Webmaster: Sometimes we need to be reminded that migrant workers may come from very different cultures. Shoriful’s story about getting married may sound very strange, but is quite typical for men from Bangladesh. Money concerns also feature prominently, heightened by expectations that workers ought to be remitting large amounts of money when in truth, some workers, like Shoriful, suffer a series of misfortunes with their jobs. See earlier story about one of his troubled episodes: Give a kickback or get a kick.
Told by Shoriful, translated by a volunteer
I can’t remember when I first saw Afroja because I’ve known her since I was young. She’s my mother’s sister’s daughter and we would meet at family events and festivals. Of course I didn’t pay any particular attention to her when I was young.
My first love was when I was in higher secondary school. She was called Lucky, but that’s not her real name. Her family was much richer than my family, from money generated by the rice and jute mills that her father owns. My father warned me not to get involved with her because of the economic disparity between our families. He told me that when I was ready to marry, he’d arrange a marriage for me with my cousin Afroja.
At that time I couldn’t think of anyone but Lucky and I cried saying I can’t marry Afroja. My father threatened that he’d leave the house if I didn’t obey, which set my mother crying. Finally I relented and agreed to stop thinking about Lucky.
Afroja (right) came to my house one day in 2009 to see me off before my first job in Singapore. Even though she knew about the arrangement for a future marriage, we didn’t speak about it. Later that year when I was sent back to Bangladesh with acute appendicitis, Afroja met me at the airport and assisted in taking me directly to hospital. Without her care and attention I would probably have died.
Afroja’s uncle suggested that we marry in 2011 when my company sent me back again, but I didn’t have enough money. I wanted to wait until I could build a small house and arrange a wedding party. It’s humiliating for a man to marry without even enough to feed the guests properly. Her family was angry about postponing the marriage because she was of marriageable age. Her father wanted her to stick with me but her uncle wanted to arrange another man for her. Luckily her father likes me, though I’m not sure why. It could be because she told her mother that she loves me and her mother passed her wishes on to her father. Sometimes when I call her she would pretend to she didn’t want to talk to me but I knew she loved me.
On the day of the wedding, 2 August 2013, my father went to her house to escort her to my house. She lives almost 3 hours away by CNG (a small three-wheeled vehicle). Her father and her brother came later. It was a small ceremony because of the disagreements in her family.
My father told me to make sure I kept my phone on that evening, but he didn’t tell me what it was about. I finished work at 9pm and received his call at 11pm. When I heard that this was the marriage, I summoned several of my workmates together, showered, borrowed my friend’s Punjabi suit, and we spread a mat to sit together on the floor.
The Imam and the government officer who registers marriages in the area were at my father’s home to take the vows and the signatures. My father, Afroja and her father all signed the registration book. I’ll sign when I return home. My older sister had to pay 2 lakh taka when she married (S$3,300) but I didn’t take any money from Afroja’s family.
We bought a chicken for the ceremony. It wasn’t much of a ceremony with only the few people from my family and hers, maybe ten people in all.
She’s been staying at my house since then. Both of my sisters are at my house and can keep her company. Although my older sister was married not long ago, she is now staying with our parents because she just delivered her first baby. She’ll probably stay until the baby is one or two months old. With Afroja at my house my younger sister and parents won’t be so lonely after my older sister returns to her husband’s family. The house is livelier with her around but she did return to her family for the Eid.
She can stay at either house until I go back home. If her parents say they miss her, she’ll go back to spend time with them. She wasn’t happy because we didn’t have a big party with my family and the people in the village but I told her not to worry: we’ll do that when I came back if I have enough money. My father would like to have a big party but I don’t mind if we invite only a few people. It will depend on how much money I’m able to bring back.
Now that I’m married, I have to think of my future and how to take care of my wife and family. When I was single I didn’t worry much, but I need to be more responsibile now. It’s not that I’ve wasted my money, but I’ve had so many problems with the jobs in Singapore. The jobs have all turned out badly for me, so I only hope that I can extend my work permit one more year. My permit is almost finished and I won’t have saved anything if it’s not extended.
Afroja recently sat for the higher secondary certificate but she failed at English. I told her that she should try and take the exam again after studying for one more year. If she has this certificate she can apply for a job, maybe as a teacher. If I can work in Singapore another year, she’ll have more time to study. If she doesn’t work, that’s okay with me because she’ll be able to teach our children well.
Now I talk to her everyday. If I don’t call her, she calls me. She wants me to come home soon. She doesn’t understand why I haven’t made money here when everybody else who works abroad comes home with so much money. I don’t know how to explain why I’ve been so unlucky.
She asked me to bring her to Singapore for a holiday but I told her there’s no way I can do that. She says that now that we’re married I should arrange for her to come and see what Singapore is like. I wish I could do that for her.