Naila Suleman is the WMP Diversity and Inclusion manager and has worked for the force for over 14 years. Born in Edinburgh, whilst her father was studying for his PhD, the plan was always to go home and live in Pakistan however, their circumstances changed and they stayed in the UK. It was inspiring to hear Naila’s appreciation for her dual-heritage, which she described as allowing her to value different views and ways of thinking.
Naila shares her story of growing up in the UK and staying connected to her roots as part of Commonwealth Day 2021, as we look ahead to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham,in 2022.
Naila, thank you so much for sharing your story. Can you tell us a little about your upbringing?
My family never intended to stay in the UK for the long term, the plan was always to settle in Pakistan as my dad had a good career there. It was definitely hard being away from our extended family growing up, as for special occasions such as Eid, everyone else would have so many family members to celebrate with and we only had friends – that’s something that always stood out for us. And to be honest, that’s still true today. As my husband’s family is also from Pakistan, our family here hasn’t really grown.
So, would you ever move there?
That’s something we always discuss, we’d love to live abroad, and not necessarily Pakistan but definitely somewhere like the Middle East.
What languages do you speak?
I speak Urdu. I love speaking Urdu, I always speak it with my family at home and my husband. Growing up my parents would only speak Urdu with my brother and I, they could speak English fluently, but that was intentional, because they made an effort to make sure we knew our language.
It sounds like you have a strong connection with Pakistan, how much time have you spent there?
I’ve visited pretty much every year, and when growing up we’d go in the summer. I remember on our trips we would stay at my grandmother’s house and although my aunties and uncles had their own houses, they would come and stay at her house as well. It was also so much fun visiting everyone.
What do you love about visiting Pakistan?
I love the fashion, the hot weather and the food. When I was younger, we would get people come past our house with carts selling food, and every day I would send someone out to buy me something – that’s how much I loved my street food.
I also really appreciate the fact there is so much of a social life there, during the day the front door is never locked, it’s pretty much an open door policy for friends and family to visit whenever they feel like it. I’d say there’s less mental health issues, because there is always someone to talk to.
So, you could say the lifestyle is very different to here?
Definitely! People don’t have the free time to do that here. The socialising that we do is by arrangement or social media, our lives are just very busy here.
What is Pakistan famous for?
Pakistan is famous for mangoes, it’s one of the world’s best producers of mangoes. Cricket is also huge, it’s a national sport and people really love that.
It’s actually a very diverse country, and that’s perhaps something we don’t realise over here, because the Pakistani communities aren’t very representative of the whole of Pakistan. There are so many more dialects, cultures, lifestyles and ethnicities, and also it’s very diverse in terms of geography and what Pakistan physically looks like. You can go from a dessert, to lush green agriculture and there are also beautiful mountain ranges.
How strong would you say the influence of your Pakistani heritage is on your everyday life?
I would say I am very traditional in terms of my personal life, my fashion, food and language, it’s incredibly important to me. Having said that, I am different to how my family are in Pakistan because of my upbringing here.
The local culture in Pakistan is quite emotional and expressive, whether it’s a positive or negative feeling, people have to express it in a strong way. Whereas here, especially in a professional environment, you always have to be mindful of how you articulate your thoughts and feelings so you don’t offend anyone.
Do you have a passion or hobby that has stemmed from Pakistan?
Well, I suppose, food! I love my Pakistani food, it’s definitely my go to. From a young age my mother taught me how to cook, because it’s an important part of our culture.
Is there anything in particular that reminds you of Pakistan?
Often, when my husband and I go to the different areas in Birmingham where there are large Pakistani communities, it reminds of us of home because of the shops, restaurants and the people. It’s a really nice feeling, and helps connects us with our culture.
It’s been great to hear you speak so fondly about your background and upbringing. What does your heritage mean to you?
I am incredibly proud of it, Pakistan is a country with a lot of history and culture. I love that the people there care about each other, and if you’re from the same area you’re part of the community. You don’t just think about yourself, but the people around you as well, looking after your elderly is really important and their wisdom and knowledge is really valued.
I love the fact that I can step back and analyse two cultures and choose the best of both.
And lastly, what are your thoughts about the Commonwealth Games taking place in Birmingham?
I’m not a huge sports fan however, it’s brilliant for the West Midlands and I will definitely be watching the Games.