The Salon Of The United Nations
By Mike Bowers, Gordon WeissFebruary 17, 2012
Zahra and Abdalah Ahmed are refugees from Darfur who have made a new life — and a booming business — in Australia.
Zahra's is a luminous hair and beauty salon some 25 kilometres west of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A little more than half of the residents in Merrylands, the suburb where it's located, were born outside Australia - in the Middle East, Turkey, China or Africa. Hundreds of packets of human hair for extensions hang in rows along the walls.
Zahra and Abdalah Ahmed are two among millions of people displaced by the numerous wars that have wracked modern Africa. Zahra is a 32-year-old Christian Sudanese, and her 49-year-old husband, Abdalah, is a Muslim from Darfur in eastern Sudan. His people were typically cattle pastoralists and traders. He spells out his name for me. "I used to spell it with two 'l's, but when we immigrated the people at customs spelled it with one 'l', and I just kept it that way."
The couple met in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in the arid northwest of Kenya, a vast enclosed town of thatched huts housing refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. The camp has been described as "both prison and exile". Life is a routine of food handouts, dust storms, broiling heat and malaria, while people wait for peace in their countries, or word they have been accepted as refugees somewhere in the world. Many people have lived for well over a decade in the camp, with children born and dying without ever travelling beyond its perimeter. Abdalah and Zahra arrived in Australia in 2002.