By NIDHA KHAN

 

“What does it mean to be a New Zealander and is it possible to honour my cultural heritage and still be me? In the ‘modern world’, how can I remain ‘true’ to myself while upholding the traditions and expectations of my culture?” These are the questions which lie at the heart of the ThreeNow show, Both Worlds.

Both Worlds captures the lives of eight young Kiwis, from a diverse range of migrant and refugee backgrounds, with a particular focus on the challenges they’ve faced while living in New Zealand. Their personal stories touch on topics that our society at large silences, such as racism, a loss of connection with your cultural heritage, LGBTQI, and youth depression.

The show kicked off on July 31st with “former refugee and orphan” Octaves Sylver.  Octaves was only three years old when he lost his mother and then, at seven years old, he fled to Gabon with his father when the civil war broke out in his country, West Congo. “As a child, I did not realise what was going on and thought it was all a game. In fact, the day war broke out, we all had to crawl under the couches and dining table to avoid being hit by bullets. I remember, not helping myself, but laughing at my step mum, older cousin, and uncle crawling like kids because I did that, but only to play with my toys.”

In 2003, his father lost his battle with cancer and, within the same year, Octaves re-located to NZ under the Refugee Quota Programme. He initially struggled with life here. But, over time, he was able to call NZ his ‘home’ and considers himself “more Kiwi than Congo.” “I’ve gained a lot by living here. I’ve danced with some of the best in the world, played football with lovely people. I’ve played music as a DJ in some of Auckland’s top bars, I can speak a totally new language! The list goes on and on.” Most importantly, Octaves appreciates that he has “somewhere to call home” with his “beautiful family,” the Forlongs. Here, he is regarded as a son to Pastor Campbell and his wife Lorraine, both of whom reside in Hamilton.

Even though Octaves enjoyed his life here, he always felt like a piece of him was missing. He was curious about his Congolese heritage, but more importantly, he needed answers – What happened to his mother? What was her life like? What is her family like?  This period of self-reflection was a “confusing” time for Octaves since he didn’t know of anyone he could relate to or seek advice from. With that came a lot of pressure. “I’ve always felt like if I made any bad choice in life, I’d be the only victim with nobody to back me up like a mother of father would do. I’ve had to make myself grow wiser.”

To find these answers, he’d need to somehow track down his family members and return to Makou – the Congolese village his mother was from. The task in itself was difficult, but on top of this, Octaves had to initially navigate his search without the help of anyone from the village.

With no one else to turn to, he turned to the internet. He began scouring through the Facebook profiles of those with his mother’s last name, but the search was unsuccessful. However, Octaves didn’t lose hope. He later came across a Facebook group for those living in Makou and posted about his search for his mother’s family. Not too long after he posted, he received a message from a man who knew his cousins and had his first Skype conversation with his aunt.

The next step was to travel to Makou – this part of the process was really “scary” to digest. But Octaves felt comforted that Campbell, someone he knew and trusted, was able to join and support him on the trip. The trip was a success; Octaves found the peace and acceptance he was craving for and considered travelling as the hardest part of the journey, with 9 flights and a 16 hour bus trip (the bus broke down) within two weeks. You can find out more about his journey home here.

Octaves and his Aunty.

As for the future, Octaves’ main aspiration is to “properly enjoy life and start a brand new chapter with genuine joy, because happiness is important and everyone deserves it.” He plans on spending the upcoming Christmas with his family in Paris – the first one since he’s been in NZ – and is excited to share his story with others and teach dance to children around Hamilton. He hopes that sharing his story will be a reminder to those with more traditional upbringings and either “complete families or at least a parent” of the value of having someone in their life that cares for them, no matter the circumstance or time.

For those who’ve re-located to NZ and are struggling to fit in, Octaves says it’s a feeling that “almost can’t be avoided”. His main piece of advice is to “join a group of people who have the same hobbies as you, like a football team for example. Coming to a new country and having to learn a new culture is hard, but it’s also a second chance at a normal life. So, find people with common interests to ease the process. You’d be surprised how many friends you can make!”

 

You like? Check out more articles by NIDHA KHAN:

The Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty: Time to Change the World

Directing Change: An Interview with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

In Review: The New Zealand Project

Interview with Amnesty International’s Anna Neistat: Part 1 and Part 2

Keep up to date with Nidha on Instagram: @nidha01 

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