Revealed: Najaf, my true-blue Aussie hero

by Yvonne Lawrence, Melbourne Observer
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It always fascinates me to hear of someone who has reached the top from very humble beginnings. These are people who have had a dreadful start and through some inner strength are driven to achieve. I know of a family with both parents on drugs. The kids run the streets and steal where they can. Yet there is one child who tries to look after his brothers and sisters, who goes to school and works at all sorts of odd jobs to feed his siblings. Where does this innate strength of character come from?

Full of admiration

Oprah Winfrey is a good example. Her family were dirt poor and many times they had no food. Oprah was sexually molested before she reached her teens. She had a child and to all intense and purposes Oprah would never amount to anything in the scheme of things. But she did. She strived and not only reached her goal but became a very powerful and spiritual woman who can always find time in her hectic schedule to help those in need.

Without this innate inner strength Oprah would never have realised her ambition. I admire her tremendously. I met another who has this inner strength. I admire him also.

Wife, children left behind

Najaf Mazari fearing for his life in Afghanistan fled to Australia in 2001 after paying a people smuggler $3500. It was a precarious journey in a small fishing boat and it was doubtful whether the human cargo would ever reach their destination.
Many times Najaf thought that he and the other asylum seekers were doomed. But he never lost his optimism.

An Australian aeroplane spotted them and the navy brought them to Ashmore Reef, which is off Darwin. And this is where Najaf's inner strength came into play. He spoke no English. He carried the memory of his relatives being murdered by the Soviets and then the Taliban. He was suffering from a bullet wound in his leg and his wife and one year-old daughter had to be left behind. But he was determined to succeed.

Found work as rug maker

Najaf was transferred to Woomera and for four months he worked washing cars and working in the kitchen for one dollar an hour. He kept his head down, saved his money, and didn't become involved in any of the fighting and self-mutilation which was going on around him. He avoided any conflict.

Najaf doesn't like talking about his time at Woomera, he just wants to get on with his life and succeed. And he wisely and politely refuses to talk politics. Najaf was granted a Temporary Protection Visa and moved to Melbourne hoping to find work in a factory. He never dreamed that he would find work so quickly in his profession as a rug maker.

Language barrier

Quite by chance he met a woman on the bus who took an interest in him. It's not hard to imagine. He is quietly spoken with an engaging smile. She most probably saw in him a determination and that inner strength that some people have. It must have been difficult because of the language barrier but somehow they managed to converse. When she knew he was a rug maker she suggested that he try and get a job with one of the many Persian rug shops in High Street Prahran. It wasn't long before everyone knew that there was an experienced and very skilled rug maker and expert repairman looking for work. The offers flooded in. With the help of friends he realised his ambition and opened his own shop: "Afghan Traditional Rugs" in High Street. And that's when I met him.

Family arriving soon

He became our neighbour and you could always depend on a friendly smile, a cup of tea and a chat. I admired the way he went about displaying his rugs, and at his dedication to his work. Sitting at a bench for hours repairing rugs and then painting and fixing his shop into the wee small hours. He never let up.

Word spread that an Afghani refugee had opened a shop and life took an upward turn for him. His luck was in the day a customer came to buy a cushion cover. She was a retired teacher and took an interest in Najaf and has since become his "Australian Mum." When he wasn't working in his shop he was studying English. He was given Permanent Residency and his wife and seven year-old daughter arrive from Afghanistan next month. Other traders in High Street hold Najaf in high esteem. I think it is his optimism, his steely determination, his gentle manner and his love of his new country.

Najaf is holding his first exhibition on Tuesday, April 21 at 7pm. At "Afghan Traditional Rugs", 461 High Street, Prahran. The exhibition will consist of hard to find Sami's which are nomadic bedspreads (currently the rage in Europe and America), Afghan tribal and antique rugs, silk embroidery cushion covers and the most wonderful embroidered felt slippers (just the thing for winter). These have all been personally chosen by him on a recent trip.

I'm hoping that you will come and visit Najaf and see what a person with that inner strength and dedication can achieve.

Najaf Mazari: Ph/Fax 9529 2069. Mobile 0421 425 037.