What Role Models Are Made Of

My dad arrived in the UK as a teen. He’d have loved to have gone to school but he had to work to support his family in Bangladesh. Whatever moderate amount of English he speaks now has been picked up through his career in a grocery store and a never ending string of restaurants. Needless to say, my dad can’t write in English (only his version of shorthand when taking down curry orders – see image, aww!). Continue reading What Role Models Are Made Of

Mother Tongue

I just got back from some late night shopping at a souk here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.   As usual, my husband and I spoke in Urdu to the stallholders (because most of them come from a South Asian country).  We were stood at a cheap and colourful market stall brimming with bags, belts, and other accessories. A young dark-skinned guy with pleasant manners was serving us, and looked distinctly Bangladeshi.”Where are you from?” I asked in Urdu.”Bangladesh,” he answered, careful not to make any eye contact whilst passing me a handbag.

“I’m Bangladeshi too!” I said in my Sylheti dialect.

His face lit up.

He looked at us, back and forth, and spoke with a huge smile.  “I’ve been working on this stall for six years and you’re the first Bangladeshi woman I’ve met as a customer!”

Feeling an instant connection with someone doesn’t happen very often but when it does, as it did tonight, it feels amazing!  I felt as though I’d inherited another brother; I wanted to hug him.

We chatted in our differing dialects of Bengali, and in-between, I translated for my Pakistani husband.

My new Bengali brother said it felt good to be speaking in his own language and insisted on giving me a gift.  I put the pair of earrings I was holding in my hand back on the stand.  I politely declined his kind offer. He carried on insisting. Finally, he placed a hair clamp and some scrunchies in my bag for free.

“Sister, come again if you need anything,” he said as we began to walk away.  I almost cried leaving him there.

A lot of immigrant workers, especially those doing menial jobs here, often live in cramped conditions, are expected to work long hours and are refrained from going on leave to their respective countries for long periods. I’m guessing he hasn’t been able to visit his family in Bangladesh in the six years he mentioned.

It’s times like this that I appreciate being able to talk in my mother tongue. Connecting with people, heart to heart, through the language we share is priceless.

© Rabia Bashir 2013

Standing in Dad’s Shoes

Background: I love to cook and have started a small catering business here in Riyadh.  During the month of May 2013 I took over the restaurant in the compound I live in – to offer Curry Nights once a week.  This is what I wrote (and later told my Dad over Skype) after I hobbled home and fell onto my bed:

I stood in my dad’s shoes for a mere 9 hours today…something he’s been doing for longer than I’ve been alive.  My throbbing feet force my mind back to my childhood when he would finish a stint at the restaurant in the early hours then get up to take us shopping for Eid clothes.  I always wanted matching jewellery with my outfit and back in those days, Asian fashion shops were scarce.  So my dad took us out for hours – hunting for new clothes (and my matching accessories).  As  I would insist on finding the right shade of bangles, I don’t remember him ever complaining – not about him being tired and not about him spending his hard earned money.  His feet must have throbbed from the night before, or at least felt heavy with the anticipation of doing it all over again after our shopping trip.

It’s amazing how parents have the capacity to put their needs and wants aside to make their children happy.  I’m truly blessed to have such parents.

-Rabia Bashir