Husna Ara Begum Matin (Tower Hamlets, UK)

Settling in

In 1972, there were not many Bengali families in the UK. We couldn't get Bangladeshi food items. I only knew a few Bengali families from the High Commission. But everyone was living far apart from each other. We couldn't meet regularly. And the cold was unbelievable. It snowed all the time… You couldn't see the road because of the snow.

The family first rented a house in Surrey because the new embassy didn't provide accommodation. This proved expensive, so after a year, they moved to East London.

We searched quite hard for a house here, and at last we found one and moved in. Even then, life was very difficult. The area was full of old houses that didn't have showers and inside toilets. For fourteen years we had to go to the public baths. It was like a village in Bangladesh.

It was hard to run a family with only one member earning so I tried hard to get a job. I worked as a machinist for 12 years. I had to work as well as taking care of the family… I worked at home. I worked for Turkish and Jewish people. They would bring the clothes in the morning. I would do the work and the next day they would come to pick it up. I couldn't go out to work because I had to look after my kids.

Her husband left the High Commission, but former employees were allowed to stay in the country.

My husband found work in a glass factory. He was an educated person. Everyone from the embassy tried to find an office job… He had to find a job, too. He couldn't do any hard work… There was no physical labour involved. He worked there until 1986. Then he started a restaurant business – a takeaway – with my cousin… He couldn't do it for long as he had heart disease.

Husna Ara Begum is closely involved in community organisations and celebrations. She likes living in Tower Hamlets for this reason:

This is the centre of the city. Everyone has to come to this area. If anyone needs to do some Bangladeshi shopping, they have to come here. If someone needs a sari they have to come here to buy it. If someone needs to buy fish, they have to come to Banglatown… I am lucky that I live in the centre. If anyone has to visit the Shahid Minar in Altab Ali Park, they will come to my place to rest and then go there. On the eve of 21 February [Martyr's Memorial Day] people from different areas come to my place before paying tributes at midnight. That's why I live in the centre – I love it!

She attends the East London Mosque and notes:

Now it has become easier to practise your religion. There are many groups where women can discuss Islam and practise Islam. There has been much progress in this arena… Now the opportunity to practise religion is better than at home.

Snow in Britain


Shahid Minar


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