Where is your husband? It was not the first time such a question has been asked. Whether it is funny or not is another matter, but returning ‘home’ and having been asked such a query raises an eyebrow. I wondered if all unaccompanied women entering the country are asked the same. Why bother, after all, it could be a cultural trait.
An eagle-eyed to images, sounds, words, or behaviour has been an integral part of my reporting skills. Each experience or interaction can be related to a bigger narrative. It is fascinating what can be learned from remarks and observations.
On the way to Heathrow airport, I spent over an hour in a taxi listening to stories about social injustice. The driver, an Afghan, spent much of the trip complaining about how bad it is to live and work in London. The topics ranged from small houses to long working hours, the cost of living, the political system, and the media. There was nothing new until he started condemning how the British media reported on the Taliban government. And so, I heard that his wife, who cannot speak English, was allowed to enter the UK following the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2021, and how she thinks he is becoming a religious radical.
The driver got my full attention when he started defending the educational segregation and reforms happening in Afghanistan under the new regime. It became hard to hold back my tongue. “If life in the UK is so bad, why don’t you move to another country or go back to Afghanistan?” I asked. “Not all countries accept asylum seekers,” he explained, while at the same time condemning countries in the Middle East that do not accept asylees. I could not resist offering advises. The driver admitted that returning to his country was not an option for economic and social reasons. It is better not to spit on one’s plate while eating.
One of my favourite distractions when in London is travelling by bus. It is like being in another world. Observing people, architecture, and even the traffic can be like scenes from different movies. People who need to take a bus to go to work may not agree with the romanticisation of bus rides, but their efficiency, comfort, and stress-free travel make them highly appealing.
I just love to hop on buses to see the changes that have happened over the years. At bus stations, people talk about situations, read books, or talk on the phone. I met a ballerina who had just become a first-time mum. We ended up becoming bus stop friends. There are so many interesting things to learn and discover while on a bus ride. It sounds weird, I know. I still remember and cherish when I chose to travel by bus from Oman to the Emirates a few years ago. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I recognise. A good bus driver can be as important as a good musician, according to a popular saying.
Then, came the visits to bookshops in London. It is another must-do on my list. Bookstores as spaces for sociability and the practice of reading can offer new dimensions about types of texts, reading spaces, and events. The biggest impact was finding that the shelves for books on journalism education and media studies have shrunk considerably. One of my preferred bookstores in central London that had the best and most groundbreaking books on the discipline is now into digital data, studies on the Internet, and the sociology of social media. Even so, the suitcase came packed with new releases, except ‘Spare’. Next time I am asked where my husband is, I will say, ‘he is in the suitcase’.