Sharjah: On New Year’s Day in 1964, the ship carrying Mary Sardar and her family docked in the UAE. The then 14-year-old Sardar accompanied the rest of her family from Karachi. They were looking to the Gulf for better prospects.
“I was very young, so [I was] enjoying [myself], relaxing… [we] came by ship – so that was the main part – four days we were on the ship,” Sardar told Gulf News when we visited her modest living arrangement in Sharjah.
For context, 55 years ago when Sardar and her family got here, the UAE was not yet a union.
On January 1, Sardar Bob and his wife, Sardara Bibi (Elizabeth), led their young daughters into what would become their home for a very, very long time. Josephine and Treesa were very young, Sardar remembered, while showing us her old passport photo.
“I wanted to look like the Bollywood actresses of the time…like Sadhana,” Sardar laughed, while continuing to arrange documents to show us.
While she spoke to us in the studio-like converted garage that she now calls home, on a mattress on the floor sat her 37-year old son, Staffard.
Staffard, Mary explained, had his first bout of epilepsy as a kid and since then had not kept up with the growth milestones of others his age. As we sat discussing him, Staffard didn’t volunteer to speak.
Life in UAE
Sardar grew up in the UAE and always lived in Sharjah – Corniche, Musallah and Al Nasserya areas over the years. Apart from a couple of years spent in Pakistan, Sardar and her sisters studied in the UAE.
“We were a poor family but my father managed to come here, work… he also didn’t have much income, to save and all, it was hand to mouth for us,” the now 69-year-old Sardar said.
An assistant nurse by profession, she completed her two-year nursing training in Rashid Hospital, Dubai in 1977. This was also her first job as a nurse. She was on her father’s sponsorship at the time.
In 1980, she successfully applied for a job at Al Qassimi Hospital – the hospital was her employer for well over three decades. She was hired at a salary of Dh2,030 with a housing allowance of Dh350. “I worked everywhere,” Sardar said when asked about her department of work.
While here, her parents arranged for her to get married to a Pakistani expat. However, according to Sardar, things turned sour for the couple, leading to their eventual separation and divorce.
Staffard was born in 1982. Sardar said, “I wasn’t happy at home, from everywhere I was in stress, and I had a C-section [as] the baby was in distress and he was born at just 2kg and 50 grams.”
Staffard was treated in an incubator for over two weeks owing to the condition at his birth. He then had epileptic fits as a child. However, Sardar explained, her mother who cared for Staffard when he was young didn’t recognise any out-of-the-ordinary signs in the child.
“And he was very small, difficult to make out,” she added, saying she sent him to school for a couple of years after which Sardar was told he had special needs.
While she tried a few schools for a couple of years, Sardar said she didn’t have the resources then to take him to a special school continuously. She made a special request to take Staffard to the hospital with her during her shifts – he would do small jobs like filing to keep busy, she said. Sardar sponsors her now 37-year-old son who needs continuous supervision.
Sardar also has a daughter who, she said, is trying to find a job after managing to go to Canada as part of a church-sponsored trip in 2002. When her 7-day visa expired, she didn’t return, according to Sardar.
Sardar’s parents died in the UAE, she repatriated their bodies back home to Pakistan.
Her sisters moved away eventually and started lives of their own in Pakistan, Sardar added. She also has a brother, born in the UAE, the youngest of the four.
“My life is hell”
"My life has been hell, I can tell you," Sardar said suddenly.
The 69-year-old had to retire officially in 2013 but her employer agreed to keep her employed as a locum nurse – until September 30.
“I am so thankful to Al Qassimi Hospital – they did everything they could for me,” she gushed.
But life has been hard since retirement, Sardar said. She moved homes at the time, as she could no longer afford the deposit amounts required to keep up a tenancy contract.
Before 2013, Sardar earned upward of Dh7,000 as an assistant nurse. “As locum, salary is lower, Dh4,000 and you know how everything is so expensive now,” she said. “I am happy they [the hospital] gave me that chance. They did so much for me, I am so grateful”, she added.
The next question that invariably rises is – didn’t she manage to save anything at all?
Sardar had initially planned on buying a house in Pakistan and even paid up a chunk of the asking price from her savings. “I am the one at fault for losing it,” she said, adding that she had not been able to keep up with the remaining instalments and the contract lapsed.
I am happy they [the hospital] gave me that chance. They did so much for me, I am so grateful.
While she got her gratuity settlement from the hospital in 2013, she lost almost all of it owing to personal financial issues. “The rest of that money is what kept us going till now,” she added. “I was still living in the UAE, I still had the same expenses, I had to survive on that money,” she said.
Sardar also said she had to help her siblings at times.
“Sooner or later, I have to go…”
Sardar said she could not afford tickets for them to go back. She added that she had no home or savings to start a new life in Pakistan. According to Sardar, her life in UAE is already stretched thin – there's no income, for paying rent, for food and diabetic medication.
She plans to go live in her sister’s house. “But they are also hand-to-mouth, she anyway offered whatever, we are welcome,” she said.
“You know how it is – it is not the same as going for a short time, going for a long time,” she added.
Talking about surviving after getting to Pakistan, Sardar said, “My sister… she is a teacher in the school and when she is coming home, she gives tuition to some children. I was thinking maybe I could do that.” She added that at her age, she wouldn’t able to handle the transport required to pursue a job in the city.
As for authorities back home helping, as her sister suggested at first, Sardar said, “I have no ‘vastha’ [influence], what could I get?” She has to cancel her visa in a month, which will affect her son’s visa here as well.
“All I want to do is leave, with a good name. Money comes and goes and I have faith in God,” she added.
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