We left Basildon the night before our early morning flight – it was all rapidly becoming a reality after weeks and months of waiting. We had so much luggage! I said “goodbye Basildon”, “goodbye hospital” (where I had worked), “goodbye Laindon”…..as we travelled by train, London bound. I remember feeling that I was totally Nufel’s now and that I needed him. We completed our journey to Heathrow by taxi with old and very new family members. I reluctantly sucked on a Pret-a-Manger sandwich at the airport as the sun came up on an uneventfully grey day. Tears welled as I suddenly missed home and everything British! Last minute affectionate exchanges were made by mobile phone as we headed towards the departure gate. Friends promised to keep in touch and to visit as I guaranteed to do the same. As the plane took off I completed my final farewell – “goodbye England”. Nufel met my eyes and smiled. He cradled my hand as I thought how strange it was that I would be away for months not weeks.
We arrived in Bangladesh On March 24th. Shahjalal International Airport, Dhaka met my expectations as aged and requiring attention. It was dirty white with lots of vehicles serving its parked up planes, transporting baggage on open trays as well as petrol deposited through rusty hoses. We efficiently moved from the international to the domestic terminal. It was so humid and from the door frame of the airport entrance a wash of leafy palms waved me on. We sipped super-sweet tea as I thought of our short, final flight and pondered meeting the rest of my new family looking an exhausted mess.
We finally boarded a fifty seater plane bound for Chittagong. Had I not been so exhausted I don’t think I would have had the courage to board but it was too late now. Flight three was hair-raising for this aerophobic and the tiny jet-propelled tin shell flew oh so high! We were served “every little thing counts” snack packs and I half read a Bangladeshi newspaper. I think my bum cheeks were clenched for the entire journey….
Transport for the brave!
As we disembarked Nufel’s Mother (Ammu) appeared to tap into a previously unrevealed energy source as she fervently marched towards the VIP lounge at Chittagong Airport. The rest of the family were running late so I attempted to fix my hair and disguise tired eyes as I nervously anticipated their arrival. My new nephew, Sahil was the first face to appear. Nufel’s twin sisters Piya and Papiya greeted me nervously and quickly busied themselves with the car seating arrangements and other necessary practicalities. As we drove I remember wondering whether I had made a huge mistake as the unmarked road cut through what seemed to be open farmland. Dilapidated shanty structures licked the roadside and cows, dogs and goats wandered recklessly with no sense of urgency or purpose. It was a calm chaos. Men with lungis and bare chests walked amongst ill placed tea stalls and huts selling essentials. Crisps and other spicy snacks hung in rows waiting to be sold. As we passed endless ship yards I silently fought initial despair that my home would be amongst this dirty nothingness. My eyes strained hoping to see a town or city centre emerge.
Urban Chittagong finally appeared and welcomed me with millions of posters of my father-in-law (a senior political leader in Chittagong). Sheikh Hasina (Prime Minister and leader of the Awami League Political Party) was soon to be bound for Chittagong herself on an official visit. It was then I realised who and what my Abu is – an institution. I was overwhelmed with the saturation of his image in the City. What was this man to make of me? The bedeshi beau (foreign bride)?
My first destination was Apu’s home (Apu is the respectful term used for an elder sister) – aptly renamed ‘beau basha’ or ‘brides home’ following my arrival. I was soon surprised at the beauty of their home – the open plan living and spacious rooms. This was a vast improvement to the three-bed, former council owned semi’s I was so familiar with. My welcome reception was very friendly and I was able to grab a few hours sleep to shake off some of the jet lag. Those first few days were a little blurred. I rapidly embraced my new wardrobe of floaty, flowing salwar kameezs (traditional dress for women in Bangladesh) and lots of photos with new nieces and nephews were taken as we got to know each other better……
Smiles with Subeh and Sahil
Family photo albums were found and shared – the intense colours of asian wedding saris contrasting greatly with the black and white oldies of my grandparents and their parents. We all seemed to be entertained by one another and the cultural differences explored through pictures and our interactions was exciting, welcomed and relatively minimalised. I learnt about the wedding celebrations Nufel and I would enjoy in the coming days and I attempted to eat new foods with hands as feeding tools. My move so far had been reassuringly smooth.
I met Nufel’s father (Abu) after two or three days in Bangladesh. Having spent many happy hours with his family we all waited impatiently for his arrival at ‘beau basha’. Eventually our introduction was the perfect anti-climax. Despite his social importance he was kind and engaging. Photos were taken of us sharing cake (a bangladeshi tradition at times of celebration) and he insisted that I was to be his daughter – not his daughter in law. I am not sure why but I remember telling Abu that Nufel was very stubborn. I think his Dad knew then that I really understood his son as Abu has since commented on his stubbornness as though it is an openly shared secret.
Although we registered our marriage in the UK Nufel’s family were insistant that our marriage was to be celebrated Bangladeshi style. However, whilst plans had provisionally been made I had been warned that Abu had a habit of ‘refining’ schedules last minute. The whole family had feared that his untimely intervention would cause unnecessary stress. To me Abu spoke softly and kindly but I saw his temper as he argued with others (in bangla) that there was no such thing as Gaye Holud (body turmeric ceremony)and that I should ideally wear red not yellow to the first of our planned events! Abu left leaving the family organisers thinking about what they were going to do at this late stage. In the days that followed a new Red/Gold Sari was purchased at Mimi’s department store and my new family energetically adapted their plans like professional wedding organisers used to whimsical changes brought about by opinionated elders!