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Amna and Zara

Amna and Zara

Issue 1 Sept / Oct 2003

Amna Musa Akeelo is an elegant 39 year old mother of six. She was born in Sudan and now lives in England with her husband and children. Zara Annour Ahmed Camp is a 17 year old student from Leicestershire and the eldest of Amna’s six children. Rajnaara Chowdhury talks to mother and daughter about their shared memories and contrasting childhoods.
Growing up in Sudan is very different to growing up in England. I remember being part of a good Muslim family and living a very simple life. It was a time and place where we knew all our neighbours and spending time with family and friends was a usual daily activity. There was no television or cinema and so we were not distracted with that. That kept me closer to my religion and I can recall sitting in circles listening to the elders tell stories of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad(s) and stories from the Qur’an.  
The most wonderful thing was that there was no jealousy or rivalry, or ‘keeping up with the Jones’. We were always thankful for what we had. As a teenager, my biggest challenge was finishing my education successfully. I did think often about my mother and father, and how I would need to help them when they were old. My father was keen for me to be educated and never tried to get me married off as was the usual practice for fathers with daughters! I was very lucky in this respect.

I finally got married when I was about 20 to the man who used to be my English teacher. He is English and taught in Sudan for some years. There was only a five year age gap between us as I was in his adult learners’ class. We first visited England in 1986 with Zara, our first child. So much about the English culture was strange to me. I used to see shocking things like people sitting alone and eating, without sharing their food with others. This is completely unheard of in Sudan. There, we would invite everyone around to eat! There were many different behaviours to get used to.  
Zara is an important part of my life and our relationship is similar to the relationship I had with my own mother. I am so thankful that she has a good understanding of Islam. I know I can rely on her as she is such a help with the younger ones. Zara knows how I like certain things to be, and she always makes sure that they are that way. Being a Muslim in England can be more difficult than in other places, however I believe that if a person has strong belief in God then wherever they live in the world and whatever is going on, they will be able to cope with it and it will not affect their faith. I want to make sure all my children have faith in our religion.  
Since I married, I have spent time in Sudan, Saudi Arabia and England. Life in Sudan and Saudi Arabia are unbeatable simply because we were surrounded by other Muslims. It was so easy to live an Islamic life which is one of the things I miss being in England. In Saudi Arabia we lived in Makkah which is incredible as you can imagine.  The most amazing part of living there was being able to pray in the Haram Sharif every day.

I am thankful for now being in England though. There are Muslim communities, they are just a little harder to find. In the future, I do hope to return to Sudan. I am concerned about forgetting my religion by being here for too long. Most of all, I do not want my children to forget their roots.
I was born in 1986 in Sudan. My dad is an Englishman and became a Muslim in his mid-twenties and my mum is Sudanese. They met while my dad worked for the ‘Save the Children’ organisation. After my parents married and I was born, we lived in Sudan until I was six and then migrated to England and stayed here until I was nine. We then went to Saudi Arabia for three years before returning here. 

Saudi Arabia is so different to living anywhere else. There are Muslim people from every country you can imagine. I liked being able to go into Afghan shops and buy Afghan bread, and things like that.  
I wouldn’t eat meat from when I was young which I am sure my mum thought was peculiar. Arab people are big meat eaters, and my family was no exception. But I have always been a vegetarian, just because
I never really liked the taste. When I went to parties, I would take my meat off my plate and wrap it up so that I could take it home for my brother. Unlike me, he loved it.

Coming back to England was a big change. The culture here is very different and you come across behaviour and attitudes you would never find in the Arab world. I still cannot get over how little people choose to wear, and how much they expose themselves! I do like living here though as there is so much to see and do. I also get to see my grandmother and other family from my dad’s side who I did not know when I was younger. I have two cousins who are 18 and 20 who I get on with very well. They are my
dad’s brother’s children and not Muslim. That does not cause any problems though.

I have many responsibilities with my younger brothers and sisters and sometimes it gets crazy in the house! But it is my family and I love it. I will be going off to university next year so I won’t get to see them as much as I do now.

My dad works as a teacher and that is a very demanding job and my mum also works long hours. I wouldn’t want to be a teacher as my dad is constantly either marking books or planning his classes. My
interest is in food and I hope I can be a dietician or nutritionist when I’m older.

My mum knows me very well. She can sense when I’m feeling down and depressed even when I try to hide it. She is very intuitive. She definitely is my role model. She is extremely strong willed and will do what she thinks is right no matter what the opposition is. She is also a very patient mother. She is always cheerful and happy and will not let life get her down. 

I remember as a child when we were in Saudi Arabia, my mum had allowed me to wear her gold bracelet. We went to a fairground and I managed to lose it. I felt so bad and got in big trouble for it. We children all wanted to buy her a replacement one, but couldn’t afford to, so bought her a pot plant instead. I think she was touched, even if it wasn’t quite her gold bracelet!
Words: Rajnaara Chowdhury


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