Inspired by Max Adam’s original work, Unquiet Women, through this series Dr Hafsa Ahmed aims to share narratives of remarkable women who immigrated to New Zealand. These stories are rarely told, but each one is unique. Hafsa hopes these stories will bring Asia closer to New Zealand by enabling us to see through the eyes of others and nurturing connections.
In the second piece from the Unquiet Women series, she shares teacher Fariya Naseem’s story.
"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage” – this quote by the famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is how Fariya Naseem describes her journey to Aotearoa.
Fariya who was born in Bhopal, India came to Aotearoa to pursue a professional qualification in Teaching and Learning at the University of Canterbury. It was a big decision for her to come here but it was important – this wasn’t just about building a future for her son whom she loved deeply. It was also about challenging herself to pursue the unthinkable for an Indian woman who had the best of everything back in India. So I asked her why she pursued this daring journey – coming to a new country without any family, leaving behind a six-year-old son and a supportive husband.
Fariya shares the conundrums she was dealing with back in India. At 21, while still pursuing her Bachelors of Engineering, she was married to an Indian Army officer. She was constantly moving around the country with her husband so she couldn’t develop her planned career. Surrounded by name, power and stereotypes she could be anybody but herself.
However, Fariya had a deep love for seeking knowledge, which meant she continued learning. People in her close circles teased her, saying “You’re going to collect all these degrees/certificates and put them up on the wall?” or “are you going to take up a file and stack all your degrees/certificates?” But this did not deter her – she persevered.
Fariya’s love of books also offered her insights, as she approached every book as a conversation “I would try and have conversations with those authors and try to listen to hear what they would do if they were stuck like me.”
Stuck? If you’re thinking she felt stuck in her marriage, let me stop you there – it was certainly not that. It was the emptiness she felt in her life and the interactions with people around her, many of whom were driven by ego, status and flaunt.
What worried her most was this thought “so finally, after these many years, there was a time when I realised that actually my son is five years now and soon he'll be part of this society and he'll think that this is how it should be.”
Her inner voice started to tell her “there was no me left in myself” and she constantly felt that her true self was getting diminished by society’s expectations. This worried Fariya more and more each day. She started having severe health issues and knew she had to do something, so she talked to her husband, who supported her decision to move.
With her life in two suitcases, Fariya chose a place where no one knew her – Ōtautahi, New Zealand.
I ask her why New Zealand, she replies “New Zealand was something which resonated more to my heart and I loved how the things were described about the city, the people and the culture.”
But before boarding that flight to travel more than 10,000 kilometres away, she had to convince her mother to take care of her son. She recalls saying her farewells at the airport and thinking “am I doing the right thing?”.
But deep inside, she knew she was taking the right step.
Fariya left India and came to New Zealand with just two nights accommodation booked – “that was the bravest or stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” But the kindness of New Zealanders flowed and she found accommodation quickly.
Fariya was on a mission – a mission to change her future. It wasn’t easy but she was determined to not look back and stay strong.
“Staying strong does not mean the absence of fear. I have been scared but I decided not to give up” she says.
In India, she had all the luxuries of life – a maid, a butler, a driver and a gardener. However, in New Zealand, she had to work to survive. Fariya’s day would be busy studying for her course at the University of Canterbury and evenings would be working at a supermarket. She would work late nights, sometimes having to mop up vomit from drunk customers. These were uncomfortable experiences but she believes each one of them shaped her life today.
Walking home around midnight, tired and alone, she would stop to look at the night sky and have deeper conversations with the divine. She describes this time as precious moments of awakening. This was the time she learned about purpose, existence and presence.
After a few months, her husband and her son visited her. Both Fariya and her husband decided their son would stay with her in New Zealand.
She describes her days of struggle with her son with pride by saying “I completed my course and was now applying for jobs. We had very limited resources and I was not able to buy all those expensive fruits for my son, so we would go to the university garden to pick fruit. We both knew what it meant for us. We would go, pick fruit. Have a nice walk and collect some stones just to paint.”
Within a few months, Fariya found her first job as a teacher and things changed for the better.
She loves to teach. She aims to make her students excel in academics and cultivate good values. Further, her journey has inspired Fariya to be a life coach. She helps people to overcome their fears and pursue their dreams. She encourages people to grow resilience and gratitude. Fariya loves the beauty in New Zealand – the birds, the trees, the clear blue sky and most importantly “people accepting you the way you are.”
I asked Fariya, does she feel at home? She says “I have two homes”. She carries the love of her two homes – India and New Zealand - in her heart.
“I'm a bridge to these two places. I'm a bridge that connects New Zealand to India and the bridge that brings my culture to this place.”
- Asia Media Centre