Abida Mian's Blog

An outlier that's living, learning and being myself…

Muslim girl trapped in a Western World – the burden of culture

A few months ago, on my morning walk to Pret, I happened to pass a homeless girl who was sitting on the floor begging for money. Some guy in a suit accidently kicked the hat which housed her change but he was too busy talking on his phone to notice. It was really cold, and the young homeless girl (she must have been in her mid-late teens) had no coat and was shivering and frantically trying to collect the tossed change together. As I walked into Pret, my heart sank; I got my usual hot chocolate and croissant and also got the girl the same. I stood in front of her and kneeled down and gave her my coat and food from Pret. The smile on her face was genuine, and she looked at me and mouthed ‘thank you’. I had such a warm feeling inside. I felt a connection to her – while she was confined by financial constraints there I was trapped by my culture.

I know people often wonder why they never see me with a guy. My work colleagues, porters and neighbours. In fact one such neighbour commented to one of the porters how it was odd that they never saw me with any guy, that perhaps I live some sort of secret life. I do have a secret, one that I’ve kept for years, but only a few close people know the truth. It’s only after recovering two years ago from being ill that I can finally feel comfortable talking about it. I went through a difficult period, first watching an uncle die slowly from cancer, who was so scared to fall asleep in case he never woke up, then my dad collapsing and being seriously ill. The pressure started to build up, until I couldn’t breathe, the weight fell off, clothes didn’t fit, an ex-colleague persuaded me to let him take me to the doctor. They couldn’t figure out why I was experiencing breathing difficulties. I went to a specialist and he examined me, and said that I was exhibiting obvious problems with my breathing but yet he couldn’t figure out the cause. He commented on how frail I was with my bones prominently visible, he was genuinely nice, and asked whether there was anything troubling me, that perhaps I was under a lot of stress. I confessed that I was having trouble holding it together, worrying about my family, being ill and taking time away from work, I was lucky enough to have understanding bosses but I felt guilty being away because I knew they relied on me. I remember telling the specialist that I feel like I have this constant pressure to put other people first, but not sure whether I have it in me to do it anymore. Medication was only going to help to control the symptoms; the only thing that was going to get me better was managing my stress. After a warm hug, he said just find things you love doing, don’t hide your fears, be open and honest.

There are very few people I’ve met that I can just be myself with. A good friend of mine, Patrick, understands Asian culture very well, his wife is Asian and she hasn’t even told her mother that she’s married! I can chat to him very easily, like I feel that he doesn’t judge me, and he often tries to help me get out of my shell. I appear confident and happy on the surface but underneath that I’m soft and shy. My parents always wanted me to marry someone of a similar cultural background, when I said I didn’t want that, I confined myself to trying to balance respecting their culture with my own happiness – a recipe for disaster! I’ve very rarely dated; I can count the number on one hand. The problem is that when you’re not open with someone as to your situation, things become complicated. I really fell for a guy called Glen years ago, I never thought I’d be lucky enough to meet someone that had everything I was looking for and then he came along. The problem was being embarrassed about my culture and not telling him the truth so he never knew how I felt. Men that I’ve dated always said the same thing, that I was hiding something, I was elusive. The answer was simple, but very few people are aware of Asian culture. I was honest to someone that wanted to marry me, when I told him, he said he had no issue with my culture and was happy to take it at my own pace, he was incredibly understanding, and even offered to elope, but I felt guilty that I couldn’t offer him the life that he deserved, so I walked away.

I’ve accepted that my life is complicated, which ever path I choose, I end up hurting someone, sometimes it’s a heavy burden to bear. Perhaps, I’ll never get the chance to marry, have children because the happiness of others is more important than my own. If someone said would you rather win millions on the lottery or have the chance to live a normal life free to choose whom you date, I’d choose the latter. Such a simple thing, yet I’ll never get that chance, perhaps my life can have meaning in other ways, I’ve found voluntary work to be a rewarding alternative.


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