My first steps as a refugee woman in Australia #1 – Life in Colombia


This personal blog was written six years ago by Luz Restrepo, founder of SisterWorks. As a political refugee, she arrived in Australia in 2010, with her life in tatters and unable to speak English. At the age of 45, as a medical doctor and a communication expert, she left behind everything in Colombia. She felt like a nobody: frightened, isolated and disempowered. In these chapters, Luz gives you an introspection about her first steps as a refugee woman in Australia.

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This family picture was drawn in 2010 by Luz's youngest daughter, Lucrecia

 Chapter 1 – My life in Colombia

Our house in Bogotá represented everything that Sergio and I were before we changed the natural course of things to move our home from Colombia to Australia. We had lived there for about eight years and experienced periods of austerity as well as those of plenitude and joy —all, always in the bosom of the family. In that house, I learned the advantages of allowing the two most important spaces of my life —family and work— to coexist together. When Sergio remodelled the house, he designed a big office with a separate entrance so that he and I could feel like we weren't at home when working. This space provided me with the opportunity to change my routine: finally, I could work whenever I had and wanted to. I could disconnect from work related responsibilities and enjoy the family life I had been missing because of the tight schedule and the many hours I used to spend stuck in traffic.

In the mornings I was generally the one to wake up first and go to the girls' rooms to wake them up and get them organised for school. After, I would go down to the kitchen.

Standing on the staircase connecting the first and second floors, I would stop for a few seconds to look at our house. From that point, I could see the entrances to the rooms on the second floor and the steps to the third floor —which was our recreation room—, the living room —the part of the house where we spent the least amount of time, but where we kept our best antiques. —and also, through the window, the street and the park. Reaching the bottom of the staircase, I could see the main entrance to the house, which was always open, the garage and a garden full of trees from where ours two dogs would come running upon hearing the breakfast-time noises.

I think I have always been someone who likes to 'put down roots'. The people who know us laugh when I say this because we have moved constantly from one city to another. But up until that moment, those moves were made in search of security and economic stability. While living in Bogota, the capital of the Colombia, we thought ourselves to be very secure; we had a big house and good occupations. We had no need to keep moving.

In those instants when I stopped in the staircase, I would give thanks for that house and for the life that that magical space represented. I was going to grow old together with Sergio in that place. That house was to inspire us to realise our dreams and our many life projects.

In the kitchen, I would make myself a cup of coffee, feed the dogs and pick-up the newspaper that arrived every morning at the front door. Then, I would go into my office switch on the computer and quickly look through my emails. By this time, the sound of the gas heater told me that Valentina and Lucrecia had risen and that one of them was in the shower. Hearing that sound meant that I had a bit of time to read over the paper and the emails. When they came down, we would organise breakfast together and wait for the porter to tell us that the school bus was outside waiting. I would walk to the door with the girls and say goodbye with a kiss.

Without having showered and still in my pyjamas, I would sit down to organise my activities for the day. I loved not having to shower in order to go to work. There were times when I wouldn’t shower for three days in a row. I would laugh thinking that my elegant executive clients would never imagine by hearing my voice through the phone that I was barefoot, with my hair up in a ponytail and an oversize sweatshirt. That was the magic of our house: the possibility of working my own hours while supervising the daily life of the family…and having a bath whenever I wanted.

Around eight in the morning Sergio would come down. His routine wasn’t set but it dependent on whether he was building a house or developing another big architectural project. When he stayed at home, he would sit down on his side of the office and phone clients. Other days he would go out after breakfast to visit the construction sites.

Nina would arrive at 9:00 am. Little by little, through her tenderness and enormous availability, she ceased to be the person who cooked and did the housework and became instead our mother. I forgot what it meant to cook, wash, dust, fix something broken or sew on a button. She also took charge of the shopping and sometimes helped Lucrecia with her homework. With Nina by my side, I was able to observe the dynamics in the house while enabling me to concentrate exclusively on my work and my studies. What more could I ask for? Was there more to life? Everything was running perfectly.

In the next chapters, Luz is going to explain you the reasons why she left everything behind and started a new life as a refugee woman in Australia.