Tag Archives: Bangladesh

Travel or plan an imaginary wedding?

I’m sure this sounds like an odd title for a blog post, but it’s seriously one of the biggest stresses of my life. When I was at college many moons ago, I realised how big the world was out there. That’s when I developed this curiosity and caught the travel bug. My closest friends were either going on group holidays or taking a gap year before going to university. It was an alien concept to me. Don’t get me wrong, I have actually left the country before. I had visited Bangladesh precisely 9 times at this point in my life. Oh and not forgetting a day trip to France when I was in high school. Very adventurous, I know.

But when my friends came back from their travels with the most colourful and amazing stories, I couldn’t help but feel jealous. I wanted what they just had. But the idea of me, a young Bangladeshi girl, going on holiday or travelling with friends, was just absurd. But a girl can dream, right?

Well that wasn’t good enough for me. I had to make this happen somehow. So I hatched a plan with my best friend who is the most awesome person I know, and that’s a fact. She’s strong and independent, but caring and thoughtful at the same time. And she doesn’t give a crap about ‘what people will say’. She knew how much I wanted to travel, and having experienced a gap year herself, she was the one who passed this travel bug onto me. So we decided we will go on a big holiday after we graduated from university.

Now the tough part was convincing my parents. I’m not sure if you know this, but a lot of the time, some parents will say ‘yeah okay, we’ll see when the time comes’ just to shut you up. And this was probably the first time my dad regretted saying that, because I didn’t let it go. As mentioned before in my earlier blog posts, I have worked all the hours under the sun since the age of 16. I had a part time job in retail for 5 years and then did some temping after finishing uni. And I managed to save a bit of money for my holiday. When graduation came around, I brought the topic up again and reminded my dad that we had discussed the possibility of me going on this holiday after I graduated. I was ready with my reasons and prepared to fight my case. I told him how hard I’d worked for 4 years at university and just really wanted this once in a lifetime opportunity to go on holiday, as a reward, with my best friend who they knew and could trust. She had already travelled the world on her own and I have saved up money for the flights and costs. They really had no way to get out of this.

When I look back, I really have to respect my parents for letting me do this and I’m truly grateful to them. It can’t have been easy letting their single, 22 year old daughter wander around the world. But also, they really didn’t have a choice because I went ahead and booked my tickets. I know, what a rebel! I wanted this more than life itself. It’s so strange reflecting on something that happened 5 years ago and just looking at how far I’ve come.

It came with all these conditions and promises on how it was going to be the first and last time I do something like this, etc. I just nodded yes to everything. Little did they (and I) know that this was only just the beginning…

Since 2010, I have been on holiday 12 times. And I have to say, it has enriched my life and made me so happy beyond belief. There’s just something so magical about escaping reality and exploring another country, culture and the world in general. Every year since my first trip away from my family, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit so many wonderful places, which has broadened my mind and opened my heart to beautiful things. I have learnt a lot and it has shaped me into the person I am today. I am always on the lookout for my next escape… but this is always against my parents wishes.

They detest me going on holiday. They see it as a way of losing their ‘control’ on me and they’re always saying it’s a waste of money. They constantly argue, asking me what’s the point in working if you’re going to wash all your earnings down the drain? They just don’t understand how important it is to me.

Funnily enough, that’s not the case when they want to go to Bangladesh or Dubai, because apparently that’s different. Over the last year or so, travelling has become even tougher as they continue to put the pressure of marriage on me. They want me to save for my (imaginary) wedding, even though I don’t have a partner, therefore I’m not actually getting married. This would sound ridiculous to anyone else outside of the culture. So every time I book a holiday, I torment myself with what my parents will say this time. And when I call them to tell them that I’m going away, I get a huge lecture down the phone, about how I don’t care about anyone other than myself. That I’ve never given them any money, but spend it all on holidays instead, which is not true whatsoever. It hurts hearing this emotional blackmail every… single… time.

But I know how lucky I am. Firstly because I have fought for my right to have a career, move out of home and have a great quality of life. But also because I work damn hard and save my money to spend it on things that I love, travel being one of them. Girls my age are generally married off with a mortgage and kids by now, and although I do want to get married, all the other stuff can wait for a while in my opinion. I don’t want to live a life full of regrets and what ifs.

How do you feel about this? Do you agree with my view on this situation? I would love to know.

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Never Good Enough – Part 2 My Reality

Continuing from Part 1 of this story where I was talking about Cultural Expectations, I wanted to tell you about the point in my story where my life changed forever.

Eventually when I hit the age where my parents started to think about my marriage prospects, that’s when the drama started.

My dad never wanted me to go to university. In fact, he told me to just get a job, because after all, people only went to university so that they could get a job afterwards, so that was the same thing apparently. This made me even more determined to go to university, especially as that’s what everyone else  was doing and I wanted to show him that I could do this too. He wasn’t happy with my choice because he didn’t feel that the subject I wanted to study was worth going to university for – Business. Of course, if I wanted to be a doctor, that would’ve been a whole different story.

He then gave me an ultimatum – study close to home and commute, or I don’t go at all. I don’t know how, but once again, I was clever enough to put a ‘get-out clause’ in this agreement which he would come to regret later.

I completed university with a placement year working (and living) in London – my get-out clause. Getting that wasn’t easy either, I still can’t believe I did it. But it turned out that this was the point where my life changed forever and I started to realise there was more to life than I knew. I was able to support myself completely knowing that I didn’t have to rely on my parents; I had freedom and breathing space; I matured and made friends with people from all walks of life; I took on great responsibilities at work and excelled. But most importantly, I became a strong independent woman (cue Destiny’s Child)!

This was when I realised I wanted more from life. Don’t get me wrong, I never forgot my roots or did anything during that time to disrespect my parents or tarnish their reputation. But I just wasn’t willing to settle for a mundane life back home with my parents without goals and aspirations to have a better life. My mission after university was to find a job in London and move out. I did not want to be stuck in a small town full of narrow-minded people. But once again, my dad was not happy about this. He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find (and didn’t want to) work in our town. Little did he know that I had not applied for a single job in the surrounding area. I also didn’t sit at home and do nothing over this period either, I worked full-time, either by doing all the overtime I could get at the retail job I’d had for 5 years, or by temping for an agency.

Then trouble started to brew. There were a few girls around my age in our community, all a year or so younger than me, who started to receive marriage proposals and eventually ended up getting married in the space of about 3 months between each other. My parents started to worry as I was older and yet unmarried (even though I was still only 22 at this point). This frustrated me a lot because I knew I was nothing like them. They’d barely made it to college, let alone university. None of them had even worked a day in their lives, sitting at home like princesses, whereas I had done all of this. I felt outraged that my parents were putting me in the same box as these girls and comparing me to them. I also felt insulted that they didn’t take my career aspirations seriously. Any time these topics came up, they’d upset me so much to the point I could not argue with them and just wanted to burst into tears.

Then one day, my younger siblings and I came home to find my parents sitting in the living room together which rarely happened because of my dads working schedule. Little did I know that they were planning to have ‘the talk’ with me. My dad asked one of my siblings ‘So, when are we going to Bangladesh?’. To which the response was ‘Errr… never’. Then he said ‘Oh but *Culture Clash* is going’. I looked at him and said ‘What?’. He said ‘Yeah, we’re going’. I turned to him and said ‘No, I don’t think so. And even if you tried, there is no way you could force me to get on that plane’. What you may not know is that when parents want to take you ‘back home’ at this age, it generally is with the intention to get you married off.

At this point he started to get annoyed, but this is when my mum took over, waiting in the sidelines ready to (verbally) attack me. She basically told me how I am not getting any younger and that if I had any chance of getting married it would have to be soon before I got too old. May I remind you that I was still only 22 years old at this point. I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden they were getting all hot tempered about this – what had brought this on? Then it got really sour. She said that I wasn’t pretty or skinny enough to be picky…

Yes, you read that right.

I know I shouldn’t have been shocked, after all, they are my parents and they have never hidden the fact that they don’t think I’m pretty like my older sibling, who by the way is 3 years older than me and got married at the age of 21 to a freshy which was completely by choice, no forcing whatsoever.

I have to admit, they really got me where it hurt. If that wasn’t bad enough, when I decided to speak up for myself, the most hurtful things were said to me in return. I told them that I did not want the life of my older sibling, who clearly wasn’t happy and struggling to make ends meet. To which she replied that my happiness wasn’t important… their’s was.

Yes, you read that right too.

She went on about how marriage isn’t about being happy, it’s about compromising. I just couldn’t believe what my ears were hearing – how could my own mother say these things to me? How can a mother not want her own child’s happiness? How have these people got so blinded by this ridiculous culture that they don’t realise how absurd those words coming out of their mouth sounded? I was in disbelief.

That night I cried myself to sleep. I felt numb. It’s at that point when I decided enough was enough. If they didn’t care about my happiness, then I would have to find my own happiness away from them. I got myself an interview in London the following week, I was so distraught with everything going round in my head that I was barely able to prepare for my interview. So I did all of that on my train journey up to London using my smartphone and a notepad. I was so nervous going in, but then something came over me and I had an incredible interview… and I got offered the job within half an hour of leaving the place.

I couldn’t believe it. I took the job of course! In a space of a few days, my life had turned around and I could finally get off this roller-coaster of emotions.

And I have never looked back since. Moving to London just over 3 years ago was the best thing that has ever happened to me and this was only possible because I fought for my happiness. And even though my parents and I still have so many differences and issues, in a weird way, I am closer to them now than when I was living at home. There is always drama going on, but my thinking now is that I need to pick and choose my battles wisely, ideally one at a time, because that is the only way I can make change happen.

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Bangladeshi or Bengali?

I just wanted to explain the difference between Bangladeshi and Bengali. In the correct sense:

  • Bangladeshi is the term used to describe someone who is from Bangladesh.
  • Bengali is the language spoken in Bangladesh.

However, in the real world, both labels are actually used to describe the origin of a person.

The reason why I am clarifying this is because you’ll probably see people referring to someone as ‘Bengali’ and then you’ll be thinking ‘why are they calling them the language?’. It’s all a bit confusing to people who aren’t Bangladeshi/Bengali to be honest.

I’m grateful that my non-Bengali friends understand what I mean regardless of which term I use. I might as well continue telling you a bit more about the Bengali ‘culture’. These statements are stereotypes of the typical people of course – I’m not claiming that everyone is the same and I don’t have the statistics to back it up… yet!

But another fact is that the majority of Indian restaurants and take-away’s in the UK are owned and run by Bangladeshi people and NOT Indians! This coincidentally also means that the majority of Bangladeshi men in the UK work in these establishments as well.

Bangladeshi women in the UK typically are housewives and so have the luxury of not having to work even in this tight economy. Yet they always seem to have many more things to moan about than those women who actually have to work full-time and run a household.

It is generally expected of girls to get married between the ages of 18 – 25. The average age these days tends to be around 21 years old. They are then expected to follow the footsteps of their mothers and also become housewives and pop out some babies after a year of marriage. This is regardless of their financial position or household status because it is supposedly the right thing to do, even if they have to struggle to make ends meet.

The boys are expected to study and get good grades whilst working for their dad in their families restaurant or take-away. The boys are then expected to take over managing and running the business whilst their father either expands the business, or just expands his belly.

The boy is then expected to take on even more responsibility by getting married, so he is then whisked off to Bangladesh to have an arranged marriage, and whilst they’re there, why not get his sister married off too? You know, kill 2 birds with 1 stone.

OK I will stop. This was the typical life of a Bangladeshi family… up until now.

Times have changed, the economy is in a bad state, the education system is tougher and people can’t afford to carry on living like Kings and Queens as described above. British Bangladeshi’s are starting to understand that things have to change in order to live a better life in this country. Boys and girls are (nearly) equally encouraged to study hard and get degrees in sensible fields , resulting in good, well paid jobs (if lucky). And then when they do get married, both partners are expected to work and run their household together. 

Yet it pains me to hear stories of those stereotypical families who still exist, enforcing their backwards, old fashioned way of thinking and ‘culture’ on their children even in this day and age. The pressure they put on their child to conform to the norms of society, regardless of what is good for the child’s future, is a joke. I feel so sorry for those kids growing up not knowing any better and then struggling throughout their life – from getting bullied at school, to getting married and being treated like they are insignificant.

I am only one person, but I am always fighting for others. I know that sometimes it is pointless arguing with these types of people, but I can’t help myself. I don’t like to see injustice of this sort, it makes me so sad.

Sometimes I wonder, what if I hadn’t developed this willpower? Would I have ended up like them?

You know, I haven’t always been this ‘confident’. I struggled a lot before developing a backbone. I just hope that I can reach out to others suffering from Culture Clash.

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