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Emotional Rollercoaster

I feel like I’ve been going through an emotional rollercoaster recently, but his won’t be news to any of those who have been following my blog. I’m not usually very aware of how particular incidents or events have affected me, but it’s something that’s becoming more and more apparent to me.

In recent months, I’ve noticed just how easily I get emotional, whether that’s watching powerful or meaningful videos and movies, or reading a book. There was a point I had to stop reading, because I would connect to it in such a deep level that I couldn’t get myself out of that headspace for a very long time. Have you ever had that? Where you become obsessed with the characters and their lives?

I recently read a book which had this type of affect on me and I wanted to mention it here because I think it’s something that many of the followers of this blog can relate to. It’s a book called ‘Sofia Khan is NOT obliged’ by Ayisha Malik. It’s about the life of a single 30 year old Pakistani muslim girl who, like many of us, is constantly under that pressures of marriage from family and friends. Even though she’s not Bengali, I found it so relatable to my own life because of the cultural similarities. The culture may be different, but the pressure is the same.

It’s such a good read, at first I was able to read a chapter or two and get on with things, but then I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. 6 hours later, I had finished the whole book. I had laughed hysterically, and cried even more than I could have imagined. I don’t know if it’s because of how I’ve been feeling lately, but it really struck a chord with me. I won’t ruin the book for people who are going to read it, but one theme that was hugely evident throughout, was the incessant pestering of people who kept asking her when was she going to settle down and get married. It was even doing my head in and I wanted to reach out to those people and shake them to make them stop.

I’ve just got back from a well needed mini-break with my best friend. I’ve not been in a good place and this trip felt like it came at just the right time when I was about to crumble. I explored a new city, fell in love with it’s beauty, absorbed it’s culture and history and let go of all my worries for a few days. It was only the second day into my 4-day trip that I realised just how wound up and stressed out I had been. And although I knew this was what my soul needed, just before I went away, I had an encounter with my mum.

I’ve mentioned before how hard it is for me to talk to my parents about the topic of travelling. So when I called my mum to tell her I’m going away for a few days, she completely lost it. She went into me like this was her last opportunity to do so in her life. She brought up everything I’d ever done in my life that she disapproved of. How disappointing I am as a daughter. How she can’t show her face in the community because she’s too embarrassed that she has a single daughter who shows no sign of getting married anytime soon. She said I’m not young anymore, I can’t afford to be picky. She gave me a warning, and said that she is no longer going to care if my younger siblings end up getting married before me. In fact, she said she was going to encourage it. It was like as if she was doing this to spite me. She said my dad should have never let me leave home because then none of this would’ve been a problem. How things would’ve been better if I hadn’t had that taste of freedom…

It hurt, a lot. I wanted to shout back and say ‘do you even know what you’re talking about? You blind woman, can you not see anything past the ridiculous need to be pretentious and impress these people, who do not care about anyone but themselves?’. Does she even think about how I would’ve been feeling and what that may have led me to do? By moving away, I took back control of my sanity and developed the will to live a good life. I didn’t go down any dodgy paths or do anything that would’ve reflected badly on them and my upbringing…

But I stayed quiet, which spurred her on to continue with more. I cried silently, it was just painful to listen to. I kept thinking ‘why don’t I just hang up?’. But that would be asking for more trouble. I became numb. I didn’t sleep all night. I went on this holiday with a sad and heavy heart.

This is what my life is like. I know this pattern particularly well. The calm before the storm, the destruction and devastation. Then the task of picking up the pieces and putting things back to together with the hope that it won’t happen again. Or that next time I’ll be better prepared or at least have made some progress. But then it happens all over again, and a little piece of me gets lost in the sadness somewhere.

In my opinion, Sofia Khan in the book was very lucky to have parents who, despite being a pain and putting on the pressure, understood the importance of education and wanting their daughter to be happy. I don’t think my parents put happiness before pride and honour. Actually, I know they don’t. They aren’t evil people, but they are so blinded by culture and society, they don’t know what is more important anymore.

The old me would’ve shouted back to be heard, but the me now is staying quiet and waiting for the storm to blow over….until next time.

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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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Never Good Enough – Part 1 Cultural Expectations

It’s been a while since my last post, and for that, I must apologise. Life gets busy and priorities change. But I came back to some wonderful comments left on my last blog post about the Pressures of Marriage and it made me think about how far I have come.

I never really got a chance to tell the story of how I ended up being in the minority of British Bangladeshi girls who actually moved away from home before marriage. Every time someone asks me about my past and I recount this story, it hits me how my life has changed over the last few years. And for this particularly long story, I will have to split it up in 2 parts.

I grew up in a relatively small town which consisted of a tight-knit Bangladeshi community who knew everything happening in each others lives. Then as we were growing up, this community grew, with extended family members moving down too and all of a sudden we were no longer a small community.

In this culture my biggest frustration to this day has always been the importance put on the phrase ‘what would people say?‘. I was never brought up to live a fulfilling life. In fact, I was brought up to behave extraordinarily well and always do the right thing – you don’t want to be the talk of the town.

And the day I realised that no-one but myself actually cared about me or my happiness, it was the most sad and loneliest day of my life.

When we are young, we are very impressionable. And trust me when I say this, Bangladeshi parents know this all too well. They put a lot of effort in deterring you from doing anything seen as remotely fun outside of your home environment, mainly to stop you from mixing with people who could potentially be bad influencers. In my case this meant no extra-curricular activities (don’t even think about wanting to play an instrument), no after school clubs, no play dates, no birthday parties and don’t even mention sleepovers.

When I reflect on my childhood, I find that I don’t actually remember much of it, which is sad. I just remember how naive I was throughout my school life. I never thought bad of anyone, never realised that others took advantage of me and my generosity and especially didn’t know all the naughty things other kids knew before their time.

Then as we hit our prime teen years, my friends went out, they drank, some smoked, they dated, they went clubbing, they went travelling; whilst I sat at home watching Indian TV dramas and movies with my family. If ever I was feeling brave enough to ask to meet a friend outside of school time, I would get the answer ‘NO’ and that was that. I was too scared to protest, I just accepted it and told my friends that I wasn’t allowed with no further explanation. They all knew my parents were strict.

Then I got clever (kind of) and realised that if I can’t go out, surely they can’t object to my friends coming over – how can we get up to mischief under their roof? I was never that type of rebellious child anyway. This idea also didn’t sit well with my parents, but they really didn’t have an excuse, so it did end up happening. I never thought of myself as clever growing up, but I must admit that without even realising, I wore them down over time.

Mixing with people from other backgrounds and growing up in a Western society with an Eastern upbringing was tough. Just saying ‘no’ was no longer good enough. I felt that I was broadening my mind, whilst they remained narrow-minded. We were constantly compared to other children in the community ‘look at what so-and-so’s son/daughter did’ etc. It was like a constant competition. I’m sure this is the norm for many other cultures out there, but not once did I hear any parents supporting their child in what he/she wanted to do. Just what they wanted him/her to do.

There are just so many unrealistic expectations put on Bangladeshi children; some yearn to get their parents approval throughout their whole life, and some quite frankly don’t care. A lot of these expectations I outlined in my Bangladesh or Bengali? post.

It does make me wonder if any of these parents ever stop and think about how their behaviour affects their children? Do they ever realise the heartache and internal battles they cause on a regular basis? Sometimes my friends just couldn’t understand why I had to abide by so many rules when they didn’t have to follow any.

Being a bit older and wiser, I have have seen and heard enough in this corrupted world to understand SOME of the reasons why my parents were the way they were; because children are easily influenced and parents do have our best interests at heart. But my issue has always been the lack of explanation and communication in general. Is that too much to ask for?

Continued on… Never Good Enough – Part 2 My Reality

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Pressures of Marriage

I’m feeling a little bit emotional today so I thought the best way to express this was to write about it.

Being a single Muslim girl of a certain age is tough, and there aren’t many people who know about it. I’ve mentioned in my previous blog post that in the Bangladeshi culture, the expected age bracket for a girl to get married is between 18 – 25, the average being around 21 years old.

Now that I’m well past the average and getting closer to the end of that age bracket, the pressure is on all of a sudden. Don’t get me wrong, the pressure was always there, but the intensity not so much. It’s got to the point where I’m losing sleep at night way too often to be healthy.

It frustrates me because despite me belonging to the generation who speaks up for their rights, my parents and people of their generation are struggling to accept these changes, at no fault of their own to be honest. They have grown up with a different ‘norm’ than me and they also have their own pressures thrust upon them by the society they live in and elders in the generations above them.

But where is that middle ground of understanding? How much effort and heartache must one undertake in order to not only be heard, but be listened to?

If I’m completely honest with you, I’m in a predicament. I feel like I’m ready for marriage, it’s something that I’ve been prepared for and accepted as normal in our culture at my age. But at the same time, in the western world that we live in, you can still be considered as too young to get married at this age. We’re told that we have so much more we can achieve before we get tied down into serious responsibilities. Whether that’s further education, travelling or getting yourself in a good position on the career ladder.

I also know that life can be lonely sometimes without a companion to share it with. I’ve been very fortunate enough for the opportunity to move to London to pursue a career, but that didn’t happen that easily may I add. I struggled a lot to convince my parents to allow me to do this and had to fight for my rights for a better life, but that’s a whole different story.

Now that I’ve been able to enjoy this little bit of freedom and breathing space for just over a year, it’s time to get serious. I am blessed to have a caring family, amazing friends and people around me who have made such a big impact on my life over the last year. And I would not be the person I am today without them. But I also know that at times I feel something lacking in my life and I long to share my love and care for someone else too. 

Let me just tell you now, the search for a partner (for life) is not easy. I know it’s a commonly shared feeling, but it’s 100 times harder when you don’t have that self confidence to put yourself out there and also have to consider a restricting criteria. I just don’t know what to do.

I’ve grown up seeing my dad in the food trade where he hardly had time for his family. And despite my mother being a housewife, she barely ever got to spend any time with him either. He worked 7 days a week to makes ends meet and provide for not only his family here, but also for his brother’s family in Bangladesh. I don’t want to marry someone who is in a similar situation; there are too many people like this out there. That’s not what I call a life.

On the other hand, there are also so many people on restricted Visas living in this country, whether they’re a student or working in a restaurant who are looking to marry to get that red passport. I most definitely do not want to get involved in that situation either. 

But with my parents knowing and living in a community consisting of these types of people, the search for ‘the one’ is made 1000 times harder. They have specifically told me that I can only marry someone who is Bangladeshi Muslim. This limits the pool of people available in ‘the one’ pool.

My criteria for the person I hope to marry is that he is a British born Muslim and educated to university level with a decent enough job which isn’t in the food trade industry. Am I asking for too much?

One of my good older friends who I have known since I was a child sent me such a lovely encouraging message today that it brought a tear to my eye. She said:

“Since I have met you, even when you were that shy little girl, I knew you would go far & even remember telling you this because I see an incredibly strong, beautiful individual full of love & life and whoever has the kismet to share their life with you better hold on tight because you will show him what life is really all about. I know you will do it all and be happier than a lot of people. You have to believe it too.”

Now, if that’s not the most beautiful thing you have ever heard, then I don’t know what is. Once again, I am grateful for such wonderful people in my life who keep me going even when the times are tough. Hopefully one day I will look back at all this heartache and smile at how my life turned around.

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