Explore the lives of Bengali and Sylheti-speaking communities living and working in the Cathedral and King St quarters of Norwich.
There are 14 excerpts in total for you to enjoy. You can download a Stories From the Quarter map here and embark on the walk yourself, or follow along online by listening to the story below. Explore Stories From the Quarter in full here →
Shiblee Sayed shares memories of childhood in Bangladesh, of working in a Taliban-dominated area of Afghanistan, and of bringing his parents to England for the first time.
My name is Shiblee Sayeed. I was born on 4 November 1978. When I was a child, in around 1985, there was a playground just before our house, and just beyond that playground was our school. Leaving the house for school, I used to chat with other friends in the field first and then enter my school. After school, I would leave my school bag on the school porch and play football or cricket in the field, and then came home. If you returned home late, you had to endure the nagging of your parents in those days. Entertainment consisted of watching television with the aid of an aerial. When I was in year five, we got our first black and white television. On movie nights everyone used to come to our house to watch television together, in those days it served as society’s great communal bonding experience. Before we had a television in our house, I used to go to other people’s houses to watch theirs. The shared communication was genuine, warm and sincere. I grew up in a rural area, so there were no neighbourhood fights. If there was a problem, people would complain to their parents, and then sometimes parents on both sides would work out a compromise, which is unthinkable now. My childhood was quite colourful in many ways.
My father, Abdul Malek, was a high school teacher and my mother, Nilufar Akhtar, was a primary school teacher. Children of teachers used to be that much more anxious and alert, as their parents didn’t want anyone to complain about their children. We were raised by very strict parents. However, there was no lack of affection from them despite the austerity we had to cope with. If school results were good, my father bought a shirt for me as a present on his own or a good meal was assembled at home as a reward! Eating out was not so common back then. Beef-dal-rice with a wedge of lemon was on the Friday lunch menu at home. In the mornings, father used to cycle with a bag in one hand to go to the village market, lots of fish were readily available then. I was afraid of my father. He died in 2014. We are three brothers. My elder brother, Mahmudul Hasan, works in bank. I am the middle one of the three. My younger brother, Muntasir Mamun, lives in America, we each have one son and one daughter. Three brothers in three places, we keep in weekly contact with each other either via WhatsApp or Messenger.
I got admission into Civil and Environmental Engineering Department in Shahjalal University of Sylhet in 1996. The four-year course actually took six years due to political disturbances. The campus was small. On Friday nights we used to watch movies and hang out with friends. A lot of fresh fish used to come from the water bodies and wetlands of Sylhet. While in Sylhet, I consumed fish. I am still in touch with my friends from that time.
My most memorable moment with my parents was my graduation ceremony in the UK. The university said that if I wanted to bring my parents to the event, they would issue a letter which could be submitted to the embassy. I was a student then, and I didn’t have any job. Still, I applied for my parents, and they were granted a visa. The people of our village spread gossip that my parents would not obtain visas, and would be spending a huge amount of money in vain! The feeling when I went to pick up my parents at the airport is something that has remained with me until this day. Because of me, my parents could come to England! The three of us couldn’t sleep all night with excitement. We were together for three weeks. That was, and is, a very happy memory.
My wife, Rafiza Farhana, works as a healthcare assistant in the NHS. We have two children, my son, Ramin Sayeed, is the elder and is in year four. My daughter, Raima Sayeed, has started nursery. I’ve been at Norwich for the last 14 years, while Rafiza has been living here for 11 years.
I had no plans to come to England. In 2004 while working in Dhaka, I saw on BRAC World’s job notice that some engineers would be sent to Afghanistan to rebuild the country’s roads, schools and other infrastructures. I got the job via interview process and went to Afghanistan in 2005. When I landed there, the temperature was three degrees. My job was in a Taliban-dominated area, far from Kabul. Vegetables were not available, and the only meat to be had for curries was beef. Food consignments came from the Pakistan border. Excellent bread was available, crunchy yet soft. Three to four months before I arrived, the Taliban bombed our office compound and blew up the toilet. So many nights I was startled awake by the sound of gunfire! Local people, however, looked upon us as Muslim brethren. In March 2006, I saw cars being vandalized in Peshawar while travelling from Afghanistan to Pakistan by road. Life was hard there, but we always had a group of like-minded people of the same age staying together, accountants and computer software engineers, so we were not that frightened. While working in Afghanistan, my expatriate friend Jabed told me I should come to the UK to do my Masters. He assured me that there would be better job opportunities here. Jabed organised admission to University of East London for me, using his own money and sent me the I-20 letter. I left my job in Afghanistan, went to Bangladesh, obtained a visa and arrived in England.
After spending two years in East London, I came to Norwich in December 2008 with a job. On arrival, my line manager took me around a number of sites; Potter Higham’s fish barrier, Great Yarmouth’s city fences, and waste management sites. I fell in love with Norfolk that day—the Broads, the sea, the woods, the rich variety in landscape. Norwich was not so busy then, there were not so many houses, and no gatherings of people of different races. Local people, that is, the British whites, were greater in number then. They are still the majority. Before our children were born, my wife and I used to walk around the city on holidays. We used to go to Meadow Market Street, walk around the shopping centres, go to the Lord Mayor’s Festival, and the 31 December fireworks. I work in the Environment Agency, my job is mainly flood management, looking after flood defences. I enjoy my job very much, as I can go to the sea shore for inspection often. I watch Hindi movies in my leisure time, but my children spend a lot of time on laptops and phones.
I welcome this initiative of the National Centre for Writing (NCW) to preserve the stories of our Bengali community. Through this project, generations will come to know how we Bengalis grew up here, how our struggles were fought. These days, there are various programmes in NCW, and our children perform there. These are very worthwhile initiatives.
Shiblee Sayed (pictured right) was born in Bangladesh in 1978. He completed his graduation in Civil & Environmental Engineering from the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in 2002. He moved to England in 2007 to study his Master’s degree. He works at the Environment Agency as an Flood Risk Management Advisor. He moved to Norwich in 2008 and lives with his wife Rafiza and their two children.
Stories From the Quarter is a National Centre for Writing project in partnership with Norfolk Record Office, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund.
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