in our home country we squat, so my father found it difficult to sit properly on the white people’s toilet,” Nerr Soe said.
Learning to understand the many of appliances in their new home was also difficult – microwaves and fridges were something they had never seen before.
“My mum told me once that when they first moved here they noticed the grass was growing really long,” Lizar said. “They didn’t know how to use the lawnmower so they decided to dig it all out and plant a vegetable garden in its place.
“When the people came to do an inspection they were very shocked because they didn’t know what we were doing – they had to teach us how to use the lawnmower.” Now considered “half Aussies”, Nerr Soe and Lizar are grateful for the opportunities they have been given.
“My life would be completely different if I was still living in the camp, I wouldn’t have an education,I would never be able to go and explore the world and I would never have much food or clothes,” Lizar said.
“We are very blessed and grateful that we live in this world with everything that we need.
“Australia is a better place for me, I am doing things I never would have been able to do in the camp, I just love Australia, it is the best place.”