Ahmed Dini’s broken tooth is now a proud symbol of how he came to love Australia.
WHEN Ahmed Dini smiles, which is often, you sometimes catch a glimpse of a broken front tooth. It symbolises what is good and bad about the Australia that embraced him and his family 14 years ago as refugees from Somalia.
It was Valentine’s Day 2007 when Dini was hit in the mouth during an incident between police and some African youths. As well as damage to three teeth, Dini copped a cluster of police charges that included affray, assault and recklessly causing injury.
What irony – he had avoided the violence that plagued his six years in a Kenyan refugee camp only to be hurt in the family’s safe haven.
Says Dini: “That probably changed my mind about Australia for the worse – then for the better. It made me understand Australia as a democratic country. Initially I was really angry – why would the police charge me? I was so stressed, I knew I had done nothing wrong but a lot of friends told me the court system would not work. So there was a tear in my eye when the judge said I was not guilty. I sat back in my chair. It was the biggest relief in my life.”
A dentist could fix that broken tooth, of course, and Dini had intended to have it done but now he sees it almost as a badge of honour. “This makes me Ahmed Dini now,” he says, “the man with the gap in his teeth. The thing that fixed my heart, that fixed me as a person, was the court decision, and that’s why I love this country more than any in the world. When I say that, some of my Somali friends ask: ‘are you serious?’ But for me to spend 10 days in court and to hear the judge say: I believe Ahmed Dini’s version of the story, well …”
However assimilation in a new country is a drip-feed. Listen to Dini three years ago when, torn between homelands old and new, he told SBS: “There are parts of Australia that I love, honestly … but there are parts of Somalia that I also love that Australia hasn’t given me yet. Australia is my home now but you never know, my mind might change.”
Now we are sitting in a North Melbourne cafe, a month after Dini was named Victoria’s Local Hero for 2012, and it is a different story.
“I was with some Somalis the other day,” he says, “and one joked that he had already bought his grave site in the Fawkner cemetery. What he was saying is that there was no way he would ever leave Australia now. And if I ever go back to help Somalia, it will be only as an Australian.”
Dini was born there but remembers little. He was four when father Fuad and mother Idhil fled the civil war with their five children. “My father had owned pharmacies,” said Dini, “but we left with nothing.”
They arrived in Dadaab, Kenya, as refugees and were housed in a tent. Dini recalls his father hushing them one night because Somali militiamen had come across the border.
“They know when the UN food supplies arrive and would take as much as they could and rape many women. It was really a disaster. These militia attack their own countrymen. Younger Somalis wonder, what is going on? Why does a Somali attack another Somali?”
Dini says his father has been his inspiration. “He didn’t sit around, didn’t bludge. He quickly set up a money-transfer company in Footscray. He’s always trying something new. Every time he sees a group of people sitting down not working, he can throw a bit of a tantrum.”
Dini completed secondary education in Melbourne and did two years of university before deciding to help young Africans. “There was a lot of trouble in the community, no role models,” he says, “so I decided as a young person I would become the public voice.
”I went to any meeting involving Africans – council, police meetings. African elders were going but not young people. Slowly, but slowly I saw change. Then I got a role coaching the under 13s at the Flemington Eagles, a refugee-based soccer club.”
Last year, Dini formed the Australian Somali Football Association. It held a tournament, which drew 4500 spectators, where eight teams played over six days. The 2011 tournament is at the end of this month and 12 teams will play.
At 24, Ahmed Dini makes an impressive advocate. A future in politics? “I do believe down the track that someone of African heritage, with dark skin like myself, should be part of the political make-up of this great nation,” he says. ”There will be a lot of Australians in future with African heritage and it is better for Australia because we live in a global world.”
December 12, 2011 THE AGE
Photo: Paul Rovere