Mangeshi: The Light of My Eyes
Mangeshnayi in Australia: A Reunion
By: Francis Kalo Khosho
Over five decades of Iraqi Christians (Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac) have undergone radical transformation after thousands and thousands of years of existence. They have spread out across the world, with Mangeshi descendants scattered throughout the U.S.A., Canada, Europe, Australia, and beyond.
On October 25, 2013 I had the opportunity to travel to Australia and meet relatives and friends after almost 37 years of separation. In just a short three week reunion in Sydney, Australia, the old days were revisited, childhood memories were remembered, and laughter and tears filled the room as we shared our life experiences. We enjoyed every moment, and those moments have turned into memories which are now a part of my own book of memories, never to be forgotten.
Reunions are special events that represent a chance to once again gain a sense of who we are as one Mangeshi family. We are able to recreate a sense of community and in turn pass those ties to future generations. I feel that it is important to continue making an effort to reunite family and friends and that way help pass the torch to new generations in order to help preserve our legacy and our heritage. Our children will bear witness to these reunions and know who we are, and how far we have come and pass that knowledge for many generations to come.
Mangeshnayi came to Australia in the early seventies and increased in number in the eighties and nineties. The first immigrant was E’sho (Liza) Petrus Rabi. Upon arrival in Australia, parents worked hard at low skill jobs in order to make ends meet and put their children through school. In turn, most of their children were able to obtain degrees and now have successful careers. According to Deacon Sami Desho and the Mangeshi youth team of Australia, there are approximately 141 families in Australia and New Zealand. This is how the population breaks down by region: 122 families in Sydney (468 individuals), 14 families in Melbourne (53 individuals), 5 families in New Zealand (18 individuals) and the recent arrival of 6 new families to Australia in 2013. Most of the Mangeshnayi I spoke with expressed that they sometimes pinch themselves for having had the opportunity to thrive and build prosperous lives in Australia. Most of them own beautiful homes and are able to make ends meet without the stress that they were accustomed to back home. This peace of mind alone seemed to create an inner happiness that I noticed amongst our people living in Australia.
The weather in Sydney seemed to be one of the biggest pluses. The sunshine and warmth was simply radiant, and the average temperature remained perfect. Although I didn’t experience it while I was there, I was told that the downside was the rain. Reason being that once the rain started, it could rain and rain seemingly endlessly. Fire and flood are also a real concern and locals never ignore that possibility. In fact, just days before we were to arrive in Australia, a massive fire began to spread throughout the country. Thankfully by the time we got there, it seemed to be under control.
Other marked differences seemed to be the cost of living, as Australians seemed to have a different approach to life than Americans. For example, taxes are far more in Australia than in the United States. On average, Australians are taxed about 19.8% of their total income, whereas in the United States, Americans are taxed about 14.75% of their total income. However, because of this, Australians are able to enjoy such advantages like free healthcare and schooling. The cost of healthcare in Australia is funded by a 1.5% tax on employment income which funds a statewide free healthcare system. Therefore, Australians whether employed or unemployed are able to have their health needs met without the concern of private funding. Also, the schools and universities in Australia are free, with education being funded by the government at every level. Then once students graduate and obtain employment, they pay a certain amount back to the
government. The students I spoke with in Australia felt that this eliminated the burden of having to find a way to fund their education and in fact encouraged their progress.
However, there were definitely cost differentials in everyday items that seemed rather high in Australia. For example, we noticed that food and other living essentials were priced much higher than similar items in the U.S. Water and gas prices alone were extremely high in Australia which became evident in the smaller and more efficient cars being used, and the conservation of water in everyday use. It was fascinating to see the differences in way of life, and to see that despite such differences we all still find a way to live and survive and adapt to our surroundings.
We arrived in Sydney, Australia on October 24, 2013 and were guests of Hanna and Hello Esa Rashami who not only displayed warmth and respect, but made us feel comfortable and loved. During our stay in Sydney, the evening would turn into a splendid reunion of sorts in that many Mangeshnayi living in the area would come over to visit. Dinners would be an endless array of Mangeshi’s finest cuisines. Throughout our stay, we sampled many traditional meals, including: Kepayi, Resha wo’ Aqlatha, Reza, Korker, Kobabi, Oprakhi, Mathera, Khomsa, Lekhma Tanora, Pathkhatha, Pateri, Takhratha, Kadi, Beye fkesi, Spera, Kopta, Jajek, Zerfechek, etc. Everything tasted just as I remember it from back home, made with love and cooked to perfection.
Australian food was definitely on our list of things to try, particularly Kangaroo meat. Sydney is one of the world’s greatest dining destinations, and we had the opportunity to sample
some of it. On one of our sightseeing days, we were invited to a steakhouse in Manly, Sydney by one of our gracious hosts, Rosina Hanna Toma.
We caught a ferry out to Manly, which is a suburb near the Sydney Heads where Port Jackson meets the Tasman Sea. A 40 minute ferry ride allowed us to take in the views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, Opera House, Fort Denison, and the waterside suburbs with their stunning homes. We eventually reached the calm waters of Manly Cove and docked at the Manly Wharf. We did a bit of shopping on the wharf and walked to Manly Ocean’s beachside. The beach was so lovely and we enjoyed the beaming sun. For dinner we arrived at the Steakhouse specially selected by Rosina and that became my opportunity to finally sample Kangaroo meat. Kangaroo meat seemed to be stronger in flavor than the meat of other animals, something I was not expecting. It turns out that Kangaroo has historically been a source of food for indigenous Australians as Australia is heavily populated by Kangaroos.
Upon our arrival in Sydney, I was told that there is Mangeshi youth team ( Se’eta de Gwanqe de’Mangeshnayi de’Australia) that plan and organize Mangeshi events and help fellow Mangeshnayi enjoy all that Australia has to offer. Sure enough in a short times notice, a picnic was organized on our behalf in Plough & Harrow Parkland Park. It was fabulous to see so many faces that we had not seen in such a long time. The highlight of the event for me was the reunion with my former elementary teachers in Mangeshi, Marques Esho Sheli and Yaqup Esa Tappo. This brought back many blissful childhood memories and heartwarming moments that left me simply overjoyed. These teachers were the ones that helped define my childhood is such a significant way. From the very first moment we were reunited, we remembered each other and quickly began catching up on the last five decades of our lives. We spoke fondly about Mangeshi elementary school and it reinforced my belief in Mangeshi elementary school’s teachers for their passion in the classroom and their dedication to their students. It made me thankful for their support and commitment to us when we were children. I was happy to have the opportunity to hug Mr. Sheli and Mr. Tappo and sincerely thank them for the profound impact they had on who I am today. My time at Mangeshi Elementary school is prominent in my memory, because we spent so much time there as children. Time spent in school was just an extension of home. At
school, we were all family; we ate together, played and learned together. I still remember our beloved custodians Is’haq Esa Danno and Hanna Shabessy who on a cold winter morning would arrive to school early to stoke the fire and get the building warm. We would all help contribute by bringing a log of wood to school every morning. I also remember our custodians presence around the school to help with everyday happenings. They helped calm me down at times and would walk me to the office to patch up a skinned knee. These two custodians played an essential role in our safety, health, attitudes and pride.
My teacher, Yaqup Esa Tappo, shared some photos of Mangeshi elementary school that dated back to the late fifties. The pictures were such a treasure to me as I was able to go back and relive cherished memories with such special people. It will be a memory I will never forget. After our reunion, we took a group photo that captured everyone who attended the picnic, this image served as a reflection of new memories and lives lived.
In Mangeshi, a rooster crowing early in the morning would serve as a wakeup call. It was a great alarm in those days to help farmers know the time. In Australia, when we were staying at our cousins’s house, Esho and her husband Amer Kasab, we were awakened by Australian Magpies that began their warbling and caroling well before sunrise.
They are certainly one of the early birds in Australia. Magpies have a wide variety of calls, many of which are complex. Magpies mimic most bird species, as well as dogs and horses. I have to admit that they were loud, annoying and have the ability to make the most unusual sounds. Australia has so many different animals that are unique to the area and that you will never see in any other place on Earth. In order to see Australia’s strangest creatures all in one place, we decided to visit one of the many wild life parks in Sydney. The park was home to hundreds of indigenous birds, reptiles and mammals native to Australia. We saw wallabies, wallaross as well as red kangaroos and gray kangaroos. There were an abundance of sleepily hanging koalas hanging from trees and feeding on the leaves. Koalas sleep twenty hours a day but did not mind being disturbed for photos as long as there was eucalyptus leaves to chomp on. We learned that the koala’s low rate of metabolism is necessary to preserve the energy required to digest the highly toxic eucalyptus leaves. The park also had every kind of bird indigenous to Australia many of which we had already observed in our travels. We recognized the Cockatoos, the same bird that we had encountered during our picnic and whom were feeding on our BBQ meat. There were flying foxes, the long neck turtles that live on land and water, the Tasmanian devil who seemed to be a very agitated fellow, and we even had the chance to witness feeding time for the crocodiles who had no patience when teased with a piece of meat and were surprisingly quick.
Many of Sydney’s popular scenic spots are located around the rivers and lakes and feature barbeque facilities, ideal for a great day out with the family or friends. We had the chance to visit one of Australia’s spectacular spillways, Worora Dam, with Warda Yousef and his wife Evelyn. Later in the day, his kids and their families joined us for an enjoyable BBQ picnic. It was raining for part of the day, but the picnic area had shelter sheds and electric BBQ pits. We walked across the Dam which had impressive views of the lake. We enjoyed the picnic with Warda’s family, and were so fascinated with the picturesque surrounding.
We spent one of our nights with my cousin Hana and her husband Michel Smit in Cabarita which is a suburb in the inner west portion of Sydney. Caberita is a charming suburb on the Parramatta River. We were able to take a ferry from Cabarita to the Sydney Harbor and Sydney Tower. The Sydney Tower is the tallest free standing structure and offers 360 degree views of Sydney. We saw the 4D show of Sydney’s Harbor, coastline and landmarks. The film had special effects including wind and fire. We got to explore the most iconic parts of Australia while sitting down. We then took the skywalk across the skyline above the city which had a sensational view of Sydney from a built steel walkway. There was also a glass floor viewing platform where we
were able to see the view beneath us. This was especially frightening as we were able to truly experience how high up in the sky we were. We were escorted by sky guides who pointed out all of the city’s many landmarks.
The skywalk was such an amazing experience that was truly unforgettable. Thank you Hana and Michel for such a tremendous experience, we really enjoyed the time we had with you and the spectacular views of such a great place.
On October 31 we were invited by our cousin Jarmin and her husband Ben Daoud to the Jenolan caves, which are part of the spectacular Oberon area and within short distance of the Blue Mountains. We went on a guided tour of one of the caves, which was truly amazing. The guide himself was very entertaining and knowledgeable and made the experience even better. It was a good test of fitness and endurance as there were many steps and steep ladders, but it was all worthwhile to see such amazing rock formations. It was also a wonderful and unique experience to see the caves in the dark with little to no light. It reminded me of “Kopa Esya” in the Mangeshi Mountains. From what I can remember, Kopa Esya had a narrow passage where we had to squeeze, crawl and climb through. With nothing to light our way, it would get darker and darker. We truly faced our fears deep in the heart of the Mangeshi Mountains. I remember we would see many bats during our adventures and would run back in fright. We had great self-
confidence as children and it was a true test for both body and mind, truly a thrilling journey in those days.
We continued our journey in Sydney with a visit to the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains were spectacular; they have a massive and deep canyon reminiscent of the steep canyon gorges and valleys of the Grand Canyon in the United States except they were filled with massive eucalyptus trees that gave off a blue haze. The Blue Mountains get their name from a blue mist that rises from the millions of eucalyptus trees and hangs in the mountain air, tinting both the sky and the range. We were greeted by thousands of high pitched Australian cicadas that reminded me of Mangeshi cicadas called ‘Charcharoki’ who had a piercing romantic call. There were interesting rock formations all around the area, particularly the “Three Sisters” as they were called. The “Three Sisters” are three separate rocks all next to one another and tall in size, separating themselves from the area with their unique look. We took rides on cable cars in order to take in the spectacular views from all angles. We also took a walk through the deserted coal mines on the winding board walk. We walked along several trails and the dramatic outlooks at the Wenworth Falls provided panoramic vistas of sandstone cliffs rising above the eucalyptus trees
On a separate trip to the Blue Mountains at the Echo Point outlook, the rocks of the three sisters were particularly spectacular. We walked along some surrounding trails which were seemingly uphill in both directions. We also decided to take on the challenge of the Giant Stairway, which were 1000 steep steps that wound their way downward, through the center of the rock pinnacle, and descended to the bottom of Jamison Valley. We then took the stairs back to the top which was the true challenge.
On one of our last days in Australia we hopped on the scenic railway, the world’s steepest train that used to carry coal down the canyon. We exited the train onto an elevated boardwalk that lead through the rainforest. The walkway looped through the rainforest and back to the platform where we boarded the skyway for our ride back up. The view from the top was just stunning. This ride gave us a great view of the Three Sisters rock formation, the magnificent eucalyptus forest and rich ferns. Our journey that day continued and we hiked near some beautiful waterfalls along the canyon.
It is amazed me how quickly time flew! I felt we needed more time to enjoy the wonderful people, family and friends and revisit some of the places we saw. However, all good things must come to an end. Driving to the airport on our last day was full of sad farewells as we watched all of our relatives and friends disappear through the gate. Truly this Australian reunion with Mangeshnayi enriched our lives and lifted our spirits. The reunion was moving, spiritual, overwhelming, exciting, sad, happy, adventurous, emotional, and every other jumbled up feeling I had the chance to experience. We will miss everyone, and feel incredibly blessed that we had the opportunity to spend time with our long lost family and friends. We look forward to the next time we will all get to be together again and look forward to returning the hospitality you showed us. It is my hope that many reunions are taking place all over the world, perhaps in another country or somewhere close by. We must never forget our strong ties and bonds that make us who we are. To all of my friends and family around the world, Merry Christmas to you wherever you are celebrating and of course more importantly, here is to a happy and blessed 2014. May God bring you much joy and many blessings.