Lost in cultures… Bringing your children to live in the UK

In the early 90s I came to England as a student.

I loved it.

As a young divorced mother with 3 children, I was left in difficult situation and couldn’t face  society and had to leave Jordan.

I left my kids back home between their dad and my family. 15 months later I  could afford to bring them to live with me. My daughters were refused visitor visas to visit me in England. So, I applied for them for residence visas to join me. Each visa cost £350, I told the consulate: “wow that is so much money to pay” and my mind blew away when the she said “it’s worth it; visas approved.”

Girls were granted their visas after 3 hours of nerve wrecking waiting and no interviews. My then husband and I escorted them and The journey started. It was very emotional back home. My family love my girls dearly, my two oldest sisters who never married or had kids consider my kids as their own. They were worried about the girls’ general wellbeing in England, with a stepfather and a western society.

It was difficult but we all agreed that the girls are better off after all with me. We arrived in London on April 9 which was my step son’s birthday. The girls are excited to attend a party upon arrival.

We dropped the luggage home and went immediately to catch up with the party who met in the local pub for drinks before going for dinner. We had the difficult task of explaining all this alcohol for the girls who were introduced and welcomed. Girls get bored, excited for the party to start. We moved to Paddifield Chinese restaurant across the road where some 15 drunk very English men and women sat around the table with no party poppers, birthday cake or dancing as my daughters expected a party to be.

Few minutes later Nour burst in tears. I excused myself and took the girls to a friend’s house who kindly hosted us till our house is ready. We then lived in a Victorian end of terrace. Nothing fancy. 2 up, 2 down. Tessa’s house was a huge one with huge field and every thing the girls read about and saw in children books. It was like snow white house or the secret garden. They loved it. I opted for all girls school and luckily it was a language college and one of the top schools in the country.

We registered them, bought the uniforms, books, and all other school essentials. Sarah started her A levels immediately and didn’t need a uniform. We were told A level girls are expected to wear smart formal stuff. Here we go, equipped Sarah with few suits and smart court shoes. Nothing to last, as she was looked upon as an alien as the only student who dress that smart. Jeans to follow. Arwad seemed fine in her second year of GCSE.

Nour was not admitted to this school, no places. She must go to the mixed school in town centre. I argued the case. They understood that she just arrived from overseas and she would benefit from being with her sisters and in a girls only school. The girls were each assigned a special friend at school to help them integrate and understand the system. My daughter’s English, general knowledge and academic abilities wowed their teachers. I was reassured. Nour after her first day at school had a sigh of relief saying: she cried during the birthday party because she didn’t understand any word the guests said that night and she thought that every one talks like that in England, she was worried she wont be able to cope with school. But she found some thing different, luckily.

5 weeks later, we told the girls that the house is ready now and we will move from our friends house. They were happy to see the new house. Upon arrival Arwad asked “why we are here?” I replied: “we told you we are coming home.”

Arwad in surprised, disgust replied: is this our house? Yes, I replied. With tears falling down her cheeks she said: I thought this is the luggage storage.

No darling, it’s your new house.

So we don’t have our own separate rooms? No, I am afraid not darling. Houses in England are smaller than in Jordan and more expensive. And we will not have a full time cleaner either. But we have a dishwasher.

Nothing will be good enough for them. Bathrooms not equipped well, kitchen sinks don’t have mixing taps, beds are small, food is not the same.

So furniture was shipped from Jordan. And food was sent regularly. Ex husband and I didn’t enjoy all those trips to Heathrow Cargo, but any thing to help the girls settle in. The school journey helped us bonding. Nour came up with the request I tell them a story every morning. We all loved the school run. Their eyes twinkle, their blats shine, their uniforms neat.

That to be replaced with grumpy Sarah, short haired Arwad , and short uniformed Nour. Sarah couldn’t cope with the A level pressure. I was so worried. What happened to this bright girl who was the first in her school and the walking encyclopedia for her friends in Jordan??

She took the year out on the hope she will get back to school in the next year. Luckily she did. She worked during the gap year, stayed in the country with her step sister and discovered great joy in reading. Started again her As with 4 subjects, passed with very good grades and made it to the A level and 4 offers from universities. Taking Sarah round the country for universities’ open days; some she hated and fell in love with Nottingham which would be her home for the next 3 years to study Criminology.

While in the car she burst in tears accusing me that I shattered her dreams in studying medicine. ‘You brought us here, I couldn’t cope with the needed science subjects in English so I have to settle for Criminology instead’ Sarah said.

That still hurts me. She left home at 18 and never came back to live with me or ask for money.

She grew as an independent strong young woman. She got over all her childhood and immigration issues. She always made me proud.

Arwad had to restart at the first year of the GCSE. Made many friends and had lots of spots on her face which caused her to be bullied at school. Something you will never have in Jordan. Arwad managed her A levels and university as well.

Nour was the most rebellious one. She grew into a very English girl in defense of her self. After a struggle with her GCSEs, Nour opted for the BTEC at college. They all seem to quickly integrate in the new society.

Make friends, become popular, throw parties round the house, going on trips, get involved with international youth schemes and go the nightclubs. A stage that Sarah and Arwad grew out of at 18 but lasted with Nour till now.

While their activities in Jordan varied from art lessons to music and gymnastic courses. Nightclubs can’t be mentioned for my family. Nor drinking alcohol. The most single challenging factor was to keep the balance between full integration with the new system without losing the cultural identity. But it wasn’t easy on me. I struggled when Sarah met a guy online few months after she arrived, it was big big thing. I had to call her dad to inform him that we are taking Sarah down to meet this boy who is travelling from Devon.

He arrived with 2 of his friends, Sarah didn’t like him but we had to feed every one. Later we laughed. Sarah wanted to get engaged to her first boyfriend when she was still at school. We told them, you can have a ring as love token but not engagement. She was angry. But we survived this stage. Sarah now is engaged to Nigerian guy that my family find it difficult to come to terms with. News that will be extremely difficult to break to the relatives and society.

My family feel betrayed, and their dreams of Sarah’s fairytale wedding to a prince collapsed. Arwad integrated well too. The first year she observed the 5 times Muslim daily prayers, it dissolved slowly. Boyfriends to follow. And the very long curls were cut short. Nour became a very difficult teenager, resented me, stubborn and wouldn’t listen.

While Sarah and Arwad are London girls Nour is a field mouse. Out of Hertford she is like a fish out of water. Sarah is like a mother for us, Arwad is the authority figure for Nour and Nour doesn’t allow me to kiss her, she is not a lesbian. Homosexuality is a new concept for them.

Nour met few problematic boy friends, was abused, nearly killed, jumped from the second floor to escape from the boyfriend’s house at 2am and walked barefoot to our village which is nearly 2 miles away. She passed that stage. All made her street wise. Strong. Confident. Get back to her senses and appreciate her family, above all herself.

Nour is single and happy. No rush for a man unless he fits the criteria. She never ceased to amaze me. Sarah now lives on her own in London some thing is not welcomed by my family and the society. If we were still living there, my daughters would have never taken any jobs while at school and university. And will live in the family house till they get married or moved away with their high profile jobs. I always feel I didn’t do well as a mother.

I feel if I was a stricter mother, they would have achieved better. However, I learnt I must not be harsh on myself; I could have not done more as a single mother in a foreign country. Sarah currently is working for an east London council, qualifying as a therapist and enjoying life with her fiancé and stepson. Arwad although still struggling to build her career but finally knows what she wants to do in life, she is involved with various media, cultural and voluntary schemes. She always manages to make me laugh. Nour will rejoin university this year and has never been out of work, and still pursuing her dream in modeling. The journey has been fine so far but a high price has been paid………

My three daughters are my best friends. I resigned from the kitchen, Nour cooks for us on daily bases, Arwad corrects my English to avoid me embarrassment in the society, and Sarah last week bailed me out when my card didn’t work. I think its worth having kids after all……..


Suhad Jarrar is a regular blogger on women’s issues in the Middle East over at Birds on the Blog, she also collects Palestinian jewellery. She is the mother of 3 very beautiful multi-cultural girls.

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