‘In the U.S., I Made My Own Family’ – An Interview with My Great Aunt

By Haleema Tahir

The rock of my family is my great aunt, Rahesa Bagaum. I refer to her as Bari Auntie, which translates into “Great Aunt” in Urdu. Auntie Bagaum is from Pakistan. Although she doesn’t know her exact birthday, she believes she is somewhere from 40 to 50 years old. She speaks Rangri, and identifies as a Rajpoot. She and her children moved to the United States 15 years ago to join her husband.

I asked her how her definition of family changed when she moved to the United States.

Most of your life was spent living in a close-knit family. How did you feel when you moved to the United States?

I became very lonely.

How did you fill that loneliness?

There were many people here who were lonely. So, I made them my family. Together we filled the empty part in our hearts.

You and Uncle have worked hard to make sure all your children gain a proper education, when many in your generation feel there is no need to educate their daughters.

I didn’t get an education and look at what kind of life I have. It’s just dragging along. Like a gasless car that need to be pushed to be moved.

Do you think if you had been educated your life would have been different?

Yes, if I were educated than I could learn how to drive a car. And I could go anywhere I wanted.

But you can read the Quran.

Yes, a little bit but not a lot. One of my grandmas used to teach us how to read the Quran.

How old were you when you got married?

I was 18. At that time girls were very simple. They didn’t know much of anything or even what was happening with them. Or what marriage was. We just knew we were going to get new clothes and shoes. People didn’t use to make many clothes very often then. We used to get two sets of clothes each during the winter and summer. And new clothes on each of the two religious celebrations.

Who inspired you in your life?

My mom used to teach me family is very important. That when there is a fight within a family, you do not join the fight.

What happens when there is no elder in the family?

Elders keep the family joined together. When an elder is lost then everything is separated.

What happens when everyone is separated? What’s wrong with that?

Then everyone is on their own. And everyone looks after themselves first. One brother might have something to eat and another brother has nothing to eat.  

A family that is together has more blessings. Yes, there are some things that cause restlessness but there is also a sense of peace. There’s both in all families.

How does this work in today’s world, when most families are separated all over the world?

You can still support each other. What matters is having love in your heart.

How do you show someone you love them?

You call them and ask them how are they doing. You share what’s happening in your life, and you ask them if they need something. This is love. Then they also need to realize that since you’re showing so much love and care, to also call you and ask you about your life and if there’s anything you need. And if someone doesn’t appreciate someone, then he gets left behind.

How does discontent or hatred spread in a family?

When you think you’re mother’s side of the family is better than your father’s side of the family, then they will hate each other. But if you treat one part of your family with respect and genuineness and you do the same for other parts of the family, than everyone will be very happy with you and each other.

From everything you’ve learned in your life, is their one lesson you would like to pass on to your children and your loved ones?

Meet everyone with humbleness and peace. Talk with love. Don’t get mad at anyone. If you see someone is creating trouble, than remember your creator and back away from that person and situation. Always ask forgiveness from Allah. And pray for that person. Don’t create trouble.

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