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 Shree Prasad Mabo, who was in the British Army, was deployed to Iraq from his Regiment (The Royal Irish Regiment) under commanding of OBE Colonel Tim Collins 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.