Refugee – Baz & Z

Baz and Z

Baz comes from the Sudan and lives in Brighton with his wife Z and their fifteen-month-old daughter Solara. The name Baz derives from the Arabic word for hawk. Baz and Z – who was born in Britain – met in Khartoum at the British Educational Institute where Baz was teaching English as a second language.
Baz studied at Omdurman Ahlia University. It is an unusual place and is run on democratic lines by its students and has always been independent of the state. It has never been popular with Sudan’s military regime; the government regard it as a threat and the militia has tried to shut it down many times. But although they have set fire to the University twice, taken students and beaten them, destroyed computers, laboratories and lecture theatres, it has persisted.

Baz himself has been caught up in political unrest at the University. He and forty others were once arrested after taking part in a student protest against the government. They spent two days in prison. Fortunately, when the case went to court, the arresting officers failed to turn up and the judge let Baz and the others go on condition they agreed not to demonstrate again. Although lucky for the students, the judge’s generosity proved his undoing and he was subsequently fired for his decision.

It was while he was at Omdurman Ahlia University that Baz began to write. His speciality was short stories and, in 1997, he received a mark of ninety-nine per cent for one of them . This gave a real boost to his confidence as a writer and since then he has not looked back. He went on to be published in The Other Opinion, a non-government newspaper run by a famous and remarkable liberated Sudanese woman journalist called Amal Abbas, On another newspaper he became a part-time editor of the culture pages.
The government in Sudan is staunchly Islamic and does not have a tolerant attitude towards opposition. Baz’s father was forced out of his job as a government personnel officer for being a member of an opposition party. When his father lost his job it fell to Baz, as the eldest of six siblings, to provide for the family. He decided to go to Saudi Arabia where salaries are considerably higher.

In Saudi, Baz taught English as a foreign language in a series of schools. The first was in Tharb, a new village that had been built specifically for the Bedouin. Tharb had new houses, a mosque and a market place at the centre. There was a school and perhaps fifteen or sixteen houses for the teachers, but the Bedouin, who are a nomadic people, far preferred living in their own houses and tents out in the desert and would only come into the village on Fridays to attend prayers in the mosque and do their shopping in the market. Then they’d go back to the desert, leaving the modern homes in the village empty.

Baz lived frugally, he didn’t buy a house or a car or any luxuries; every bit of money he could spare he sent back home to his family in Sudan.

It was while he was working in Saudi Arabia he heard, from his uncle, the news that his father had died. Despite being asthmatic, his father had been quite well and had been fit enough to go out and buy a sheep for Eid, but he died suddenly the night before the festival took place. This was a terrible shock for Baz. He had loved his father very much. He had not just been a good father and a good sportsman or a man with a wonderful sense of humour, he had been, above all, Baz’s great friend .

After three years in Tharb, the Ministry of Education moved Baz to a village called Sofiana. Life was very different here; it was greener and more pleasant but it was not a place where the Bedouin were liked. Baz was moved yet again a year later, to Swarquia. It was while he was working in this, his third post, that Z came out to join him.

In late 2004, Z became pregnant. Four months into the pregnancy she decided that she didn’t want to bring up a child in Saudi Arabia. Z felt that it was a miserable place to bring up a child. Both Baz and Z thought it would be wrong, especially if the child were a girl, to bring it up in the restrictive conditions of Saudi society. Z herself had run into problems over dress codes. It is a requirement for women to wear the niqab when they go out and when Baz and Z went for a walk, with Z wearing only a Sudanese traditional dress, similar to a hijab, her friends questioned her. Why, they wanted to know, did she show her eyes when she went out and why did they not have a car. After this, she covered herself whenever she went out in future. Even when they went to the more cosmopolitan cities of Riyadh and Jeddah she was still obliged to cover up.

In addition to these social pressures, Z felt she was being held back and that she was not accomplishing anything in her life. She had a degree in physics, but was unable to use it. When Z refused to do military service in the Sudan, the authorities responded by preventing her receiving a certificate for her degree, leaving her unable to get work that in any way matched her abilities. Baz himself did do a year’s military service in the Sudan. At first he had refused, but he eventually gave in. As he says himself, ‘I don’t like getting into trouble, I “walk by the wall “.

Z held on until April 2005 when she set out for England. Z had a cousin and friends in Brighton and she came here to stay . Solara was born at the Royal Sussex County Hospital on the 20th July 2005.

Baz and Z kepi in constant phone and e-mail contact and Baz was also able to see photos of his daughter via the Internet. He tried to come over to see Solara in January 2006, but the British Embassy in Jeddah told him that he would have to wait a month for an appointment and he couldn’t get the time off from his work at the school.

Z was angry, thinking that for some reason he did not want to see her or their daughter. She asked him to resign his job, but he wasn’t sure that he could get into the UK as the process was tough, so he held on.
Louisa Rabbat, a solicitor with the Brighton Housing Trust, helped arrange a visa for Baz, but the papers never arrived in Saudi Arabia. Eventually Baz decided to return to the Sudan. Organizing things through the embassy in Jeddah had seemed difficult and he thought that he might have a better chance of coming to the UK from Sudan. He travelled to the Sudan at the end of June. Louise Rabbat sent his paperwork on to him there, but it was held up for another two weeks by a postal strike. Baz finally arrived in the UK on the 22nd August.

Baz and Z still live in the council flat where Z was living when Baz came over. Most days Baz stays at home with his daughter while his wife goes out to work in a laundry in a local care home. Although it’s Baz’s first time in England it’s been relatively easy for him to settle, as he is familiar with English culture through his teaching.

Baz finds it is very hard to mix with other people here. ‘Back in Sudan,’ he says, ‘if I was hungry, or a neighbour was hungry, we’d just knock on each other’s doors and share our food. You can’t do that here’. There have also been problems with his neighbours; they seem to be inventing reasons to be unpleasant. Baz worries about leaving Z and their daughter alone in the flat. He always tries to make sure she has company when he is away.

Baz’s sister is now a graduate from Omdunnan Ahlia University with a degree in English Literature Studies. His brothers have also graduated, and now are able to support themselves and their mother. Baz would like Z to be able continue with her studies. She has spoken to Sussex University, and they have told her she has to do one more year to complete the degree here, but that her English is not yet good enough.

On a Monday Baz teaches English at the MEP at the Cowley Club and also translates for others – there is always a need there. He also wants to return to study but, most of all, he wants to write. ‘I have so many ideas’, he says, ‘it would be wonderful to be able to write much more – and with others!’