Sudha Chavda. Hillingdon


I have always been fascinated and intrigued to know people's professions and careers. No matter how simple the job is it always needs skills to man it. It is interesting to know how and why a profession was chosen and then finally achieving the goal after hard work and struggle for many years. For me, I love what I have been doing for the last 32 years; I have been working in a psychiatric field and at present I am working as a Community Psychiatric Nurse in Southall - "Little India".


I think at this stage I would like to introduce myself and also give you a little bit of my background. I am Sudha and was born in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania. After completing GCE O levels in 1968, I came to England with sinking feelings in my heart. Due to the political instability all my classmates had either gone to India, America or the U.K. For me I simply could not decide, as the thought of leaving my family behind was unbearable. I was only 18, a naïve, innocent, scared girl who did not have much opportunity to see the world apart from my own home surroundings and family members. It felt as if I was living in a cushioned cocoon. I come from a large family; I have three brothers and six sisters. Bapuji, my father- Keshavlal Gohil had to make a quick decision about our future and came to conclusion that we would have better future in the UK. I could sense the extreme anxieties and worries on his face for our imminent safety in Tanzania. After 1965, economic situation in Tanzania had worsened. All Indian businessmen with foreign passports had to decide if they wanted to live in Tanzania or not. Those who did not change their citizenship did not get a license for the shop and had to leave the country in 2 months. Due to financial constriction we were not able to travel together. Bapuji had no choice but to swallow his Indian pride and renounce our British passports and become Tanzanian citizens with great uncertainty. Later Bapuji sent us to England one by one. It was my turn to leave and I felt numb, afraid, bamboozled and bewildered but there was no escape. I didn't know what to do once I arrive in the foreign land. I was advised by the next-door neighbour to join her sister who was in the nursing profession. I unwillingly wrote to the Matron and to my amazement an application form was forwarded within 14 days. I had no choice but to fill it in. I had to lie about my weight, as I was such a weakling weighing less than seven stones. Somehow I had the impression that the nurses had to be physically strong to lift patients up. When I applied I had no inclination that I was seeking a career to be a psychiatric nurse. I had never heard of 'psychiatric' hospital or mental patients. All I knew about nursing was where you care for physically ill people.

Come to think of it now, there was an African man who used to wander the streets of Dar-es-salaam in his tattered clothes, carrying his worldly possessions in his torn material bag. All he repeatedly said was ' Tembo mbili poteya' in Kiswahili language meaning that he had lost two elephants. But on the other hand he could be talking about the best beer of Tanzania, 'Tusker'. The bottles had the labels of elephant's heads. Little children were sometimes very cruel and threw stones at him and called him a mad man and chased him away. I felt sorry for him and often worried about him. In fact my family thought I was a great worrier as I showed great concern about people's misfortune and sadness. I was also informed much later, that we had a hospital for mad people in Dodoma, which was then, a small town in the middle of Tanzania. I did not have a clue what madness was about. So you see, this is what happens to people like me who did not speak English and there was no body to advise and support. My Guardian Angel, Rama, my elder sister was at the university. Within a couple of days I received the letter of acceptance and despite sinking feelings, preparations were made for my sudden departure. It was a sad day of my life. My eldest brother Mansukh came to meet me at London airport. I felt homesick, miserable lost and cold. Nothing I saw in London made me feel happy. My soul was desolated. I felt stupid, idiot and intimidated because everything I saw and did was different to my simple life style of Dar-es-salaam. There was so much to learn and to adapt to the new English ways. During the course of the day, I would be preached about various issues e.g. shutting the door to keep the draft away; don't stand too close to the fire; switch the light off on the landing after use; stand in the bus queue; don't talk loud in the train as it disturbs the boring people with newspapers, umbrellas and their hats; don't let the hot water run when brushing teeth; put your hand on the mouth when coughing and yawning and so on and on. Mind you, they were all good things to learn - good manners. But before I could digest and adapt to one thing, there was always something else lined up. I wished I had listened to my Secondary School teachers when they were forcing us to speak in English. Despite hating every moment in England, there was no other solution but to be strong and face the music as one would say. The rest of the siblings were relying on me to settle down so that they could follow in my footsteps. I thought of a theme lesson taught by my teacher. He had said, "Try and float like a cork on the sea of LIFE. As the waves come crashing over, let them, and you'll soon bob up. But, try to fight or anchor yourself down, and those waves will smash you." I kept his words in my mind always.


Bhai dropped me off at Bexley Hospital and left me in the hands of the home warden. I was given a room in the nurse's home and later in the evening she took me to the canteen for the supper. I did not know what sort of food to order, as I did not see my curry and chapatti and rice. Finally I ordered meatball dish in gravy, as it looked a bit similar to mum's meatball curry. I thought it also tasted good only to be told later by a Mauritian girl that if I am a Hindu, then I have committed a sin as I ate beef. I thought, "fine time to tell me, mate! I have eaten it." I felt real bad for days. I confessed in my letter to Ba only to be comforted by her gentle words. She wrote,
"Don't torture yourself - as long as you didn't eat an Indian cow it is fine." I must mention at this stage, that the first few months in England were full of dilemmas as everything I saw was so different. I tried to adapt to the new culture under constant protest. I was so naïve and smiled and greeted nurses when I met them in the hospital's canteen or corridors, but most of the time they had such long miserable faces and refused to acknowledge my presence. They looked at me as if I was from another planet, meaning I was an alien. I found that very strange but like everything else I was learning about English culture, the people, the language, along side my nursing education and facing the miserable weather. At times I was feeling quite apprehensive of the new ways I was encountering. But, I must say I have gradually changed my attitude and behaviour as time went by. Psychiatric nursing has broadened my views and I now perceive people's problems in a different spectrum.

Folks, after working for 32 years in mental health field, especially providing service to the ethnic minority clients, I have gained a world of experience. I would love to share my knowledge with my community members. I will write more next month. Bye for now.

Sudha Chavda