Meet Rona, a physio therapist, business owner and a fiercely loyal and loving daughter, wife and friend. A hustler; she works hard, and knows how to play hard - both of which have slowed down tenfold in recent months as she welcomed baby Mila, 5 weeks, to the world. We talk about the transition into motherhood, her migration to NZ from The Middle East, cultural identity and how she hopes to raise her daughter.
Do you remember much about your time in The Middle East before you moved here?
Not a lot. I remember our house and small parts about my kindy/school. I have random memories of when we were leaving at the airport etc. I mostly remember the time we staying in Jordan after escaping out of Iraq we were there for about a year but I would have been about 7 then so memory of the house and the area we lived in is more clear.
Tell us about your move to NZ, what were those early days were like for you and your siblings?
The move was easy for us kids. We stayed with family friends when we first arrived and started school etc. I started at Wiri Primary school as an ESOL student that was before they had separate classes for ESOL students so I was in a class with everyone else but would have my own teacher. Mum and Dad worked on the farms because they couldn’t work in their qualifications as an engineer and teacher so we used to make our own way to school, and afterwards the eldery neighbours watch over us from their house to make sure we were okay. I remember mum would have a plate for each of us in the fridge for afterschool snacks- it was basically another school lunch but had fruit and yummy treats to enjoy till they got home for dinner. (As we grew older we stopped eating the fruit and only ate the treats)
They say it takes a village to raise a child, did your parents have any support here to help care for you and your siblings?
Mum and Dad didn’t have much support at all. Our caring neighbours were about it. Gradually more family and friends moved to NZ and then it was a little easier with my granddad being around he would take us to school and pick us up etc but that wasn’t until I was in late primary/early intermediate.
Share with us what it was like being an ESOL student?
I remember a lot of attention on me from the other students because I was always on my own in a corner in the classroom with my own teacher. I remember when my English started to progress I started to join mat time with my peers and always remember the first time I knew the answer to a question the teacher asked and I had the confidence to put my hand up and answer it everyone clapped and it was such a big deal for me but everyone else seemed so stoked for me from then on I didn’t shut up and they probably wish I hadn’t started speaking haha
NZ is home - How do you identify now? (e.g. Iranian kiwi, totally kiwi etc)
This is a tricky one I sometimes feel I identify differently depending who I am with or where I am. I am definitely a middle eastern kiwi ... I can still speak Aramaic and at home with family I will use Aramaic a lot in my dialogue mixed with English however when I’m with friends and my husband Hayden it is purely English so I feel I am perceived more as a kiwi than an Iraqi. I would say its even split - I take the good bits out of both and it’s pretty amazing.
Will you be making a deliberate effort to instil Chaldean culture in Mila? (Or is it casual with food, language and feeling connected to her grandparents etc)
Mila will definitely know she is Chaldean and Kiwi it wont be anything dramatic but certain customs we have, some language, her grandparents will help with this one I’m sure (otherwise they will struggle to keep up with her English haha) She will be introduced to the food early on as well so her palate will develop quickly for all the spices and herbs nana makes lol.. Even with all these casual parts of her life I think she will be more Kiwi than I am but that’s not a bad thing I will give her access and knowledge about both sides and she can choose to take what she wants from each part like my parents allowed me to do.
What does raising a mixed race baby in NZ mean to you?
I think it means I will need to work hard to make her feel she has a place in NZ even if she is not full kiwi and that her Chaldean side will add to her story but will never be a negative thing. I will make sure she knows she’s accepted in society and to never feel shamed of what she is. I think we are lucky we live in NZ were a Kiwi could mean a million things I think in other parts of the world mixed race kids may struggle but I have faith that in NZ she will blossom and bring so much joy to the people she meets in her life and be a awesome kind kiwi just as I feel my parents raised me. No anger no racial separation my parents I’m sure would see these things around them at times but they never let us experience any of it and never had any anger towards it. You know the saying think positively you will attract positive energy if they had sat there and moaned about not fitting in or not being able to speak the language or being mocked by peers etc then we would have grown up feeling the same but I have never really felt I was racial discriminated against and if there have been small mocks/remarks in the past I feel they were when we were younger and kids just doing what kids do as I have grown up I see less of that and I think that’s because I have made a life for myself and never let my background hold me back from doing things, meeting people and joining in on things that “kiwi” kids/people are doing 😊
In the wake of the attack on Christchurch, do you feel pressure as a parent to help forge a path for tomorrows generation?
I think it is so sad and scary what has happened. It reveals that there will always be a division in some peoples’ eyes. As a parent I will ensure Mila learns that a person’s heritage or religion does not determine them, each person has their own story to tell and our backgrounds, religion and cultural choices don’t make up everything that we are. I will teach her that she should always be kind to everyone regardless of these things. I want her to have a lot of friends and be loved by them like I feel I always was. Friends have a power to make us feel good and empower us and I want her to have that; the same way I did. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love, support and kindness my family, but mostly my friends have given me, and I hope they can say I have given them the same.
Talk to us about the past few weeks - Not just the birth of Mila, but the birth of a you as a mother. There is a great (under used) term Matrescene, coined by Anthropologist Dana Rafael - The process of becoming a mother, the identify shift and the physical and psychological changes that woman experience after childbirth. Do you think anyone could have prepared you for this?! (What has it been like, how you expected etc?)
OMG motherhood - what a crazy thing it is! I definitely don’t think I could have EVER prepared for this. I am so happy! I was never one of these girls that couldn’t wait to have kids; I always felt I had a lot more stuff to do before I got to the kid part. Even when Hayden and I decided we would start trying I was still thinking ‘if it takes a while at least I can go on this holiday and do this etc’ but now that she is here, I think ‘OMG you were so crazy putting it off’. It has been amazing! SHE IS AMAZING! I don’t think I have ever loved something as much as I love her. Sure, it’s hard but the stuff that is hard at the moment don’t seem important. Well maybe sleep is important but I’m sure I’ll get some sleep eventually. I have had weekend benders with no sleep before and trust me the feeling after 2-3 sleepless nights with Mila are far more rewarding than a horrible hangover!!
I thought I would care more about the physical changes, I did before having her. I had ideals of getting my body back ASAP after birth, but now that she’s here - who cares?! I still want to feel good and be strong again and I am sure my goals will change and she will be my greatest goal in life. I’m going to make sure I do my best to do good by her and make her my biggest achievement ever.
How have your thoughts about your own mama evolved?
I always knew my mum was amazing! Everyone can see it when they meet or get to know her. But now that I am a mum I realise she is beyond amazing. I didn’t always appreciate what others could see in her; I was always told that my mum is amazing ‘she’s so kind’, ‘she’s funny’, the list goes on but I just assumed everyones mum was like that. Now I realise that not all mums are like mine, she is special! She has committed all her life to being our mum and she’s made sure to do one good job of it! I couldn’t fault her in anything - She should get a prize for being the BEST MUM! Now that I can see that I want to be everything she was to me, to Mila. If I can add my own spin on that and do it in my own way then my world will be complete.
Tell us about your mum…
I could write forever but some words to describe my mum would be:
Selfless; She gave up a lot of things to bring us here and give us a future she could never have for herself and not once did she make us feel like we had taken something away from her.
Warm; Her smile, her laugh and her hug always makes things better.
Kind; She has time and energy for her family and friends always no matter,
Hardworking; She doesn’t sit still.
Funny; I know she thinks if she can make someone laugh or add laughter into their world she has done a good job in making that person a little happier for a few seconds.
What is your favourite part about her?
Her resilience. She has been through a lot and has come out the other end tougher than ever! I hope I have some of that.
What is the best thing she has handed down / passed on to you? (quality, lesson or attribute)
Definitely her humour and kindness.
Tell us about your daughter Mila
She is an adorable, delicious little newborn and I can’t believe Hayden and I made her!! She will be so loved by everyone around her! I know she will be great
And the vales you hope to instil in her
I will teach her to be kind. To smile, laugh & dance every day. I will teach that If you set your mind to do something and you will be able to achieve it. To think positive and good things will follow and most importantly I will teach her to never let anyone make you feel less than what you are.
INTRODUCING Anahed Asmaro, Rona's mum.
Packing up home in The Middle East almost twenty years ago, we chat with Anahed about the move and why it is so special to have a kiwi grandchild
What motivated your migration to NZ
After the Gulf War in Iraq, we decided to leave and move to a safer and more peaceful place. My husband’s siblings and their families moved to Sydney, so we followed them. However, Australia was starting to accept less immigrants, so we had to choose somewhere else. My husband found out about NZ, and actually went to the library to check out some books on NZ, and we thought it was perfect for raising our kids.
Arriving with a few weeks’ provisions, what happened next?
It was a struggle at first, due to the fact that our qualifications and experience were not ‘recognized’ here, and for us to practice engineering and teaching, it meant we had to go through university again, even after years of experience in Iraq. So, we had to quickly adapt and figure out other things to do for income. Language was also a huge barrier.
And what does life look like now?
Life is very good now, we have settled in and are proud to call NZ our home, we couldn’t have picked a better place to raise our kids, and they’ve now all grown up and become very successful.
Tell us a bit about bringing up your children in New Zealand and what that looked like to you.
Although NZ was perfect for our kids, it was initially hard adapting to the different culture here, we did our best to ensure we are there for them and provide them with everything they need to have a good childhood here, and encouraged them to really push themselves at school. My husband started teaching them maths and science after school as well, to ensure they don’t just rely on the teachers and curriculum at school, which wasn’t of the best “quality” when they were attending lower decile schools, due to our initial struggle with income when we first moved here.
Congratulations on becoming a grandmother! Mila is simply divine. What is it like watching Rona become a mother?
It fills me with joy watching Rona with Mila, and I know she is going to be an amazing mother. And I’m glad I’m there to be able to help her out and support her where I can.
What does having Chaldean-Kiwi grandchildren mean to you?
I think it’s beautiful, we really value different cultures, and it has been so special being able to get together with Hayden’s side of the family and share our different cultures and experiences together. It is a very rare mix indeed, Chaldeans stemmed from a very ancient civilization, that rarely ever mixes with other cultures in terms of intimate relationships; I think that is what makes it so special.
Rona wears Freddie baby bag in black and Anahed wears Big Sis Tilly in Navy. Shop the full Mother's Day Edit HERE