Ilmana Fasih was at a wedding in Mississauga when she suffered an emotional meltdown.
She remembers loud, lively music, table upon table of mouth-watering food and people chatting, cracking jokes. “I just started crying,” Fasih says. “I was feeling terrible that my husband wasn’t there . . .
“There were all these families while I felt so incomplete.”
That moment a year ago marked a new low in her life, concedes the 44-year-old, her voice breaking.
Fasih, who trained as a gynecologist in her native India, lives in Mississauga with her two teenaged children while her husband, Syed, works in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
They have been apart for more than two years, communicating mainly by phone and reuniting just twice a year.
“My husband is lonely and frustrated . . . (and) so am I,” Fasih says. “It’s a pretty bad situation we are in.
“Yes, I am one of the Begumpura types,” she notes wryly.
Begumpura is an Urdu expression (literally, “where women live”) used for the GTA’s “colony of wives” — some half-dozen neighbourhoods in Mississauga where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of South Asian women, most of Pakistani origin, live with their kids while their husbands work in the Middle East.
Many immigrate to Canada as families, but the men, unable to find work in their professions, eventually move to the Middle East. Others, already living in the Persian Gulf region, where the men hold high-paying positions, move to Canada to give their children a more promising future.
In most Gulf countries, children of foreign workers aren’t eligible for citizenship and there are few opportunities after Grade 12.
Mississauga’s colony of wives is dispersed among highrises near Square One and the Sheridan Mall. Some women work while others get regular remittances from their husbands.
They all struggle with the challenges of loneliness, single-parenting, long-distance marriage and the fear of spousal infidelity, a foreign bureaucracy and a new culture...Something very wrong with this system, no?