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  • Writer's pictureunheardvoicesmn

Muhammed Shameer Abdul Rasheed and Sara Rasheed.

My wife Sara and I still call India home. Home, to me, is a good place to live and raise our two kids and family. I am a first generation Asian Indian. I have lived in Fairmont for just one year now. I grew up in Kerala, a state in South India, in a place called Nedumangad. It’s nature is totally different. It’s smaller than Fairmont, but population wise, it's bigger than Fairmont. The population density is much much greater back home than here because it's a highly populated town.

My childhood was awesome. I guess growing up was totally different compared to here because we had a totally different cultural situation in the small village I grew up in. Now, the main cultural difference between India and America would be how people are being raised. Everything is different, I would say not just one culture, all types of culture: family culture, work cultural, dressing culture (if you want to call it a culture that's different too), and the way you interact with people is different. I say ‘different’ in the way that I think that people have more independence here, compared to back home. Although you don't feel a lot of independence back home, you will have a lot of family support. I don’t see that here very much. For example, we don't have any family here, but think about a different family from Fairmont. They wouldn't have a lot of family support. Of course, grandma and grandparents will be coming in and taking your children for maybe one, two, or a couple of days, but back home you will be living with your parents even though you have kids. I think that is a wonderful cultural difference. We enjoyed that there, so as of now, we don't have that extra family support. Work culture is different here too. I think here it’s a really good culture because people are on time. ...versus Indian time. In India, you could probably be maybe half an hour late and still be on time. I think that's deeply rooted in the culture. Another cultural difference would be clothing. In India, we have just one type of clothing versus here, you have different types of clothing, depending on the climate. We just have one type of clothing because we have just one type of climate. In Kerala, it's more rainy and kind of humid in the summer. In the winter months like February and January, it's cooler. It's cooler, but it's not really that cool. And of course, I think people back home dress modestly compared to here. But there's no right or wrong. If you grew up back home, you have a little more modesty than here, so when you come here and you are placed into this culture, you will likely get a cultural shock. That mainly comes from that modesty ...and independence, too. I think independence is the key that influences most cultural aspects. If you use the word culture in every aspect it’s certainly very different.

My job is the only thing that brought me here. After I got my PhD degree from Illinois, I started working here, and I was okay to move anywhere. Maybe that is another stark difference. Here, some people are willing to travel, but most people are not. They're really tied to and rooted here. We don't really choose to travel, but we’re open to travel. The good thing about traveling is that you get to see a lot of people, understand each other, understand your differences, and you learn to respect the differences. And I think that's really, really important.

Life in Fairmont Now

We really enjoy it here! When we first came in, there was nobody here for us. We did not feel a part of the community because we felt secluded, and that's not good. After a year or so, we found our friends within people around the apartment area and also in our neighbors. We get to talk to our neighbors occasionally... it’s really good. I think we are really liking this place. It's a calm, quiet place, and it's really ideal to raise your kids. People respect each other.

I think we enjoy having more freedom in this community. In India, there are social attires, and you have to dress and please everyone. Here, we are independent. We can do whatever we like. Everyone respects everyone long as you obey the basic law. That is really difficult there, but I think that is deeply rooted in the culture too. And I think faith, to me, would be to live as a human being, in the sense of respecting each other. And obey the basic laws of humanity. And again, help each other to try to learn to coexist. That's what faith means to me, and my religion teaches that too. We are Muslims.

We don't have family here, but of course we have family friends. That is what is shaping our mental health very much because when we first arrived here, we were really worried. If something happened to any of us, there is nobody to take care of the kids, and since it is a small town, there are not many facilities to send our kids to. We wanted somebody to depend on in case something happened. Now, we just have a kind of relief, a peace of mind. There's someone for us. We have that feeling very much now compared to like eight months back. And that's normal because when you're placed in a totally different situation, you need to establish connections otherwise you will feel like you are secluded, and that's not really pertaining to just this community.

Having a family is important to us. We think that it's almost one of the purposes of life, so we can sustain humanity. We should replace ourselves, meaning if we have two kids, that could easily replace both of us in the long run. We have to contribute that, at least, to this society and raise them with good values like respect. Mutual respect is important to us. It is a value we hope to pass on to our children. Our religious values are very important, too. I think that our children should at least be able to understand our language as well, our mother tongue. At some point in our life, we will probably want to share some of our feelings with our kids. I can express my feelings completely in my own language rather than in English. That’s why they call it a “mother tongue”. It comes first. It is the only language we can completely articulate and express our feelings in. We are fluent in Malayalam. That is our mother tongue. I know a few other Indian languages, too. Not really an expert, but I know Tamil and Hindi/Urdu. I can read and write Arabic because of my religion, but I don’t have that much expertise in understanding most of it compared to English. India has many other small sublanguages. I know a couple. We celebrate both traditional and religious holidays. Traditional holidays would include Kerala’s Onam. If you celebrate in full swing, it'll be like a ten day celebration. It’s kind of a harvest festival in August. Back home, we used to make sadhya, a vegetarian feast. Also, a flower arrangement is done for 10 days before Onam, but that is mostly practiced by Hindus. Everybody in Kerala kind of celebrates Onam in their own way. There's no hard and fast rules. Some people make flower arrangements. Some won’t. But the sadhya meal is one thing that most of us do. Our favorite meals consist of rice. Rice is our staple. Without rice, it's really difficult. Like right now, we don't have much of our rice, and we have to think creatively for meals. We are also very particular about our favorite brand of rice! So, we have rice now, but we are still missing our rice (champa rice).

I have a passion to travel. Maybe that is part of what brought me here. I'm not 100% sure about that, but I like traveling around, seeing different cultures, meeting people, learning from them, and being open minded to understand that everybody has their own opinion. I think travel is a big thing, a passion. Other than that, living a good life is a passion. Whatever things you have available in your vicinity, make good use out of that and get a good life out of it. Life's passion. I would even say traveling and meeting different people is one of my proudest accomplishments. I've traveled all over India -- that's a travel too because when you go from state to state, there are cultural differences. I was with a totally different group of people who have different passions. For example, I traveled with environmental enthusiasts or trekking enthusiasts. They go on wild trips like forest trekking. They add value by helping the government. For example, one time I was with this group that was helping the government to find the exact tiger population in a region like a forest. I have met and engaged with different groups of people who have different values and passions. I think that's a great accomplishment, so that we can learn from them. I think a lot of people here like to just stay where they are and not branch out. I highly recommend traveling around the world and seeing people in their lives and understanding their culture, so that we will grow as well. I hope to travel more, because until now, I didn't have much financial support to do that. Hopefully in the future, we may travel internationally. But you know, traveling from India to here, alone, is a brave step. Traveling is my passion, and I suppose it is an accomplishment in itself too. My personal career goal would be to be a good scientist because I'm a budding scientist. I'd like to explore more and work more in the field of science and eventually reach a level where I can contribute something to the world of science. My personal dream is to find more time for our family and to travel the world. Right now, as we’re raising kids, it's tricky & extremely hard to look after ourselves, so I think if we can figure out some personal time for ourselves, and if we could travel around the world and see cultural differences and stuff. That'd be awesome.

Sara: I kind of followed the flow, you know? There are a lot of cultural differences that influence both here and in India. If a girl is born in India, they don't have much freedom to choose the path of their life. We kind of “go with the flow”. We study something, and then our parents marry us, but mostly, it's our choice. Sometimes it's not. In my case, it's my choice. So, I followed him -- whether it’s good or bad -- it's all my choice. It’s good. So, I have arrived here. I'm just trying to survive. I love my life. I want to do something here, so I'm trying to “hang in here” and do what I can here to make my life better.

Hopes for the Community

I have a lot of hopes for the community because right now the direction we are heading is tricky because of all of the political influence. The community is going in different directions or maybe directionless. In a sense, we're not caring for each other anymore because we're becoming more selfish, I think. So I'm hoping that that will change one day and we all can coexist. That is a really important word, rather than fighting each other. One day, I hope we will reach that. That is my hope and personal dream. Everywhere people are divided...that is what we must eliminate.

Interview by Briana Joseph (2021-2022 storyteller).

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