Emaan

Extracts of a recorded conversation with Emaan from Dudley who speaks about her life alongside some key images from her personal collection. 

 Growing up in Dudley

I was one of seven, the third daughter in the family, and I was born in Wordsley hospital in Dudley. I do remember my parents having conversations and talking to us that I was the third daughter and that was culturally not acceptable because girls weren't a thing then, every Asian couple wanted to have a boy. And so I was a complete disappointment for my father. And so he didn't come home for two weeks. He just didn't want to come and see me. But before I was born my mother was in a coma. She had a brain haemorrhage. And so she was sick for nine months. In fact she was very close where they would have taken off her life support machines and she would have died, and I wouldn't have had the pleasure of being here today.
So my father had to take care of me. I was the youngest child and my father didn't have a choice. My dad raised me from birth to when I was 11 years old. I watched him as grew up. You know I was with him all the time. He was my world. When I was two my father was into cars we lived in Wellington Road he would repair cars. That's one of his cars there with me sitting on it.

And as you can see I'm on the bonnet of the car and everybody else is sort of kind of around me. It was taken in Ivonoe Street by my dad. In the photo are my two sisters and my cousin. So that's my uncle's son there, and then there are people who used to be the neighbours. Cameras weren't common then so whenever there was 'picture time' everybody would come and be part of the picture. The skills aren't there as you see, there is most of me and less of others on that picture!

When I was two my mother got me all ready and dressed to go out, and my father was working in the garage. She put the coat on me and then without her knowing I opened the door and let myself out. And I got lost and so they found me at the police station hours later. So I was very adventurous. I just wasn't a normal child, my parents would always say that I was never normal, I wouldn't play with the normal stuff like children would. I was always exploring.

That's a picture of us at a normal family park. My dad would take us to Grange Road Park, there were six of us at that point because my youngest brother wasn't born yet. So my dad, he'd put all six children plus my mum plus himself in a car and take us.

We didn't have this whole thing about 'how many people are allowed to have seatbelts' or anything like that. Back then you'd put people in the boot if you had to. This is a picture taken in Grange Road park. All the others sit normally but I'm not normal so I'm always the odd one, I don't play on slides or anything I'd go around exploring. So that would be me.

I don't remember any of my childhood being British in any way. Not the outfits, not the dress sense, not the culture, not the food, there was nothing British about it. We had such a strong community network that you only met your own. And we were told that we couldn't have friends from other backgrounds. I mean the only connection with Britishness we ever had was if we went to school, but even then there were no uniforms so we couldn't really be part of that, so we took our own culture to school.

 In fact my sisters never went to school. They would go for two or three months and then they would stay home for another three months.  And it wasn't picked up on, it wasn't a big deal at that point. Or the parents would lie to the school and say "oh they've gone to Pakistan", but they would actually be in the house.
So that's what the culture was. There was no education. We were groomed to have arranged marriages within your kinship whether it's back home or here. Work or jobs were a taboo, a complete taboo. We never talked about education. But I Loved education. I loved to go to school, I loved books, I loved everything about education and I really wanted to be educated. I was really good at school and I would drag my father to my parents evenings so he could see how good I was.

Going to Pakistan for the first time.
When I was about eight years old - in about 1988 -  I was really bored of Dudley. We had never stepped out of Dudley, we didn't know what was outside, never having gone anywhere. But we'd had family members come and go from Pakistan. So I wanted to explore what Pakistan was and where it was. I didn't even know it was a country at that point. So I said to my father that I'd like to go. He was not very happy about it, but I bribed him I said 'if you wouldn't send me I would die'. He kind of believed what I said, and so when I was nine I was sent to Pakistan on my own and I still remember the day we had to go to the airport. He was a bit late getting to the airport and when we got to Heathrow I ran, I literally let go of his hand and I ran and I didn't look back. I was so excited about this journey, this trip that I didn't even look back to see how my dad was feeling. I didn't even give him a hug.

So I was on a flight with people from the same village. My dad had asked one of his uncles to pick me up from the airport. I honestly didn't know what to expect but when I got off the plane that was the first time that I was homesick, I was thinking 'oh my God'. Because it was a different language, it was a different atmosphere. The heat got to me, the noise got to me, the smells got to me and I thought 'oh my God there's no turning back'.

His uncle picked me up and put me in this van full of strangers. For the first time in my life I sat with a complete stranger throughout this whole journey. And all I could hear was the 'peepee papa', people just using their horns all the time. That's the first thing that hit me - the heat, the dust, and the fact that there was no greenery.  And so we got to the village two hours later. We are dropped off at the side of the road and I remember coming down these little tiny type of hills with little pathways going up and down and then straight onto a rooftop. And I was thinking - "we're walking on roofs here, flat roofs. what's going on?". I'd never seen a flat roof before. And then we came down the stairs there was this mud house. There were cows, there were sheep and there were these people that looked completely different. There is nothing British about me but they looked very very different in their clothing, and how they approached the conversation. The beds were different. Everything was different.

It was a big adventure for me. It was the best experience of my life. I'm proud that I stood up and I said- "I'm going to go". Those seven or eight weeks that I stayed there, I learnt a lot. And I was free. The main thing was I had freedom. I had choice. I felt I had a life outside of Dudley.

Going back again.
I came back after my eight weeks of experience and I told my siblings what a wonderful time I had and what Pakistan was like.  I convinced them and I said 'we should all go as a family'. And I think my father at that point was selling certain businesses and ready to go so a year later we all went to Pakistan. I went with my siblings. There were seven of us and my dad's uncle with his children also went so there was a big family.

This is a picture that was taken with my sister and one of the cousins That's me in yellow. That's my cousin in the middle Naji. That's my sister Serena. Naji and Serena were best friends. But all of us used to play together.

You can see what I mean about there not being any greenery but this is my Granddad's garden. He used to plant a lot in the garden he used to try and replicate England. Although he was very Pakistani he was also very British as well. He lived in London. That's his garden and his flowers.

That's the bed that we used to sleep on. That's my brother on the floor picking ants and eating them. That was his main protein! That's how we would cook or collect a water. In fact we didn't have regular water so I'd have to go to the well and to carry those things you put on your head made out of mud, and I used to carry the water back. And that was the social networking of women in those days.  They would all meet by well about three o'clock in the afternoon have a chat, joke, and get the water and then head back home. That was their social media you know, catching up on gossip.
I would love doing things that people would do locally and try and embrace it. Although I was born in England, what I found in Pakistan was complete freedom because in England due to the cultural restraints we had, there at that time our parents didn't want us to educate and mix socially with other people.

I found that people in Pakistan had more freedom of choice and education than we did in England. When our families migrated to England they stopped in the time zone they arrived in. So things progressed in Pakistan but they didn't in the UK. And so our parents would have a very old-fashioned mindset that the parents in Pakistan didn't have.  They thought about education. They thought about giving their children choices in terms of marriage. Our parents didn't. And so that was a bit of a shock. So yes I thought Pakistan was better.

I'm actually the one taking the picture here. This is my grandparent's house. It still stands as it is.  So they were common beds everywhere, you wouldn't have sofas. And so this is where you would actually be, in normal day-to-day life you'd sit there, you'd you sleep there. And that's how you would cook. As you can see one of my sisters is preparing flour at the back so that she can make that chapatis. The other one there, that's the oldest sister, and she's the one in the picture here. She's actually warming up the oven which we call the thandoor. So that's right at the back here. So she's warming that up and when the flour gets done she would put her hand in the oven and she'd paste it on the side.

And so we lived there, we were happy there. My father built his home. He was trying to build his business.  I went to school for a short period of time. I learnt how to speak Urdu and do a bit of writing.
But unfortunately it didn't last for long. My parents got separated at that point. So my mum took the seven of us and went to my granddad's house (which is where the flowers were), and waited for somebody to send her some money so that she could bring us back to the UK.
So this photo was taken when they separated, I think it was on the one of the days that we would go in for our passport pictures. That was my granddad house. I'm in the pink with my tow brother’s Zahid and Tahlil. My older sister Safina didn't want to be in the picture but she is.

This is back in the UK, that's Grange Road was taken by my uncle. My two sisters on either side and then my uncle's children Nisar and Ifty in the middle. It's a beautiful picture.

There were talks of arranged marriages to marry each other. So my sister Sabrina was arranged to marry my cousin Ifty. Safina was arranged to marry Nisar and then I was arranged to marry their younger brother, and then I had a younger sister who would then marry the youngest.

We were so tight as a community, it was so much of a tight circle that there were no gaps for anybody to come and interfere. You weren't allowed to interfere. What we wore, what we ate, what we did with our lives. It was all dictated by not even our own parents but by others. Especially when my mom became a single mom. We had no choice in anything that we did. You know we couldn't even wear lipstick. It was a taboo. We couldn't cut our hair; we couldn't take our scarfs off our heads. We weren't allowed to walk out alone. It was just such a taboo. I didn't agree with it. I didn't agree with it in any way.  I would challenge it, every time my mum would say - "this is not something you can do". I'd go back and say - "well where does it say this? Where's it come from? What are the reasons?"  And if she said -  "because I said so" well, that wasn't good enough for me. So that's why I went back to stay with my dad.

When I left for the airport I knew I wouldn't come back. So I grabbed whatever English books I could get hold of and I put them in my suitcase. And I remember my uncle taking me to WH Smiths and said to me - "buy whatever you want". I didn't want sweets, but I went to the shelf and picked up the thickest book I could find, and those were the books that kept me going during the years that I did stay out there without any form of education. I kept reading the same books over and over again, drawing pictures. I had a whole wall full of pictures.

Getting Married
I returned to the UK  because the scenario changed. My father arranged my marriage and he did it for this particular reason- because he thought that once you're married you're no longer your parents - you belong to your in-laws. He had to wait until I was sixteen years old.
So on the 3rd of July I turned sixteen and then a few weeks later 29th July he arranged my marriage. And the funny thing was that I didn't know anything about it. And all of a sudden we had this influx of people, extended relatives came in to clean up the house. And we thought - "What the hell's going on?' A day before he took us to Lahore for an outing and we had just come back that night. And then an extended member of the family came and told me - "oh you’re getting married tomorrow".

I was shocked. I was in extreme shock.  I told you I was an odd child and I felt I had a voice.  And my mom asked for me to be put on the phone and she said that if I came back to England without being married she would never ever speak to me again. And because there was so much anger - my father was a very loud and angry man and there was so much upset - I didn't want to hurt him.  So it was my turn to get married.  I didn't want to hurt my father anymore so on that day I cried. My grandad came and he's the only one that actually hugged me, and I cried and I cried and cried until my eyes dried. And then things changed.

Emman telling part of her story in Tipton, 2018

Everything changed. I don't want to be in Pakistan anymore.  So if I couldn't be with my dad I didn't want to be in Pakistan. The whole purpose of being there was that I was with my dad and now I was no longer 'daddy's little girl' anymore. So I came back at sixteen. But the positive thing about that was that when I came back I was a Mrs. I was independent. So when my mom turned around and said - "Do what your sisters do. Get on the JSA". I said - "no, I'm going to go and get myself an education". But I needed to get some basic courses first because I left school at eleven. I enrolled for GCSEs - did English and I did maths, English language and I got A's for my English.  In those days you didn't have the funding, you had to pay for your RSA exams. So I said to my mum - "I'm going to get a job". My first job was working for Butchers & Baker in Dudley on Pear Tree Lane and it was a nightshift.

I remember when I got the job I came back home and told my mum she was so disappointed. She couldn't turn around and say no, but she didn't like it. But again it was the freedom. My husband, well he wasn't here immediately, he was still over there in Pakistan. He had to wait for his visa and so he didn't have a choice in the matter. I had to work. How would I call him over if I didn't work? So I started off with the courses and I worked in Butchers and Bakers. I used to work a nightshift nine to six in the morning, then I'd go back home sleep for three hours and then I used to go and attend adult education courses. And then from there I became quite independent and everything changed for me and my siblings. Actually, my brother my sister did go to college and I made sure of it, that they went to college and got an education. My younger sister even graduated she got a law degree but it was really hard work. I had to be there the whole time making sure they're okay, you know helping them, supporting them.

My sense of identity and being a Muslim

In terms of my sense of identity was completely and utterly destroyed when I was a child. That adventurous, ambitious daydreamer, a complete dreamer completely got trashed and taken away from me. There was so much hurt, so much trying to make sense of everything. What I am today is not something that I was, I created it myself. My parents didn't give it to me. No culture gave it to me, no religion. Nobody gave it to me. They kept saying to me - "you are a Muslim". I was born into a Muslim family. They told me I couldn't have boyfriends, I couldn't eat pork, and I couldn't drink alcohol. But other than that I was no different to my neighbour. I had a job, I put on the same clothing as they did. I didn’t pray five times a day. I would fast but I didn't know anything about my religion. Absolutely nothing.

So I didn't have an identity. So the time when I really asked about and questioned my identity, my rights, or my religion, was when I was in situations which were out of my control. For example when I approached the divorce. Nine years of debate, nine years of back and forth and back and forth and being told I couldn't do it. "If you marry, you marry for life". Says who? Where is this coming from?

At that time I used to work for Dudley council on a community project, I worked for banking for a short period too. My husband joined me from Pakistan, and he had my bank card so he made the decisions as to where that money would be spent. I'd get five pounds a week. That was my pocket money. So it's one pound for lunch, it didn't matter what I bought, but that was one pound for lunch. That was all I got. Everything that I earned would go to him and then he'd decide how it would be spent. I couldn't shop, I wouldn't be allowed to shop or buy clothes. I think my mum felt so sorry for me as she bought them for me. So it was all dictated by what he wanted - what we ate. what we did, it was about everybody but me. And so it got to a point where I really questioned this.

I was asked to put on a course, and it was a discussion course. The discussion should be on religion about Islam. And I sat there and this woman was telling me about women's rights. I had never heard of that before in my entire life. That women have rights, that Muslim women actually had rights. And I said  - "Tell me more. What do you mean they have rights?". Remember, I'm twenty four at this point. And so when she went into it in detail I said - "why had I never heard this before?" She said because we live in a culture that is man-made - men do not want women to have those rights. She told me about the Prophet's wife being a business woman, she was an entrepreneur. And about the women used to fight in battles alongside men, and that they would speak, they would have opinions, that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) himself said do not force women into marriage, they should be allowed to have choice.
I said - "where is this information coming from, I'm totally confused". And so she told me. So I at that point decided that I was going to have this knowledge. So it was during the period of Ramadan - well the last ten days are very holy days. Some men go to the mosques and away from everybody, the whole world. They kind of commit to God. And I did the same but at home. I said to my mom - "for ten days I don't want to have anything to do with anybody. I'm going to commit to God and I want some answers."

I left my daughter who was two at that point with my mom, and I went into this room and I sat for ten days, day and night and I read. I consulted, and I read, and I consulted. That's when I had an identity. I knew who I was. I wanted to be a Muslim for the first time in my life. I wanted to be Muslim because I had a voice and I had a right. And now I had all the evidence, now I had all the answers. So that led to a huge change in my life and created my identity today.

I put on a headscarf at that point because I wanted to be recognised as a Muslim and have a voice. My opinions are my rights as a Muslim female.

 

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