• Anisa Akhter

Three Countries, and Me; Let's Talk Identity

Part 1

My first memory revolves around prayer and my mother. It was maghrib time, the pot of rice was boiling on the stove, a faint 'Allahu Akbar' hanging in the air. The cold autumn evening was accompanied by strong winds, and the vast dark forest behind our apartment complex would give me vivid dreams about goblins and ogres at night. This was what my world consisted of: my Lord and my family. I never understood the reason why my parents moved to this cold Northern European country (when I lived in the UK years later it wasn't any better). In fact, I had never really thought about it but I had nothing to compare it to growing up, so as far as I was concerned, this was my home.

Let me tell you a little about myself and the country that I live in. My name is Anisa Akhter and I belong to a small Finnish-Bengali community that is estimated to be just under two thousand people. I grew up eating rye bread and cheese sandwiches, skating and skiing during the winter, watching cartoons at 5 pm and daily trips to the library after school.

Afraid that I'd lose my roots and religion, my parents and family friends would later on establish one of the first Bengali mosques in the capital area. A small basement apartment that we called the Hakaniemi Bengali mosque, that also doubled as an Asian grocery shop, is where I learned to read the Qur'an. All of my friends lived in different cities, but we would meet once a week during Saturday school. In an effort to preserve who we were ethnically my parents had created a small safe bubble for us: the masjid, the place that became our source of socialisation and learning for many years. This rag-tag team of Muslim immigrant families was all that I knew, our religion bringing us closer, our differing cultures making us fond of each other.

My parents have grown old and frail now, and I can't help but think how they've spent majority of their lives here and not Bangladesh. We have essentially become more Finnish than Bengali, something that my parents refuse to acknowledge -- they have always seen Finland as a temporary abode. But, I can't help but chuckle silently when Baba gets excited about going fishing during summer or when Ammu would stop the car to find wild spinach in some field; they've carved a beautiful little life for themselves by combining both Bengali and Finnish aspects of life. This life consists of fusion food (spicy Finnish salmon soup and pike curry anyone?), our own little mix of languages and expressions, and the values of these vastly different cultures and this ever constant love and reverence for nature. They taught me the value of hard work, resilience, generosity, independence, kindness and serving others in need, even when you might be considered unwelcome.

It must've been a huge sacrifice to move here, this cold and dark country which they intended to make their home for only a short time, this country that I find so beautiful. Finland has this quiet yet kind charm, it makes your heart feel at peace. The vast forests and the sea calm you, the trees and the snow remind you of Allah, the nature humbles you.

Despite my scenic upbringing, it wasn't easy and life was never a fairytale. But, this is where I feel most like myself, with my Lord and my family.

By Anisa Akhter