My Town, It Smiled Again..

Hello friends, my name is Siti Hasmah. I am a doctor by education and belong to Pakistan. I worked as General Practitioner back there but now I am a proud mum of three little angels and a home manager. My husband is a doctor by profession.

I moved to UK five years ago in December 2014 with my family, my husband and two kids. It was my first ever experience to move out of Pakistan. We moved to a small town in South East of England, called Hastings. I was very scared, apprehensive and conscious and had many unknown fears in my mind as anybody would have. I was unsure about the environment, behaviour of people towards me and financial stability.

But the moment I landed at Heathrow Airport, London, this country received me with open arms and a pleasant surprise. My first encounter was with an airport porter who offered his help with a wide smile on his face. He told me the standard upfront charges of £9 for his services. There were no bargains or any arguments. He was very professional and knew his job well. He collected all my luggage by tracing the number on my ticket and I didn’t have to be bothered and had one less thing to worry about.

I thought I traveled the distance of only a few thousand miles but stepped into a completely different world. Only eight hours ago I was at Lahore airport and I had a horrible experience of encountering three different porters who were fighting over money and trying to take my luggage from me. They made me even scared at my first ever International travel with two small kids.

When I came out of Heathrow airport I met a friendly taxi driver, who welcomed me with a smile. To be honest I was not used to seeing so many smiles and good behaviour from the general public. It all felt like a pleasant cool breeze to me.

Gradually as I started living in UK I went out initially with my husband and then on my own. I got so happy whenever I saw any stranger without any sense of age or gender, everyone was so friendly that I started considering them as part of my family and my new town as my home. I started talking to local native people at public places to improve my English-speaking skills and improved my accent.

Then I got pregnant in 2017 and had my beautiful son, my third child, the only one to be born in UK. It was another beautiful experience of my life. I was asked to come to have an operation (C-Section) for delivery of my baby in the morning.

On the day my two other kids had their normal school day so my husband went to drop them while I walked on my own to hospital with my bag packed (He later joined me after school run). All the people at the hospital and staff were so kind and helpful that it brought tears in my eyes. I would especially like to mention anaesthetic doctor who came to speak to me about the details of anaesthesia. He knelled down on the floor at my bedside and explained all details and relieved all my fears. I was so impressed that I felt as if I was in heaven and all the people around me were angels.

I was so happy to be surrounded by good people that I did not visit my parents in Pakistan for about 4 ½ years. After my first visit to Pakistan, when I came back I started loving UK, my new home, even more because I felt the importance of all the smiles and good morning wishes which I received from strangers walking on footpaths.

But then came March 2020 and came COVID 19 pandemic with it. It had spread already in other parts of the world for three months but it hit UK badly in March. All the world governments started imposing lockdowns and the same was followed in UK. We were all stranded at homes. Schools, shops, restaurants and parks were closed. My husband who works in a hospital continued to go to his job.

After staying completely at home for 2 months, I walked to the pharmacy one morning to collect medicines. It was a big shock for me, the way my beautiful town, Battle, has transformed into, because of pandemic. There was fear on people’s faces, they were wearing masks and gloves. Surprisingly their faces turned into expressionless masks themselves. Those smiles, hellos and even nodding of heads all vanished, no matter if they were wearing actual masks or not, their faces turned into robotic mask faces. There were only very few people out on High street, which normally is a busy place and full of life usually.

Seeing notices of ‘Sorry we are closed’ were heart-breaking. People were scared to come close to other people and were not willing to help anyone if needed to get something from a shelf. I got so sad that I almost went into depression after watching all this, although normally I am a strong head person.

Next day after discussing with my husband and reading about ways of spreading COVID, I went back to High street but this time in high spirits. I waved to every one there even across the road, gave big smiles behind the mask and nodded my head to people. I deliberately talked to staff at shops and tried to encourage people to do that while keeping a safe 2-meter social distance. There is no harm in giving smiles and talking while taking all precautions. I told the shop workers how they were doing amazing jobs and wished them to stay safe. I persevered in my resolve to bring the smiles back which I loved the best about UK.

Now I go for a walk on my own on alternate days. But I have noticed a change on people’s faces. There was a gradual positive vibe spreading among people from one to another. It looked like an unseen energy being transferred from me to them and vice versa. People are staying at a safe distance and observing all precautions but at the same time they are smiling as they used to be. We wave at each other and exchange smiles.

My town lost its beauty for a short while but it has gained it back now. I wish this pandemic is over soon and the whole world goes back to its beautiful normal status as it used to be. And I pray that my previous home Pakistan where I have my parents and loved ones also becomes a similar place of peace and harmony as my new home UK. Amen

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