This story is drawn from the interview with Sadeka Nujhat by Eithne Nightingale as part of her research into child migration to East London.
From Milan to Mile End
When one year old Sadeka met her father at Milan airport, she “just ran to him ‘cause my mum used to show pictures of my dad. And people thought, I wouldn’t be close to him or it would take time, but it really didn’t. [Laughs].”
The family settled in Milan where Sadeka’s father owned two restaurants. The Italian woman next door helped Sadeka with her homework. Her son played football with Sadeka.
When the family went back to Sylhet during the long summer holidays they stayed with Sadeka’s maternal grandparents in Sreemangal – near the famous tea gardens. “I used to take pictures of animals or plants or even cockroaches and stuff. And my mum used to shout at me, ‘Why don’t you take a picture of us?’”
Sadeka liked the tea gardens because there were people, like her, visiting from other countries. “Cause even if you’re Bengali, they understand you’re from another country, so that makes you feel, “Oh, am I really from this country or not?” [Laughs]
Sadeka used to sit with her cousin on the platform outside her grandparents’ shop in Sreemangal and make paper boats. They sailed them on the water but, “One of the workers used to shout at us, ‘Don’t waste paper,’ because paper was expensive [laughs]. I didn’t have that mentality. I can find paper anywhere here.”
Sadeka also stayed with her father’s parents in Sylhet town. This house was full of her cousins who were shy of their young cousin from Italy. At first they hid from Sadeka but within a day they were inseparable.
Sadeka remembers her first day at school in Milan. Despite the school being multicultural she was the only Bengali in her class. Sadeka’s first school friend was Spanish.
In Italy Sadeka celebrated Eid but also Christmas. “All my friends were Italian and they used to give me Christmas presents, so obviously I used to buy them presents as well.”
For New Year they would go to the centre of Milan to see fireworks and wait for the castle clock to strike midnight. “It was really fun.”
On Saturdays Sadeka’s family used to go to ‘dawat’ parties. “That’s how I made my Bengali friends.”
When Sadeka was about 9 or 10 the family moved to Pero just outside Milan. Sadeka was worried she would not make new friends. “I was like, ‘Imagine if I can’t [laughs] remember the names.’” But she soon made friends with the girl next door. “Her family was so crazy about Indian food, so my mum used to cook for them. The younger found it so spicy, but he kept on eating it [laughs].”
When her father told her they were going to England Sadeka was sad. “It’s quite scary ‘cause obviously it’s a different language, different education system and everything.”
When they arrived in Tower Hamlets their luggage had not arrived from Italy, they slept on sofas and it was freezing cold. “So it wasn’t a good impression.”
Sadeka missed not only her school friends but her dolls that she had packed away in three boxes. “My mum said we can’t get all of them and I was so sad, because every doll has a memory, whether it’s in Italy or Bangladesh. I had maybe nearly 100.”
She used to play with them with her younger brother. He drove the caravan whilst Sadeka looked after the dolls in the back. “I used to feed them, try to make them fall asleep. I had a few with brown hair and other were just blonde. And there was one of my favourite dolls which had pink hair [laughs].”
Sadeka is still trying to bring her dolls to London.
Sadeka soon settled into Tower Hamlets as as there were so many other people of Bangladeshi origin. Her Bengali language improved and she, “got to know more about my Bengali traditions.”
She went to Morpeth school where, “it was everyone from Bengali but no one was from Italy, so everyone used to think I’m cool.” She did well and, despite English being a struggle, passed her GCSEs and went onto do A levels. Within 3 and a half years she had been accepted by Queen Mary University of London to do a degree in medical science.
Sadeka is worried about losing her Italian. “Nowadays, with my Italian friends, I sometimes get stuck. I think, like, does this word exist, what is that word again?” With her mother she speaks mainly Bengali but with her father she speaks a mixture of Bengali, Italian and English.
There are things she still misses about Italy. “During the summer even if it’s twelve or one, we used to just go out, have a walk and get a bit of fresh air. And even if it’s two or three in the night, ice cream shops they are open [laughs]. “
There are things, too, that Sadeka does not like about England. “The rain is so annoying. One minute it rains, one minute it doesn’t and you can’t even predict it.” But the universities are better, there is more work and even an Italian restaurant that sells halal food. Sadeka wants to stay here but go back to Italy for holidays but she would like to live by the sea, maybe Brighton or Southend as, ‘ I really, really enjoy it – being on the beach and swimming.”
Sadeka thinks there are advantages of having lived in different countries, “ because, wherever you go, you’re not always going to find Bengali are you? There are other people. And if you are not used to mixing with other people, then it’s going to be a struggle.”
You can hear Sadeka and excerpt’s from her story on Soundcloud: