By Lila Seling Mabo.
Just over a year ago, I began to write my diary to document life as a Gurkha wife in lockdown during a global pandemic. This is an extract, from the beginning. This day is now a memory, reflecting back on it today, seems strange, especially when everything seems to be returning to some normality. Stranger still I am reminiscing, of events that happened nearly twenty years previously on this date and how things have changed.
Tuesday,24 March 2020 (13/12 /2076).
2nd day of lockdown and memory of the War in Iraq on 24 March 2003 – exactly 17 years ago today.
I woke up earlier than normal and finished cleaning the house. I sat down to do my homework before signing in to my online class lecture. I had an assignment due and 2 lectures today, therefore, I had to wake up early. I had to set up two alarms, one for home work and one for preparing lunch for the children.
Today is the second day of ‘locked down’ in the UK due to the global pandemic (Covid-19). An average of 14,000 have died and many people are in quarantine and in emergency wards in hospitals.
The, 24th March will always be an important historic and frightening day for me, because it was the first bombardment in Iraq in 2003, which is exactly 17 years ago today.
This historic event has a lot of significance for me, because my husband who was in the British Army, was deployed to Iraq from his Regiment at Howe Barrack Canterbury Kent UK.
I did not know then, that my husband was being deployed that morning, my children and I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. We were incredibly lucky that we were able to talk to him on his return. But this is something that I didn’t know then.
Gurkha soldiers, are very loyal to their families as well as their residential army career, but their army career comes first. When I married my husband, I had to wait for 7 years, to join him. We had to keep our family separated, for all this time, I had to be on my own after we got married, which is very strange, frustrating and emotional. I had to wait for my monthly letter from him to know where he was and if he was ok. We had no phones; no social media not like now. For nearly threes years we only communicated by letters, I didn’t hear his voice, I only had his letters to hold on to. I don’t know how I survived those days; some relationships now need to have constant communication, people now will end up divorcing if they don’t respond back to messages and phone calls within the hour and I had to survive for 3 years without hearing my husbands voice, this was the role of a Gurkha wife.
Back then in those days I was suffering from “War stress”, I was alone with two little girls who were one year and three years old in the UK. I was constantly thinking and crying, about the welfare of my husband in Iraq. My husband was not allowed to contact his wife and family until two weeks after he left home. I used to watch the news all the time, seeing if his name would come up on a list of dead soldiers, although I was not able to understand English properly at that time, I hadn’t been educated in the UK then but only my homeland Nepal.
I used to cry all the way home from work due to worrying about my two young daughters. I constantly kept thinking that if my husband died at war, I will not have only lost my husband but they will have lost their father. This is what would always make me so upset.
A relative’s friend of mine who I used to go to work with, we would alternate work with child care, for example; I used to go work the morning shift, while she looked after my girls and she used to do the late shift while I used to take care of her two daughters.
Back then, I could not speak English clearly, I was not familiar with UK law and culture, I also felt very, very home sick. There was a big gang problem, and I couldn’t communicate the problems I was having to the police. I had no way of reporting this crime, and I had to keep quiet, keep my head down and get on with it, I didn’t want to cause a problem, due to the length of my visa.
I wanted to stay in the UK close to my husband’s barracks, whilst my visa was valid and I didn’t want anyone reporting me to the authorities and sending me back early. This fear with my visa, continued until we granted settlement rights, which wouldn’t happen until many years later. There were not many Nepali families, relatives and communities established back then, not like there are now, therefore, I felt alone and constantly bullied by these gangs.
The gangs used to throw eggs at my windows and bang loudly on the door, sometimes they got inside the house and threatened us.
The four children (my two daughters and my friends two daughters) were so scared and they hung around me like a mother hen with her chicks. I was very scared to report it to the police and the gangs took advantages of my lack of English language.
Gurkha soldier’s, were discriminated against for a long time, and it was brought to the medias spotlight by Joanna Lumley, in 2004. One of the main issues was, that Gurkha soldiers who fought for the British Army were not allowed to come back to the UK after retiring from the Army.
The Soldiers had to have achieve ‘Staff Sergeant’ rank in order to have their wives and families living with them.
Therefore, I had to stay outside the barracks and only my husband was allowed to stay in the barrack accommodation. It meant the ‘Junior Army Ranks’ could keep their wife with them for only one tour (3 years). My husband had ‘Junior’ rank therefore, I was not allowed to stay with him on the barracks.
I was renting far from the camp, he was in Kent and the children and I were in Black Water, Camberley, Surrey. I was allowed to stay in the UK until my visa expired. Due to Visa laws, I really felt like I was a victim of discrimination by the UK MOD (Ministry of Defences) . I had to leave when my visa expired, with my small children. But, in UK law my 12-month-old daughter could stay, due to her being born in Britain and having a British passport. But myself and my other daughter had to go back to Nepal. The, stupidity of this at the time, meant that a small baby could stay in Britain with no parents, but as her mother I couldn’t stay with her due to not having a visa or a British passport. A lot has changed in twenty years, but at the time we knew no better.
My plan, was to stay for the duration of my visa in the UK, due to me being on leave from my job as a Head Teacher/ Teacher in Nepal. I had something to return back to, a job that would provide for my family whilst my husband was away at war.
My eldest daughter and I went out for 40 minutes jogging and she expressed her feeling of the first day of ‘Lockdown’ thus, ‘Mummy, I already feel that I’m in prison, and human life will be generally very badly affected by Covid-19’.
We walked away from people when we could see a few people with dogs and some people running away from us. We were all following social distancing and also worrying and slightly distrusting our fellow human being. We both felt so sad from watching BBC news and seeing that 87 people had died of Coronavirus within the last 24 hours. We also lost one great member of the Labour Party from my area.
My mum kept telling me about her mum (my grandma) who buried two children in a day owing to the bad global pandemic similar to the COVID outbreak and many people died through lack of food and water, I cannot guess exactly how many years ago, roughly 73 years ago.
I reminded my daughter of this story on the way back home from jogging. After that, she made a Korean style dinner for the family that meant I was off in the kitchen that evening. She laid dinner out on the table when her dad came from work and then we enjoyed the different taste for dinner and watching television too. All the members the families are concentrating on hand sanitiser, alcohol wipes and hand washing more than loving and caring for each other as a family.
I was thinking to myself while having dinner, for instance if I catch coronavirus, and how much I would miss all these people. I’m more prone to being affected by this disease because I ‘m a thyroxine patient. I did not realise time was 23.30 at night, so decided to go to bed.
This photo, shows how much things have changed in a year. This is a big supermarket carpark, on Mothering Sunday Weekend. It should be packed, but there was nobody here, and there was no food on the shelves, due to everyone panic buying due to lockdown. This year, it is completely different, there is food on the shelves, the carpark is functional, and being used and it is completely different to last year.