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Oral History Interview - Sugra Hashamy


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Audio recording of an interview with Sugra Hashamy. From an Indian family, Sugra was born in Tanzania and moved to Uganda when she married her husband. They moved to the UK in 1973 following the forced expulsion of Asians from Uganda by the then President of Uganda, Idi Amin.


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Q. Could you start by telling me where you were born?

Sugra Hashamy (SH). I was born in Tanzania,

Q. Where’s that?

SH. Tanzania

Q. Whereabouts?

SH: Tanzania, Wanza (?) It’s Africa. In Africa, Tanzania, Wanza. I was born there.

Q And where did your family come from first?

SH. They came from India.

Q. Do you know when they moved to Africa?

SH. That time I was there. I don’t know about it. When I was born, I know my parents were in Africa, that’s it.

Q. Don’t know when?

SH.I don’t know when. I don’t know where.

Q. Can you remember the house you grew up in?

SH. I can remember this house. It was small country, a small house. But in family, it was quite.. sister and brothers and we grew up together but we were very poor and old fashioned and we grew up there. And after we’re getting bigger and our kids, all they get married. And some of them without marrying, they separate. That’s the life.

Q. What did your father do?

SH. My father got a shop, clothes shop. And my brother got a small shop, is a tobacconist, and newspapers and sweets. And he was selling these things. And after we move in other countries. And after we move in other countries and bigger one, and he started to grow his business. It’s the same as clothes, but no old clothes. Just like these saris and suits and everything. And after I’m getting, we’re grown up and we get married. And when I get married, I change, I went to Uganda. And in Uganda, my husband he was working with somebody else.

Q. So when you were little, when you were a child, you grew up in Tanzania?

SH. In Tanzania.

Q. Can you remember going to school?

SH. Yes, I went to school. But I don’t remember because I was really, really very young and I didn’t know about school and I left school very young. I didn’t go for English part. Just I was learning my language. That is it. I didn’t even learn English. And even sums. My parents were very poor people, they couldn’t even manage to pay. And I was really childish, I didn’t put my mind to learn. And they said, Oh, you cant do anything, you’re better off at home’.

Q. So when did your family. .did you move with your family?

SH. I moved with my husband and my family.

Q : And why did you decide to come to Britain?

SH. Because my husband. Because [Idi] Amin, they push us from Africa, and we didn’t know which side we go. And my husband, he came first. And I was with my parents. And he came here and he tried to find a home for us. What to do, where to go and where to find a job. And after six months I came with three kids.

Q. So before you left the country, was it difficult living there?

SH. Yes. It was difficult. Because... not that difficult, because it wasn’t hard like here because we can speak back home that language and everybody can help and almost my parents were there and they can help. And African language, it wasn’t that hard.

Q. So you spoke an African language?

SH. Yes, African language and I can speak three, four languages as well. And I can transfer everything. But here, when I came here, it was very, very hard for me. When I saw white people, I was really, really scared - how to see them, how to speak to them when they ask you something, how can you answer them.

Q. So did you not mix with or see many white people in Africa?

SH. No. Because I was indoors all the time, because my sisters and brother, they were in the shop, and my father. I didn’t get a chance to go and help them and when I was help them, there was only black. And after all, I got married, I got kids and I didn’t get a chance to go and help them. That’s why I didn’t see many white people.

Q. It was a shock?

SH. Yes, it was a shock.

Q. Before you came here, had you heard anything about Britain?

SH. Yes, I heard so many things. To listen and to see is two different things.

Q. So what did you hear first?

SH. I hear about England. It’s said, ‘Too many white people. There’s too much freedom and you see, they are so many on the road and then you see really.’ I couldn’t imagine when they were talking about Britain. I say, ‘ Oh I was so excited to come here to see Britain’. And especially when they said when it snows, the whole of Britain is white and cold and everything like this. I said, I can’t wait to go in Britain too see all these things.

Q. So were you scared?

SH. No I wasn’t scared. But when I came here, that time, I was scared, because I came with three kids, I didn’t know any language and I fly from there to come here and that time, if people scared me - ‘When you go there, you will see this, you will see that and you will be scared there. You don’t know how to speak, how can you explain this, how can you do this?’ I said, ‘When people go anywhere, they get some help. God is with me, I will get help.’

Q. So your husband came first.

SH. Yes he was here first, after six months, I came here.

Q. Did he write to you?

SH. Yes.

Q. So what did he tell you?

SH. He write me about everything about Britain. He says, ‘Too much is like this, first of all when I came here, I was very, very surprised, but I’m not, I’m used to it now. When I saw people, they was kissing each other, in public, girls and boys they was like this. Really half naked. They enjoyed themselves and I was really shy, I can’t look at them because we didn’t see something like this.’

Q. Yes.

SH. And when you see first time, you are really shocked. But now we are used to it.

Q. So where did you live when you first arrived?

SH. First of all, when I came here I was living in Queensway.

Q. Oh yes, what was that like?

SH. And it was, it was in a hotel and it was really exciting and in a hotel and I keep watching the people, how they’re getting on, how they’re doing and to see the sweets and ice creams and every amazing thing and I didn’t see before in my life. And I wanted to go out to see all this country because I was in a jungle.

Q. Really, it’s a big difference.

SH. There’s a big, big difference. When I came here I was really, really surprised. Everyday I wanted to go out to see this, and when I go on the road, I said this is really tar and a nice road, When I walk it’s bumping, it’s nice. Really, I was very, very excited. And I keep writing to my parents. I say, this one, when you go out, it’s just like a sofa, when you walk, it’s just like a carpet. I said, this road is really nice. Everywhere is a chair, you can sit and you can watch and the television is very good and white people, you really enjoy.

Q. Your first home, after the hotel, how was that different from the homes you were used to?

SH. I was really, really ... that time I was really scared. Because I was scared, I was very, very happy to go in my own house. Because, in a hotel, we were taking take- away and all the time when you take take -away you’re getting fed up.

Q. Yes, you want your own kitchen.

SH. And you want your own kitchen. You can cook your own food. And when I was in my home, first time, I was on top of the moon. I was very, very happy to go in my own place and I find my own place, because when I was in the hotel, I didn’t know about language and one of the men who came to see us, and he say, ‘How do you feel here ?‘ and I said I feel alright but I wanted to learn language. If I can’t learn, I can’t go anywhere. I wanted to put my kids in school, and I wanted to go to learn English, if you can help me. And that man he was really, really kind. And he showed me his class, I put my two kids in class. Third one, he was very little. I take them with me and I learn English.

Q. How did your children adapt?

SH. I look after them. Three of them. When I go there, was one man, he was speaking Urdu. And I can speak Urdu as well and we keep understanding each others language and he help me to talk to teachers. And I put my two kids in school. Third one I take with me. And when I go to learn English, I take this one for me, with me and I give them some books and she can learn.

Q. How did you manage with shopping and things like that when you first came?

SH. When I came here first of all, my husband he came with me, He show me the money first, 1/2p, 1p, 2p, 10p, 20p, he showed me. About 2 months, it was very hard to learn and laundry, everything, he was doing for me.

Q. So he helped a lot?

SH. He helped a lot, and after what I learnt, and after he just left everything. He said, ‘Now you learnt about money, you be doing everything.’ Money and language, these two things, he see what I learn. He left me completely alone, he said ‘Now you can manage because you know English, you know the money, you know how to go away from here to go any place. Now you can learn everything. If I can teach you all the time, you will be dependent on me, you can’t learn by yourself.’ First of all I was very, very angry, and I swear him and I said, ‘I hate you, I never look at you.’ Week I didn’t even speak to him.

Q. Really?

SH. I was very angry. He said, ‘If you don’t speak to me, I don’t care. You will.’

Q. But you managed.

SH. I managed, I managed very good.

Q. So he got a job here, what did your husband do?

SH. He, from he came here, until now, he’s working in Royal Free Hospital.

Q. Oh really, what does he do?

SH. He’s in control department. He is in store control department, in a hospital. First of all he was in Gray’s Inn Road, now he’s in Hampstead. But in same hospital. He just go a promotion, he goes there. This is it.

Q. And now your children are going to school here?

SH. Yes

Q. And settled. When you first came were the rest of your family still in Africa?

SH. No. Just my family. Three kids, myself and my husband. But my husband was here. He came in March and I came in September.

Q. So you had to leave your parents behind?

SH. My parents can’t come with me. If he’s, his parents.

Q. Oh I see, that’s the rules. Did you have any problems with Immigration?

SH. Well when I came here, I got a little problem, but it wasn’t that much and my brother’s wife’s brother, he was with me and he helped me. And I got a local paper, and I don’t know what happened with them, they was blind, I don’t know, they just put a stamp, and they let me out with three kids, it wasn’t a passport. I came for local paper and they let me out. And this is it. That’s much life start from September 1993.

Q. So it was hard leaving your parents behind?

SH. Yes, it was hard and I was happy to see my husband again.

Q. So were you worried about what would happen to your parents?

SH. No. I was worried about my parents, but my parents got kids. They got too much help. My other younger sister, eldest brother, they was with them. I didn’t worry about them much. But I missed them. But I was happy to see my husband back. To get help with the kids, especially.

Q. When you came, did you find that., how were white people, how did they react?

SH. They were reacting good. But I didn’t know about language. And how can I blame them if I don’t know anything ? And I have to get used to it, to make friends. That’s why I learn language first. And I said to my husband, ‘Can you show me the money? And can you take me out to see these people? I can get used to it.’ And after all I was in a hotel and I start to learn language and thank God, that man, what he came to see me to find a just a place to live. In the morning, two hours he teach me a language. And when I got this language and I was really happy, happy badly. I got now to speak everything, I’ve got my kids, I’ve got my husband. I can do everything now and I start to learn more and more and more and more. This is my life.

Q. So did you find it, how did you make friends, how did you settle?

SH. When I moved from hotel, and I came to my first place, it was in Copenhagen Street. It was a third floor. That place, I find by myself and when I go there I start to go out around to meet people and to ask them, ‘Is there any group around here? Is there any English to teach and teacher? Any dispensary around here, to put my kids in a dispensary and myself to find some GP.? ‘ And I start to ask them. And people show me, this is a GP. , this is a class, this is a dispensary, this is for small children. It’s a two year, three year to go in a dispensary to show them the (?) of kids, they can give you something. And when I start to go there, lady, she said, ‘You don’t know how to speak. You must come in this place and you learn language.’ I said, ‘Thank God for this. I was looking for this and I start to learn. Two days in a week, I start to go there to learn language. And to sewing classes as well. And for exercise.

Q. So you meet people?

SH. Round and round like this and I live over there about 16 years.

Q. Really?

SH. Until my kids they’re grown up. They start to go in college and start to work. And then I see my kids start to grow up now. House it will be very small. I start to look for another house, other place to change. And after all, I came here and when I came here I was really miserable. Because I was lonely, completely. I was miserable and I was isolated, where to go, what to do. One day I decided, let me go out and see around here. If I can get something and I found one white lady. She was around here. I say, ‘Excuse me. Can you show me. I heard about, is there some factory around here ? Is Asian women’s group and some teaching English ?‘ They said, ‘Yes. I can show you.t When I came here, was Khushna and other lady, Amarjeet. I meet them, from that time until now, I’m here.

Q. Does it make a big difference?

It’s a big difference. Really, my life is completely changed. What I was before, 9 - 10 years ago and what I am now, I’m really, really proud for this group and this. Especially Khushna. She changed my life, really.

Q. Really?

SH. I appreciate this woman. She is really.. She changed so many people’s lives. She’s really good. Amazing.

Q. So your children have grown up here now. Do you think that.. How do you think their upbringing is different to yours?

SH. It’s my country, it’s very difficult to bring up them kids. Because when they go over there, they can learn English and back home the language, but they can’t learn over there. Here they can’t go for computers, they can’t go for business. Even people back home, they come over here to learn everything. And I am here. They didn’t go so far to jump.

Q. Yes, more opportunities here.

SH. Ahah. More opportunities here and my kids they are now top of the moon, three of them. I’m proud of them, what they did. What they. ..brought them here. Look after them here.

Q. So what are they doing now?

SH. My eldest one. She studied for business study and she got a great degree. She’s working for business study, and she’s got a very nice work, and she’s working very good, she’s on top. She’s got a company car, she’s got five promotions. My son, he learnt computers. Now he’s in a great, he’s doing his job as well. Md my younger one, she’s in computers and she’s doing very well. Three of them, they buy houses and they are very, very nice. I’m proud of them, really.

Q. Have you ever been back to Uganda since?

SH. I didn’t go back to Uganda, but I went back to my own country in Africa, where I was born, to see my parents. But this time I didn’t like it because my all, both my parents, they pass away. Is my brother and my brother’s family. I say for a week and I come back.

Q. Really?

SH. I didn’t enjoy

Q. Why didn’t you?

SH. Because parents is dead and there everything is changed.

Q. It’s not how you remembered?

SH. It’s not remembering anything now. That’s why I didn’t enjoy and I came back straightaway. I wanted to stay about 4 weeks, but I came back from one week. And I went in the other side to spend my other time. Even I didn’t like Kenya as well.

Q. Really?

SH. Yes my husband’s parents is over there. His family is over there, but I didn’t like it. I said better off in England and I can go someplace in England. It’s very nice.

Q. How about the weather, was that a problem?

SH. Weather, it was very bad because we live in here and back home it’s very hot. And when you live in cold weather, when you go there, you cant, you can’t even breathe. Pollution and heat and worst you can’t even breathe even at night time, you can’t even sleep. Here it’s very good, sometime it’s cold, sometime it’s hot. But when we go last year to Bombay, we couldn’t even stay. My husband, he was really nearly to die.

Q. He’s just so used to being in the cold?

SH. And he was really, really sick. He got diarrhoea, vomiting. Even Kenya it is the same thing.

Q. Just so used to this, this country?

SH. He get sick, but he’s not that bad.

Q. Did you have to change a lot of things, like things that you ate, you couldn’t get here. Did you have to?

SH. Yes, first of all, when I came here, it was too many changes. because when we got over there, you can’t get in here. But now everything is the same. Everything what you can get over there, you can eat - food - everything you can get it. Everything. Here, this is getting better than back home.

Q. Really?

SH. Yes, you can get everything, everything.

Q. Yes, even the supermarkets now have.. Everything. Even Black people, they sell everything what you can get over there. Cassava, green bananas, coconut cream, spinach, everything, sugarcane, oranges, lime, lemon. Everything you can get in here.

Q. So it’s easier now?

SH. Easier now. It’s not hard like before. But even in 20, 23 years- it’s really a lot of change. Now I’ve been here 23 years. When I came here and now, it’s lot of change.