Mariam Issa is a Curious Woman

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Mariam Issa is a Curious Woman

Mariam Issa is a big believer that what you put out in the world is what gets returned to you. Born in Kismayo, Somalia as one of nine children, Mariam faced a childhood where she had to fight for her education. She soon married at 17 to a family who would fuel her quest for knowledge, however by 1991 the civil war had broken out in Somalia. Years later Mariam came to Australia in 1998 with her husband and children. It’s a tale similar to many of those who come to Australia as refugees, and one that could easily cast a negative glow on the world, though for Mariam, she decided she wanted her life to be a positive one.

“I ended up with taking full responsibility and thinking, ‘This is my life’ and I can become a designer of it instead of living by default,” she says honestly.

“And that’s what life is; it’s in phases and you get to choose every day what you want your day to look like.”

Living in Melbourne’s beach-side suburb of Brighton, the contrast to her life in Somalia was clear, and it was her curiosity of the western woman (“I just wanted to know how this woman could do all this. How did she come this far? Because to me she looked like she had everything.”) that sparked Mariam’s idea to create a space that would connect women from all walks of life.

“Once I’d learnt everything there was to learn about myself – not that we stop learning – but once I admired the western woman I saw a less apparent truth,” she says.

“When I saw that, that’s what prompted me to thinking we might look glamorous and beautiful but we don’t have it all put together. And that’s when I realised the presence of community was really absent in this particular community.”

The community Mariam was to create was an open-garden at her house. Along with her newfound friend Katharina  Kons, the fences were removed, plants were selected and the community garden came to life.

“The amazing thing that Katharina and I did was we didn’t know who was going to come and so we made an intention – the whole garden is literally made of intents,” Mariam says of the specific plants chosen, with each one encouraging interaction of some sort.

The garden was given the name R A W ・Resilient, Aspiring, Women, which is both a sentiment and a group that meets at the garden to connect with the space and each other. As the mission statement outlines, the RAW Garden is about ‘celebrating the uniqueness and aspirations of multicultural women. Through gardening, storytelling, crafts and cooking we nurture ourselves & our community’.

Now around four years later, there have been many interactions for Mariam and Katharina and each one has been completely unique. Some attendees will cry, others will laugh, but ultimately they leave the space having learnt something about themselves. To this day Mariam is still learning from the group, and unable to learn the basket-weaving skills of her mother, she was soon taught by a group at the garden.

“I will share with you a story of a woman who just happened to be walking by one day and she said, ‘Oh I admire your parsley, it’s so beautiful. Every time I walk here I feel like picking some’. I invited her to do so and I said, ‘Haven’t you seen the board? ‘This is a community garden’,” Mariam says of the conversation that soon took her and the woman to the garden.

“I took a supermarket bag and I took a lot of veggies and put them in her bag. When she was leaving she said, ‘When I was walking this morning I wasn’t in a good place. My mum is not well.’ She was feeling the weight of that and thinking ‘what’s the point to life?’ and she said ‘Now that I am walking outside of your house, you have reminded me the point to life. Because I’m of Italian background and we used to do gardening and had a big garden. Growing up I remember we used to have all this and now I feel so rejuvenated and feel that this is the point of life – to have community and to grow your own things’.”

It’s exactly this experience that Mariam hopes to have with the women that come through the fence-less property. As she tells me, it’s about letting go of the turmoil that we keep inside us.

“The word R AW backwards is WAR. I feel like we are at war within ourselves and what we feel inside and what we do from inside is what we project to outside world. And I feel the war that is going on is the unrest that women have today because it is in our psyche and it has been happening for a very long time and until we get that right I don’t think we can have a better world,” she says.

Since opening the garden, Mariam has also written a book, A Resilient Life, that outlines her childhood and experiences coming to Australia. She often travels Australia talking on such matters as well as her Islamic culture and will do so in Bendigo on May 26.

“I believe that we are never anywhere randomly and that we are always were we need to be,” she says.

Tickets are still available to Mariam’s event ‘Curious Women’ and can be purchased from the website:
Written by Amanda Sherring

When & Where: The Capital, Bendigo – May 26