This story is drawn from the interview with Saqib Waqar by Eithne Nightingale as part of her research into child migration to East London.
I was born in Pakistan, Lahore, on the 2nd of August 1994. I didn’t live far from Shalimar Garden, a pretty famous place.
I don’t have a rich background. The house was pretty much made out of mud and [laughs] you used to get things coming off it. When it used to rain it went all gooey. Then slowly, slowly my dad collected a bit of money and we built a little bit of a proper house. But my dad wasn’t earning much so it took a long time.
It was my mum, dad, grandparents, uncles in the same street. We used to have family all around us. My dad had some government job. My mum was a housewife. My mum cooked basic chicken curry, lamb curry, vegetables. As long as it’s cooked by my mum it’s good. I’ve got a brother and a younger sister. I’m the middle one.
I used to play cricket and they used to have lots of goats and sheep. There always used to be something to do. I used to get in trouble a lot of the time. Mum used to call me, “Come and have your lunch,” but I’m running around, playing with my friends. [Laughs]
Dad used to take us out. There used to be some ice cream parlour we used to go to. But I prefer it in the neighbourhood rather than going out. I used to have a little bike and we’d just go out exploring. All good memories.
I did go to school when I was young. I was three, four years old probably. Eid, we used to love. The main thing you look forward to is your uncles and your aunties giving you money. Basically you buy sweets, chocolates. There used to be rides like a little banana boat and it used to go up and down. It wasn’t a proper fairground. It used to come once or twice a year, like the way it comes here.
My cousin, he’s a qualified Imam. So every morning we used to go to his house. He used to teach us how to read Qur’an, how to pray in the Mosque. From the roof we could see the Mosque literally two minutes walk.
Yeah, it was a big Mosque. I was a little kid and you mostly pray at home. Your parents don’t want you to go by yourself. I used to muck about, so my mum was extra curious. [Laughs] I used to tell her I’m going Mosque but I used to go somewhere else.
I came with my grandparents. They used to come and go ‘cause my uncle lives here. I couldn’t come with my parents. My parents are still there. I did know that I was coming here, but it was weird. I made sure that I sit by the window, seeing the world with the bird eye view.
When I landed I thought wow [laughs] this is completely different. It’s another world. There everything is all over the place, here everything is organised. And you don’t hear people shouting and screaming. There people are beeping horns all day long.
At the start, leaving your mum, did hurt, But after a few days you kind of get used to it. I used to live in Whitechapel. From Whitechapel, Roman Road.
I used to live with my uncle, his missus and he got two kids. To be honest they looked after me, brought me up. They were my parents and they fed me, everything. So I did miss my parents but I kind of had my parents here. I went to school in Bethnal Green, Bethnal Green Technology College. I was about 12 years old. I had a pretty bad experience at the start ‘cause my English wasn’t really good. I was close to my head assistant. She used to know that my problem is that I’m Pakistani and they’re Bengali and then sometimes they bully me. She used to tell me, “Just walk off from here.” Slowly, slowly, I got better. I think the hardest was in Year 9. I was going to get kicked out of school. Messing around, fighting. [Laughs]. So I had to sort myself out.
I used to love PE and Art – abstract, spray painting and that. You can relax, do the work and it was pretty chilled out. I joined Bow Adventure Places after school for biking, canoeing, shooting and they take you to residentials. It was wicked.
In 2010 I went to John Cass Sixth Form. I studied Level 3 Business and Finance. That was even a better experience than school. My teacher was pretty laid back. She used to know that at the end of the day we’re going to give her the work. I had distinctions in Level 3. I would go back any day. [Laughs]
My friend he’s Sikh, he’s Indian. Another friend of mine he’s from Nigeria, and another friend [laughs] was from Bangladesh. I’ve been to a few Sikh festivals and they walk for about two hours. We’re all different [laughs] and we’re all pretty close. I think we all had a similar personality. I met them all in college.
Obviously your education is important. But it’s basically your friends ‘cause from 16 to 18, you’re becoming an adult so you want your friends around you. You’re going out to places. We used to mess around with girls quite a lot [laughs]. It’s that age. I used to know a few girls in college and then Facebook and social networking and all that.
But I got married now. I’m 21. I met her through a friend of mine. I was with her for about three and a half years, and then I got married. She was working in Bradford, in a community centre. She used to get people to go out a bit more, the women. Asking them to get more involved with the community. She’s Bengali so it was pretty hard to convince her family, but we’ve got kind of got around it.
It wasn’t a really big wedding ‘cause I didn’t have much money. We had all the family, all the house and that. I’ve done the Islamic ceremony in the East London Mosque. I haven’t done the English ceremony, so need to sort something out, do a little big, a big little party and invite a few of my friends. It’s a new life, new life definitely. It should be pretty good.
After school I started learning how to cut hair rather than being on the street. I would love to open my business one day. [Laughs] A lot of people around me speaks Urdu, even Bengali people, they speak Urdu as well.
What I like about East London is people blend in quick. Here I see people coming from all over the world. Today I saw a Spanish guy. He’s only been here for a month. He was telling me about his culture, and I was telling him about my culture
I rent a property in Roman Road. I’ve always lived in a flat. It’s too expensive to live in houses. I go to the Mosque on a Friday to pray in British Street, Merchant Street, just right by the station. When you come into East London you feel home. Everybody knows you so if you ever need help you can call somebody up.
I ain’t got much contact back home now. At the start I used to, but not much now. What you miss from back home is the weather, the food. But other than that, I would prefer UK. I wouldn’t know what to do back home. Here I know what I want to do, where I need to go and how to do it, so I’m better off. I never thought I would spend the rest of my life here.
It is difficult to blend in, really difficult, especially the language barrier. It takes time, but once you get there people around will support you.