Migrant Bride: Laila Rahman
Laila Rahman migrated to Britain as a bride, arriving in London in 1971 to join her husband who was studying to be an accountant. She told us:
Our marriage took place over the telephone. My guardians, mother, uncles, were on one end of the phone and he was on the other. After passing matric, I came here. I was 16 years old at that time. After coming over here, I went to college to do my A levels.
The marriage was arranged quickly, she recalls, because her family were worried about the approaching war and wanted to get her out of the country. Three years later, on a visit home to Bangladesh, the marriage was performed properly:
We organised a Muslim ceremony of marriage. Because our marriage had been done on the phone, we had to do that. Then we came back again.
Laila travelled to England with her uncle and first lived with her husband in Balham, South London. She remembers the time clearly:
I developed friendships… As I was a lot younger than my husband's friends, they loved me very much. They showed me the shopping centres and how to shop. They taught me English. I did not know English at that time. There was not much scope to learn English. I learned through work and through watching TV… My friends and their children would come to visit. We would socialise at the weekend. My friends became like family.
Although she had been excited to travel to England, she also felt very lonely and missed her family:
I had wanted to come to this country. I had read in books that this is a beautiful country. When I arrived here, I was very upset. It was very painful. I used to cry whenever I saw a plane.
Laila's husband had arrived in Britain in 1963 and he, too, recalled the strangeness of the new country and the difficulties he faced:
When we first came, you couldn't get halal meat. We would go to Romford to buy meat. The Jews would sell it. We would buy from there… We would eat herring as hilsha fish. When we came, there were no spices. There was no turmeric, ginger, black pepper, nothing. When we went to Bangladesh, we would bring back as much ginger as possible and would keep it in the ground to preserve it. We would bring vegetables from Bangladesh.
Laila's mother died in 1974, and her desire to return to Bangladesh faded.
After my mother's death, going back home lost its attraction completely.
However, in 1984, her husband returned to Bangladesh with her daughter, and Laila was forced to follow:
After completing his studies, my husband said he didn't want to live here. He wanted to go back home. My son was very young and my daughter was in school. One day he took my daughter from school and went back home… When he went back home, I had to go. I did not want to but I could do nothing because he took my daughter with him. So, I sold the house and shipped all the furniture and everything.
I admitted my daughter to a school and my son to a nursery… Although she had been studying in an English language school, she found it difficult to adjust over there. I just stayed at home and took my children to school and brought them back. That also affected me – I suffered from depression… I found the people changed. Their mentality was very different from mine.
In 1989, the family returned to the UK, this time moving to Blackburn, where her husband had bought a house:
We bought the house with cash. We fixed it up; there was nothing in the house. I did not even have a spice jar. Then my friend from London came. She bought utensils, spoons. We did not have any money. I had only £20 with me… Everyone came and gave us what was necessary.
The local community at that time was quite small – maybe 20-25 families, attracted to work in the local textile mills. Her husband commented that, 'It was said that in December the sun wasn't seen because of the various types of mills… the fog.'
Laila became very involved with the local Bengali community, opening a Bangla school and organising cultural functions. She later became a community education officer for the council, while her husband set up his own accountancy firm. Laila considers her family successful and is proud of their achievements:
We came here with a limited amount of money. We left everything behind in Bangladesh… We had to start afresh. So we struggled – that was normal. That was our struggle for the second time. Then gradually he bought the practice, bought a new house, bought a house for our daughter in London, provided education for our son.
Her future now seems settled in England, with her husband and children. Laila reflected:
We didn't plan to live in this country permanently. Those who came to study, they intended to go back or those who came to earn money, they intended to go back when they'd saved enough money. That was the plan. Then, when their children grew up, people stayed because of their studies, their future. Besides, there are so many changes back home. Many people think, 'What will we do?' If they go back they need a lot of money to survive.