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Funded by the State Library of Western Australia, 16 Days, 16 Stories is a courageous new collection of stories presented in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence, recorded for the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.

Rehab takes us through the complexities of faith and community, sharing her story of immigration and closed-door violence–how her community believed her abusive husband’s public persona, why she chose to return to Australia after leaving him, and why he’s the real victim of this story.

Content Warning: Please be advised that the following story contains themes of family and domestic violence that some listeners may find distressing. If you have been impacted by family or domestic violence and are in need of support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service.

Photograph of Rehab Ahmed

[Transcript]

My name is Rehab Ahmed. I’m 43 years old. I came from Egypt in 2001 on a spousal visa. Usually, when I talk about myself as if I’m split [in]to two person; before and after, and usually it is before coming to Australia, and after I came to Australia, immigrated to Australia.

So, when I was young, as a family, education was number one. We were very privileged, myself and my siblings, to go to French school in Egypt.

We were very good kids, me and my siblings; we went through the education very smoothly and then graduated into faculty of archaeology, and I studied Egyptology for four years. So, I am [an] Egyptologist. And after this I started working in different areas. By age of 24, 25, I just, I got my friend and she was trying to match me with someone living in Australia. He’s Egyptian, same background. And I was so happy that I will travel. I love travelling. I was [a] very confident, girl, young, educated, proud of myself, but not in a snobby way, but I was very challenging, and I can do anything I want. I’m very positive.

I came to Australia here, everything went to, in my marriage smoothly. Like, the arrangement. He came to Egypt. I got married and then when I came here, I sort of, a life that I never, it never happened.

I thought that I will live, like, a different life, like happy, have kids, have a family and I’m living with someone from my same culture background in a very first-world country. So, I will have everything I expected. But, apparently, it was just a young lady dream that had never happened. I came here, I found that I was very isolated. I actually went through all the five or now seven aspects of domestic violence: financial, sexually, emotionally, verbally abused. Unfortunately, I was pregnant. I don’t know; fortunately, or unfortunately, I was pregnant with my daughter. And for us, we come from a family that, I think, tells, if you go up to the third generations, there is no divorce. I never saw anyone in my family got divorced, so I had to make it up. I had to manage my life, with my daughter, son, I got my son, and I was hoping that life will go move on, he will reform, he will be a better person. But this is all didn’t happen on that was actually, having my third daughter, it was unexpected pregnancy and I was thinking of just abortion, and this is against my faith, but I was deeply thinking of it because when I was pregnant with my third, I wanted to end the marriage, but I couldn’t tell him this.

He was threatening me all the time. That was like, killing me or just to doing things, take the kids from me or same for me. I was very, very, very naive back then. I didn’t know my rights because I wasn’t allowed to pick up the phone and call Centrelink or call any, any, any authority, to just to, to ask about any few things or small things. He wouldn’t allow me. We didn’t have joint accounts and anything. So, I reached this point that actually, I didn’t know my rights. So, when he was threatening me that he will take the kids and send me off to Egypt, I believed him.

But apparently that time I already had the citizenship and my kids, all of them were born here, but I believed him. The problem I think is not only in some Muslim or Egyptian communit[ies], in any community, that man will… it’s a double standard. If he’s a perpetrator, definitely, he has a different face. No one will believe you when you go out in the community, they see a man; usually that nice, kind person, that no one will believe that all the deeds he’s doing and his acts. But, he has family here, but they were not supportive. They were telling me, “You have kids, just be quiet and raise the kids and that’s it.” So, and I didn’t tell my family anything because they are thousand miles away. It’s not easy for them to know that I’m suffering here by myself. And again, we, if I, we go back to that social life, he was isolating me. I didn’t have any support networks.

After I felt like it’s not me under very, I was very disappointed because my mum came for a visit and when she saw me, she said, “You are not the same Rehab as we know you. Your head was always up, what’s going on?” And she didn’t, I didn’t tell her anything about my problems, but it’s actually physically it was, it was showing; I can’t hide it anymore. My GP as well has a big role in my story because he was, he picked up, he picked up straight away is at, I have a lot of signs of domestic violence and he wanted to help me by, send the case notes to a social worker and ask for help via referral to any agency. But I refused completely because he told me that he will know [that] the social worker will call him and I was very scared.

I was trying to, not escape, but escape of this life for about four years after I make the decision. And, I was begging him to send me to Egypt, my home country, and he did after struggle a year or so to just sign the kids’ passport and just, I wanted to go and see my family and make a decision. So, when I went there, my brother called him and then he said, “She’s not coming back.” He said, “That’s fine, let her, leave her there with kids.” And it was a big relief. I couldn’t imagine that he, he accepted his idea, but apparently, I found out later, that he accepted because he is in a relationship with my best friend.

I couldn’t find work and my kids, they were struggling, because they call Australia home.

It was my second big decision, my life to come back here for my kids’ sake, and as well for the better future for them. So, we came here, we came here, again. I stood up on my feet and this was 2012 and it was, everything gets come like I believe it’s the right time as well.

With my ex, I don’t feel any hate towards him, or love. Like he’s like, you know, when you can’t see is someone invisible for me. Like air. We can’t live without it because it is a period of my life, but actually we can’t see it or feel it. So, the same was my ex. And I always, I believe that everything happens for a reason. So, this has made me stronger, made me a good single mum, a very strong single mum, to bring up three kids in different, different culture. My two daughters are wearing the hijab and they are proud of it. They are proud Muslims in the community.

If I tell you the relation between me and the kids, I know every mother loves her kids to death, for me, it was my kids, I feel like, we struggled a lot, made us stronger.

I always like to not feel like a victim. So, it is important, but don’t, don’t make me feel that you are the victim. You are the hero. You are actually, you did something that you couldn’t imagine to do it, and he’s actually the victim. He will stay wherever you left him, in the same spot after 10, 20, 30 years. He will be the same person if he doesn’t seek any help from doctors, from psychologists, from whatever. But, but for you, you are a hero. So, I don’t like telling my story, I don’t usually go in depth and detailed, it was nearly 10 years of my life, but I just concluded and always highlight the good things for people to catch. But I don’t want to[come] here, to come and cry and see, you know. It’s no one’s business to tell them how he deals with me, no one’s business. What will be the impact on them, if I say he did this and… nothing. But the good thing, what is your good outcome? What is your message to the women? It’s that you, you should love yourself better. This is not the right life. You deserve better. So, there’s always hope and get out of this.

Copyright © 2019 Rehab Ahmed

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by Rehab Ahmed. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

Production by Rita Saggar. Recording by Terri Bellem.

Photo by Claudia Mancini.


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