Happily ever after
I married Haroon and moved to Milton Keynes quickly after finishing school in Karachi in Pakistan. We had come to an area with few Muslims and I had no family in the locality, but in all honesty, I loved my new life. My flat was small but felt warm and when I looked around, I could see how it was slowly becoming a scrapbook of joyful memories. You hear all sorts of things about men from the UK but my husband was just as I had hoped him to be; charming, romantic and appreciative. As silly as it may sound, I had gone from being the princess of my home in Pakistan to being the Queen of my home in Milton Keynes - well, that’s how Haroon made me feel. He took care of virtually every matter of the home; from budgeting, applying for tax credits, paying bills to booking appointments; Haroon took care of it all while I took care of Ibrahim. I felt that my life was as perfect as it could be, full of laughter and full of love, so when I received news that we were having a little girl, I knew my perfect family life was almost complete.
Raids and Arrests
I was the last person to expect the police at my door. After his first arrest, he returned home the same day but was devastated to discover that he had lost his job. Despite that, he managed to pay for fixing our broken door quite quickly. I didn’t quite know how he was sorting the problems out; I knew the landlord was angry and I knew we started getting mail from HHUGS. I thought they were just sending us rubbish so I would throw it away, to Haroon’s annoyance; he would have to scramble through the bin trying to find their letters. I realise now that it was HHUGS who fixed the door and were sending us food vouchers to help Haroon until he could find work. One day my husband sat me down and gave me a number, HHUGS number, he said that if something happens to me again, this is the number to call.
Alhamdullilah, soon after, Haroon managed to find work again and life returned to normal for us. I was blessed with our baby girl a few months later, she was a handful I can tell you that! But I was managing with Haroon’s help.
Haroon was out one day when there was a heavy knocking on the door… I knew this sound; it was a familiar heavy handed bang which immediately bought me flashbacks to the first time Haroon was taken. When I opened it, the officers said flatly that my husband had been arrested…
My heart sank because this was the news that I had been dreading, and while the officers began to search my home, I sat in fear, watching on. I was crying, as well, I had no understanding of what was going on but I hoped Haroon would return home as he had the last time. My son became extremely anxious during the search, he was really attached to his iPad so I asked the officer, ‘Whilst you’re here with us, please let my son play with the iPad,’ but they sternly replied ‘no’. Then they took the iPad from my son’s hands and he started crying.
I left the property and returned to find everything in a mess. That night I put my son to bed but found him calling out in his sleep, saying ‘Baba, Baba, where is Baba? Where is Baba?’ It broke my heart to see him like that.
Later that night though, his Baba’s phone call came; he was very upset, he was crying through the phone saying they are taking me to another prison and that it would be a long time before he saw me again. I was in a state of shock; I told him that I had no idea how to take care of anything without him. It was then he reminded me to call HHUGS.
After I hung up, I remembered that he had written down their number so I immediately began to search for the phone book where I had written it down. But my heart broke when I realised that the police had taken the book which had all of my numbers in it, including HHUGS number… What next? I thought.
The police had also taken my phone and without it I couldn’t contact my mother in Pakistan to tell her what had happened. I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear my Mum’s voice, to listen to her comforting words. When you’re in a state of panic and despair, all you need to hear are a few kind words from someone who understands but, at that time, I had no one. I kept thinking, how would I possibly get by without Haroon? How long before he would come back? I could hardly speak any English and had little idea how to survive in the UK. What next? What next? I kept thinking.
I knew that I would need to lean on savings so I asked my neighbour to take some money out for me as I didn’t have anything at home, I asked her to take out £100 and to check the balance and she said that in my account there is only £300 –after that she didn’t come back to my house. Perhaps she realised that I had no money and was worried that I would need her financial support, I don’t know.
Then I turned to my ‘best friend,’ well, the only friend in the local area that I knew – she didn’t support me at this time, at all, she didn’t even help me with the basics. When I called her, I explained the baby was only two months and that Haroon needed me to send him money, so I asked her if she could send him some money and I promised to repay her but she said no, saying she isn’t even familiar with the location of the bank… it was ironic because she has been brought up here and is accustomed to everything here so she must have known where the bank was, yet she completely cut herself off from me in my time of need. Her husband –he asked her to tell me that he wasn’t Haroon’s friend just in case ‘someone asks’. Their words cut me deeply.
I looked to everyone I knew but found closed doors everywhere I turned. The benefits were not in my name and my husband’s bank account had been shut down. With no income and no idea how to apply for benefits, it wasn’t soon before even basic necessities began to become scarce. At night, I used to cry – I remember one day, my baby’s medicine was finished and so she was suffering and in a lot of pain, I was really upset and I was crying at that time as I thought to myself – ‘Who will get the medicine for my child?’ It was a very difficult time; I felt really isolated because no one would come to my house.
In a Strange Land
You know, I didn’t even do the grocery shopping when Haroon was here. I used to go with him to Tesco but with a carefree and clueless attitude, I barely paid attention to what was being shopped for. To this day, it is fairly difficult as I don’t even look at the price once my daughter starts crying for milk; I just pick up what I need and try to leave. When he had just been detained, I recall I went to Tesco to try to shop for the first time and I saw someone who knew my husband, so he helped me with the trolley. But when he saw everything I was buying, he asked me why I was picking up the most expensive items and then he asked me why my husband did not come. At that time, I just quickly replied to him that he was at work, so he instructed me to tell my husband to come with me next time, because I picked up all of the most expensive items. I realised how bad it was when I was at the checkout and I was billed – I was like ‘Oh my God!’
I was so naïve at that time I even remember allowing a reporter into my home because I didn’t know who he was. He was persistently asking me questions but I said I didn’t know much English and to come back later.
I deeply regretted the complete dependence I had built up on Haroon, prior to his arrest. I was angry that he had allowed me to become so reliant on him so I would let my frustration out on him when he would call. I would asked why he married me, why he bought me over from Pakistan to leave me in this mess. I was even angry that he was in prison, with a roof over his head and food on his plate while I was left here with two kids, the threat of eviction and not enough money for food. When I would go to visit him, sometimes I’d cry and at other times I would be angry – I think to myself, ‘Look at him, just sitting there, he had everything, a wife, kids, a job and everything – we had no problems’.
The effect of his father’s absence on my son was becoming more evident each day. He would ask why the other fathers dropped their kids off to school and then he’d ask when his father is going to come back. Ibrahim complains that he hasn’t gone out and that he is stuck at home. He says he wants to go to Luton or Disneyland, he says he wants to go London – he says he wants to sit in his Dad’s car. He kept asking me where his Baba was, he would get more angry and frustrated, even though he used to be a naturally calm child. I realise that he has become extremely attached to me. When I have to clean up and am outside for a short while, he starts crying saying, ‘Where is my mum?’ He doesn’t allow one minute of my time to be unaccounted for, he wants to know my every movement. I remember once I was five minutes late to pick him up as I was at the doctor’s surgery and he was in the school office crying excessively. Even at night, he sleeps with me holding his hand so that he knows I am with him. On Eid, he would reminisce, recalling all the things he would do with his Baba, because now we just stay home, I don’t even dress up. One of the doctors that comes to see Ibrahim asked him to draw a picture of his father and so he drew me, himself and his sister – three of us holding hands together, then he drew a picture of his father at a distance, far away from us- Ibrahim was very attached to his father.
A phone call from HHUGS
Out of the blue, one day, HHUGS called me. They had heard about the arrest and wanted to see if I was okay. Of course I wasn’t okay and I told them all about my worries.
They immediately began helping us, starting with the essentials. They sent me a baby bag and blanket for the new baby, vouchers for clothing and even sent me a phone so I could contact my family. It was taking a long time for benefits to start coming through, but until then HHUGS paid the gas and electric bills, my rent, sent food vouchers, and winter clothing. They recently helped me purchase a hoover and a mop for my home. The support that HHUGS offered me is the only help I received… I only have HHUGS, no one else.
To my relief, HHUGS sent me an Urdu-speaking keyworker from the local area. It took them some time to find someone nearby, but when they did, the sister helped me with so much. She comes regularly to check my mail and read out my post; she helped me submit all of my benefits’ application and went to the council to follow up when there were delays. Finally, when my benefits came through, I received news that my bank account was being closed down without any reason. I was really anxious about this but my Keyworker took me to the bank and helped me set up a new account, transfer benefits and set up the standing orders again. Then I received yet another letter saying that my new account was being closed! But my keyworker had patience with the situation and helped me transfer my benefits for a second time and open a third account with a different bank. I was panicked but while my benefits were being transferred HHUGS continued to help me with the bills. My Keyworker continues to come to my appointments so that I have someone to translate and help me understand. When I was angry and upset at my situation, HHUGS would help me calm down.
After all of this, my landlord was fed up and wanted me to leave but HHUGS signed on as my guarantor so that he would agree I could stay. HHUGS helped me so much, my entire support system has been from HHUGS since the arrest.
When I came here, I told my husband to speak to me in English, but he didn't teach it to me. When he got arrested, I had no idea about anything, even the road names. I didn't know how to take money out of a cash machine, or that I should hide my pin. If I knew English, everything would have become easy for me. Even my son speaks to me in Urdu and doesn't let me speak English! HHUGS wanted to help me become more self-sufficient so they paid for my English lessons, which has really helped me improve. I like to learn, I do all of my homework with the English tutor and hardly made any mistakes. I was eager to sit the British citizenship exam so HHUGS sent me a laptop to practise with the CD. If that was not enough, my keyworker took me to Tesco to teach me how to do a cheaper shop so that I can manage my money better.
I hadn’t seen my husband since the arrest but HHUGS took me every few months to go and visit Haroon. Although the drivers have been really kind, the visit itself was extremely difficult. My son was so confused; he would ask why his baba is here and when they would search us he would start crying, because he was really scared. Sometimes, they have a dog on the side, who touches all of our clothes - it’s awful. I was about to cry as well as I had never experienced this or seen this type of extensive search before. I felt intimidated, violated, like I was a criminal.
My financial stress was significantly reduced thanks to HHUGS but I was still feeling anxious because of the upcoming trial. This was the moment I had been waiting for, I was so certain that he would be coming home after his trial that I had not prepared myself from the call from my solicitor being one which bore bad news. After many delays in his trial, my solicitor finally called to let me know that he had been found guilty. Our names and details of the case became public over-night. The news meant the whole world felt like it was crashing down on me. I suddenly fell ill for two or three days and had a very high temperature. HHUGS helped me during this time by supporting me emotionally and giving me the reassurance I needed. Now, I think to myself that we were born alone and we will leave this world alone. I think that my husband isn’t going to lie in the same grave as me, so I think to myself, Alhamdulillah (all praise be to God).
They are very good, very humble and caring; they speak in such a lovely manner and they care about everything – it’s as if instead of my husband I rely on HHUGS for my support and future – HHUGS treat me like family and I don’t know anyone else that looks out for me like this. They are there to feel my pain. When people like me don’t have a husband, they take on a lot of responsibility to help, they support me in every way - I didn’t think that there would be people out there that care this much.
HHUGS help people like me in a very big way. If they were not here, it would make our lives extremely difficult. If no one supported them, then vulnerable sisters like me will have no one to turn to; there is no one else around like HHUGS.