'The moment that I came to NZ, I will not forget'

Afghan families loving life in the Waikato

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 10:05 03/01/2014
Afghan interpreters in Hamilton, Abbas Bagheri
Chris Hillock/Fairfax NZ

'BEAUTIFUL': Abbas Bagheri, wife Sediqa and son Mohammed love living in Hamilton.

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When Kiwi soldiers arrived in the Afghan province of Bamiyan, a local watched them examine the places around them.

Abbas Bagheri couldn't see anything amazing, and didn't understand their wonder.

"Why do you think it's beautiful? Just you see dust."

But the tables have turned and now Mr Bagheri finds himself in their place.

New Zealand has become home for the former interpreter and his family, and he is amazed by things locals find mundane.

He and his family are discovering as much of their new home as they can.

The sky, the sea, the Waikato River and glow worms in the Waitomo Caves - all of those are sights Mr Bagheri would never have imagined seeing, except on a TV screen.

Getting to New Zealand was a long process for him and the support of former colleague and close friend, police officer Andrew Berry, helped get him here.

Because Mr Bagheri's interpreting was mainly for the New Zealand police and not the defence force, he was among those who missed out on the original resettlement offer.

But Mr Berry knew Mr Bagheri wanted to come, and pushed for it from New Zealand.

Mr Bagheri couldn't believe it when he heard his dream would come true.

Moving to a peaceful country was a relief after living under the threat of the Taliban.

"Sometimes they made checkpoints and . . . if they found anything that they get suspicious of, the end of the line was death," he said.

"We [the interpreters] were a high target for them. We were as a bridge between the coalition forces and also between Afghan army and Afghan government."

So April 22, 2013 is a date Mr Bagheri will never forget.

That day, he, wife Sediqa Fasihi and son Mohammed touched down in a country that enchanted him, even before he landed.

"Exactly the moment that I came to New Zealand, I will not forget it . . . when I saw the shape of the houses, all of the places was green and that was nice and beautiful. The sky was cloudy. That was amazing for me."

He had heard plenty of stories from Kiwis in Afghanistan, but seeing it with his own eyes was another thing entirely.

There was plenty to adapt to, like the fact that women could work as bus drivers, doctors, or even be prime minister.

"Here, it's about giving opportunity to everybody.

"It doesn't matter if you are male or if you are female. Just you are looking for the ability."

And that's what he wanted for his family's future.

"Everything is ready here. Everything you want is available," he says.

"If one day my son asks me ‘what did you do for me in my life?' I can say ‘I took you to New Zealand. I made for you a good opportunity, and now you can take it'."

Day one in Hamilton was a stand-out moment for him, thanks to the welcome and haka at Kirikiriroa marae.

Just weeks later the Red Cross helped him secure a job in the Work and Income Hamilton contact centre.

"It's the kind of job that you help people, and for this reason I like it," he says.

"When I help the people, when they get happy, when they say ‘thank you very much' and these things, I get emotional. Yes, I'm a small piece but I can help the people keep a family happy."

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Mr Bagheri remembers how New Zealanders wanted to help his people, and is eternally grateful he can live here.

So for him, it's fitting his job is one where he gives back.

His wife has started an English course at Wintec and is also kept busy looking after the house and little Mohammed, three.

Mohammed goes to a nearby kindergarten in Melville and loves it.

When his son comes home using English words he's learnt there, it makes Mr Bagheri happy.

New Zealand is a place where his family can make a good life, he says.

So while they want to visit relatives in Afghanistan in future, New Zealand is home now.

Mrs Fasihi wants to learn more English and further her studies, and Abbas' long-term goal is to join the police.

And he has a New Year's message for New Zealanders.

"Thank you to all of you. I want to wish for you the best year for Kiwi people and Kiwi Government.

"I want to appreciate all the things that you have done for us - and especially for Afghan interpreters - to create . . . this opportunity for us."

libby.wilson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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