Bangladeshi mum & daughter fight to remain together in Singapore after Covid-19 took their jobs

08 Nov 2020 9:13 AM
Image: Collected
For many families in Singapore, the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the plans - both long-term and short.

For immigrants studying and working in Singapore such as Bangladeshi national Ramisa Tabassum, 20, and her 42-year-old mother Mahbuba Kabir, the word upheaval can be an understatement.

The pandemic, they told Mothership, has brought in regards to a rapid unravelling of dreams and ambitions, and left the family’s future hanging precariously on a knife’s edge.

Ramisa found its way to Singapore in 2017, excited to get started on a fresh phase of her life as students at Temasek Polytechnic.

“The very first thing I saw was this banner,” said Ramisa, recalling her polytechnic application process.

“(It had been showing) a fashion show, and I was like: ‘What is this?’ And because I was always into fashion, into barbies and dressing and everything, I didn’t even think twice.

I was just like, that is my first choice: (a diploma in) Apparel Design and Merchandising.”

That first step toward realising childhood fantasies for Ramisa was also a milestone on her behalf mother Mahbuba - who had moved to Singapore seven years prior, in the hopes of carving out a more promising future on her behalf daughter and herself.

Mother and daughter reunited in Singapore
“In Bangladesh, things weren't working out for me personally as an individual mother,” said Mahbuba.

“My biggest fear was for my daughter - I would like to give her the best of this life. And I found it quite difficult to determine that life for my daughter.”

Mahbuba had previously lived in Singapore while her father worked here, completing her secondary education for the reason that time.

“She still has trophies from Whitley Secondary,” said Ramisa.

“Why don’t you show him!” she insisted gently.

After more encouragement from her daughter, Mahbuba went over to a glass cabinet in the living room of the Tampines HDB flat where the family rent a room, and pulled out a trophy for the school’s cross-country event.

“1992,” she said proudly, with a warm smile.

“Each year I liked to perform.”

Years later as a grown-up, Mahbuba would reconnect with her secondary school sweetheart from Whitley.

After she moved to Singapore in 2010 2010, the two wed and had a kid - Mahbuba’s second daughter 8-year-old Farzana - before eventually divorcing; "it was not working well,” she said.

That turmoil, however, complicated Mahbuba’s plans to bring Ramisa to Singapore - who was simply 10 at that time, and living with her biological father in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong.

When Ramisa finished her O-Levels in Bangladesh however, the family saw an possibility to be reunited.

“I was more excited than nervous,” said Ramisa when I asked how she’d felt then.

“A whole lot of my friends were shocked when I told them [of the move].

But I’ve always seen my mum proceed to different places, and she’s always not scared or anything. So I guess I’m the same.”

Finding her footing in Singapore
Adapting to Singapore, Ramisa explained, was easy despite it being “so different”.

In conditions of education, Ramisa’s international school - which she attended on a scholarship - had actually been using Singapore version of the O-Level syllabus.

Neither did she have much issue regarding language. Ramisa told me her slight American-accent was the consequence of the institution enforcing a strict speak-English-only rule while students were on campus.

Ramisa’s bubbly disposition put her in good stead with her peers at Temasek Polytechnic, while she also managed to build good relationships with her lecturers.

Two experiences in her study here are particularly memorable: first, her final year project, where Ramisa designed and built a mock-up of the interior of a fashion shop.

Second, Ramisa fondly recalled her days as an intern at TV and film production company Ochre Pictures, where she helped manage the wardrobe of "The Last Madame".

The show, Ramisa proudly explained, beat out competition from popular K-drama "Crash Landing YOU" to win Best Asian Drama at the Busan International Film Festival.