“When Donald Trump was elected, I was told [America] is not going to take any refugees.
‘Would you like to go to Australia?’ [I was asked]. I had no idea what Australia was. So, I Googled it to see if it’s safe.”
Eight years ago, Elfaz, aged 24, left his family and healthcare career in Ethiopia with the hope of finding a place where he could “be free and not live a double life.”
“I fled because the situation in Ethiopia for queer people was not really safe – being queer is punishable by law,” said Elfaz.
“I didn’t tell [my family]. I [told them] I’m gonna have training in Nairobi.”
“We are a very family-oriented society. So, I just needed to avoid that question.”
After three years of living in limbo, Alfaz arrived in Brisbane in 2018 and was welcomed by Multicultural Australia staff. Jetlagged and struggling with information overload, he barely spoke in the early days of adjustment to his new life in Queensland.
Not long after, when he was faced with a mountain of supplies, packaged food, kitchen items, and clothes piled in his bed and bedroom floor, he reached breaking point.
“I don’t like mess. It triggered me. I got really worked up, called a friend, and started crying,” Elfaz recalled.
Upon realising he was simply overwhelmed, Elfaz turned to a flatmate for help. By the time the last item was stowed, he had not only regained his calm but had also taken over the kitchen.
“There was some coffee in a tin with cardamom in it. I really like cardamom coffee. By dinner time, I was cooking. I think I cooked pasta for the first time.”
In the following years, Elfaz would go on to experience many ‘firsts’ in his life. And the same comforting ritual in the kitchen would allow him to regain his passion to help and heal others. Elfaz learned English at a young age and was exposed to Western ways of life through the countless Hollywood movies he watched growing up in Ethiopia.
In 2015, he made the difficult decision to leave his family to find a place to live freely (and lawfully) as a queer person.
From the moment his feet touched Australian soil three years later, Elfaz was certain of his next steps. But things didn’t go as he originally intended.
“My plan was to go to university straight away. It really struck me how things get done differently [here],” said the 31-year-old.
“Next was social circle. I think [finding a] social circle was more challenging for me than adapting to the Australian way of life. As a gay person, it was really hard.”
Then one day, his MA case worker encouraged him to join a social group that supports refugees from queer backgrounds.
“That was my first interaction with queer people in Australia,” said Elfaz.
“They are some of my closest friends to this day. Yeah, I came to know my friends through MA.” This was a turning point. By September that year, he was walking his very first Pride March alongside thousands of other queer people, a moment he said he will never forget.
In the same way that Elfaz used cooking to heal his loneliness, he cooked comforting meals – often his favourite Ethiopian dish, Doro Wat – to celebrate new friendships and experiences.
“I get the joy from watching people enjoy my food. People say there are five to six love languages. There should be another: getting satisfied by people you know enjoying your food,” he said.
“I like being around people. That’s where the idea of nursing came from.”
By March 2019, Elfaz was juggling advanced English classes with volunteer work at Mater Hospital “to give back to the community” that welcomed them.
Come June, he was studying to become a nurse and working at an aged care home, while still volunteering. All this work he sustained through the toughest years the global health sector had even seen.
By mid-2022, as Australia recovered from the Omicron wave, Elfaz graduated and started his professional nursing career. Now working as a cardiac nurse at an inner-city hospital in Brisbane, his dreams are taking shape, one-by-one.
“I’ve always dreamed of having a balcony for plants. Simple, but very satisfying, personally.”
“Even just moving into my own apartment, graduating, getting my first job, my driving license – it’s always a first time. There is a lot of excitement!”