The foodsellers at last night’s Armidale Carnivale, outside the Town Hall, are a snapshot of the city’s diversity. Academics, schoolgirls, hospital workers, and devoted mothers from around the world now call New England home.
INDIA AND BHUTAN
UNE drew these three from the Indian subcontinent to Armidale.
Priyakant Sinha came from Jharkhand state in north-west India a decade ago to do his doctorate in environmental science, looking at landscape change. After he graduated, his wife Niva started hers in landscape and forest management. She divides her time between childcare and research work.
Karma Yangden accompanied her husband from the mountainous Dragon Kingdom of Bhutan three years ago. While he studies his PhD in biological conservation, she works as a cleaner at the university.
Armidale, Priyakant says, is wonderful. “It’s a quiet and very mixing community here; you have different people from different parts of the world, and very welcoming, so we really liked it. That’s the reason we are here for the last ten years.”
“We don’t like big cities’ hush-bush,” Niva said, “and so we like a quiet place. Armidale was best-suited. The people here are welcoming, and because of UNE, we got work, and a good PhD here. That’s how we started.”
Karma also found the Armidale locals welcoming. “All the people here are very nice and open. They talk to us, whereas in cities, it’s all busy, and nobody cares about you. Here, everybody cares. That’s why I like here.”
Priyakant and Niva set up their food stall selling samosas, vegetable dishes and dumplings at the Farmers’ Market two years ago so they could meet new people every day.
“People whom we have met, we meet them often,” Niva said. “It’s not that once we have met, then they forget, so we keep on meeting people often in these kind of occasions also.”
They are part of the Carnivale committee. Their daughter danced at the performance, along with their friends’ children.
“Life here is much easier,” said Maryam Algaleel, a Year 12 student who moved here with her parents, Hasan Algaleel and Maysoon Alruhaimi, from Iraq a year ago.
They chose to live in Armidale because they had relatives here – her two aunts and an uncle.
“There are a lot of Iraqis here,” she said. “It’s also a very quiet city, not like Sydney or other cities.”
Today, they were the Carnivale selling crunchy falafels.
Maryam found it very easy to settle in, even though she didn’t speak any English before she came.
“English is the easiest language in the world, is my opinion! I love it!
“In Iraq, we study English from the primary school till university, but they don’t focus on the vocabulary; they focus only on the rules and the grammar. That’s why we don’t have enough words; we can’t say things easily!”
Maryam wants to study pharmacy when she graduates, but also loves studying business.
Lina Swilkas and her sister Ofelia Milaor both work in the caring professions.
Lina works at a retirement village in Uralla, while Ofelia is a registered nurse at Bupa in Tamworth.
The sisters came here 32 years ago, and have raised families. Lina met her husband, an Australian, in Uralla, and the couple now have a son and daughter. Ofelia also has a boy and girl.
They came to Armidale specially for the Carnivale.
“I love cooking!” Lina said. She was selling empanadas (stuffed pastries) and pinoy (kebabs).
Her time in Australia has been, she said, “wonderful!”
She goes back to the Philippines every year to see her family there.
Nina Sithakarn has been in Armidale for 12 years. She originally came for a personal relationship, then settled here. Today, she works as medical librarian at the Armidale Public Hospital, and as a Thai health care interpreter.
“Armidale is just a beautiful city,” Nina said. “It has everything to offer, like the comfort of a big city, but no traffic jams! And everything’s five minutes away.”
When she settled in, there was a lot to learn and adjust to – but, she said, “We’re lucky to be in Australia, actually!”
30 Thai residents live here permanently, while there are many international students at UNE – and a couple of students are with her now, on a four-month work placement.
Nina and her group divided their time at the Carnivale selling satay chicken and dancing.
“We like people to get up and move," she said. "We try to participate in everything, show off our unique food, costumes, dancing!"
”My life’s not very easy, but I’m thankful,” says Makbule Kanyilmaz. She and husband Arif have been selling gözleme (Turkish stuffed pastry) since 2016 to raise money for her second son’s surgery.
“That’s why I’m here,” she said, “to fight for my son to help him. We’re from New Zealand, don’t have Australian citizenship, and we have to work and look after the children.”
Her son has hearing problems, and needs an operation on his ears, as well as speech therapy.
“I work for him, I will fight for him, until my child gets better,” she said.
Makbule delivered him herself in appalling circumstances: trapped under a building in the Christchurch earthquake of 2011.
Her older son was was found under rubble after two days. He stopped talking, and had psychological troubles – but, she said, is now doing OK.
Makbule herself broke her back in the earthquake. Even though she still has pain, she sells Turkish food and cleans houses.
“I try my best,” she said. “I work very hard, I'm a strong mother, I love my children, I fight for them here. But I don't know how long I can fight.”
Armidale people, she said, have helped her to get started in business.
“I'm happy here in Australia, because everyone supports my family, but I just want my son to get better. I just want my child's surgery to be successful.”
Her second son will have his operation next month. This will be the second time; an operation last year wasn’t successful.
“I'm worried about his future if he can't hear very well,” Makbule said. “He can't go to school, he can't do anything, and he can't get hearing stuff because it's so expensive.”
All our wishes go with her and her family.
If you want to support her, Makbule has a regular stall, Mak’s Turkish Gozleme, at the Armidale Farmers’ Market and the Mall Market, selling gözleme and sweet lokma pastry.