I am an Ethiopian who arrived here, to Auckland, as a refugee from Sudan in March 1998.
I now work as a New Zealand Red Cross Resettlement Case Worker, supporting families who arrive as I did, as refugees.
When I got to Auckland it was very quiet. I couldn't believe the houses had no fences. In Ethiopia, every house had a fence that was two metres high for safety reasons.
There were also no bars on the windows. Naturally, I was a bit worried about being unsafe in my new home.
I had heard of New Zealand before because we had learnt about it in geography classes. We were told there were 60 million sheep here so when I arrived I expected to see 20-40 sheep in everyone's front yard.
I also knew about New Zealand through the Kiwi polish I used on my shoes. I've since learnt this is actually made in China. I remember my first ride on a bus back then, I was the only person from Onehunga to Mangere. In my country buses are full of people.
I also had never seen the sea before. There are many lakes in my country, but I swam for the first time in my life at Mission Bay.
Since then I've learnt that I am perfectly safe in my unfenced and un-barred home. I love that people have the right to talk, to express themselves. I can be against John Key, and he won't be after me. In my country, one word can cost your life. I have had to change the way I greet people though. In Ethiopia you say 'Hi" to everyone you pass on the street. It took a while to realise that here you only say "Hello" to people you know. But if you see me, do say hello, or as we say in Ethiopia - Tena yistlign.
Favourite places in Auckland:
1: Waitakere Ranges
I live out west, so when I'm going home at night, after work, I see green everywhere. It's nature. Plus in my country we had mountains surrounding us, so this takes me back to Ethiopia.
2: Piha Beach
I am not a surfer. But I love the rough water and the movement -- the wild power of the water. It reminds me of my own struggle. You will be tossed around and collected by the waves.
3: Mission Bay
This was the first place I have ever had a swim in the sea. I loved seeing people relaxing with their families and enjoying their freedom. I remember in Sudan how ladies there would only ever swim in their clothing. In 14 years there I have seen harsh restrictions on women. My wife enjoys the freedom here.
4: One Tree Hill
Climbing up there and being on top, it's majestic and you can see all of Auckland. But also I can compare it to the journey of my life, a bit like climbing a ladder and overcoming challenges.
5: Te Wananga o Aotearoa, in Mangere
I am studying bi-culturalism. We and Maori people have many things in common. I remember when I arrived, the kaumatua said, "Many years ago God brought us here. Then he bought you here. This is home. Haere mai. You are welcome. You are part of here."
Our homeland was taken away and we were accepted. I will never forget this.
The Auckland International Cultural Festival, tomorrow, 10am-5pm, Mt Roskill War Memorial Park. Dawit Arshak will be with the Red Cross team at the festival tomorrow.