Ms Mariam Bi






Arrival to the UK

Mariam went to school in Nai for 5 years until she was eleven, as there were no local secondary school for her to continue with her education. Her family were farmers, who kept animals as well as growing crops ,lentils being one of the produce.  In 1967 her family decided that she should move to Birmingham and join other members of the family, who were already living there, including her husband. Mariam was worried about what to expect in the UK especially as she had her two year old daughter with her and couldn’t speak the language.  She was reassured by her uncle who told her that moving to the UK was a Jihad in itself. Mariam travelled from her home to London via Karachi, on arrival at Heathrow had a six hour interview with immigration before she was granted permission to enter the UK.

Mariam travelled to Birmingham and went to live with her brother in law. The first thing that shocked her, was how small the house was compared with her home in Pakistan commenting that “we were all roaming around free in Pakistan when we came here it was like we were locked up in a cage”. Her uncle showed her how to turn on the gas cooker and she started cooking traditional food for herself straightaway, as she did not like her husband’s cooking, before eventually cooking for the whole household.  There were beds everywhere in the house, even in the living room with the residents taking turns at sleeping in the beds, as everyone was doing shift work. At this time there was no grocery shops in Alum Rock which catered for the needs of the Pakistani community and only one clothes shop which belonged to a Bengali man.

Moving on

The first shop Mariam went to in Birmingham belonged to a fellow villager from Pakistan who said to her “you never went shopping in Pakistan how come you have come shopping here”, to which she replied “this is different I need to go out now”.  Mariam has seen many changes in the cost of food and remembers when she first came to Birmingham she could buy peas for a penny a pound,  a large bag of flour for  £2.50  as well as   28lbs of butter for the same price. Mariam only had central heating put in when she moved to her present home in. She also had a fridge, washing machine and telephone installed making her life much easier. Before the washing machine was installed she would get the washing done at the laundrette otherwise use the bath at home. Mariam  made her own clothes and knitted lots of sweaters; but at first bought her material from Rackham’s a major department store, but found it too expensive; velvet was £17.00 a yard which at the time was more than the, average weekly working wage. Due to the cost Mariam bought her material from a man called Ghazi who owned a shop on Ladypool Road.

Mariam taught herself how to speak English picking up the language mainly from her children as they learnt it at school. She also used to watch television and was a long term member of the Central Library both activities helping her improve her language skills.  She also continued practicing her religion praying and fasting during Ramadan which was very important to her. She also believed it was her duty to encourage her neighbours and the local community to help each other and work together as one community having not been as successful as she hoped.

Mariam was only 30 when her husband became paralysed which eventually led to him being bed bound for the rest of his life. Mariam cared for him until his death, combining visits to the hospital with looking after her family.  She received support with housework from her eldest daughter. Unlike today there were fewer advice centres at this time and so Mariam received help from her brother in law to fill in the relevant benefit forms. When her uncle died in 1971 everything was handled from home with the help of their neighbours and members of the community who used to help with the catering; nowadays everything is taken care of by the death committees.

Gains and Loses

Mariam believes that her time in the UK has been beneficial for her and her family. Growing up in Birmingham has given all her children the opportunity to gain well paid jobs. Her daughter was working as a teacher having graduated from University. Her youngest son Ehsan Saddique  also agrees with his mother on the benefits of living in the UK saying “I always liked living in Alum Rock everyone around here is from the same place as us back home, so we feel safe working and living here. There has been a lot more opportunities here in the UK then there would be in Pakistan” Mariam still has concerns that her community, whilst prospering  in the UK  have lost their values cultures and traditions and  that times have changed for the worst,  “where there was once brotherhood and love in the community there is now nothing; If somebody helps someone else people feel  it is done for an ulterior motive”  She also believes that  people now just want to make money and are not concerned with how they achieve it, citing the selling of drugs within her community. She also feels that when she first came to Alum Rock everyone was happy if you were successful but now people are envious of your success and get envious and jealous if someone has a better lifestyle than you do.