Having had a prior relationship with Healthserve, a non-profit organisation that provides medical care and support to migrant workers, I decided I would occasionally drop by their office along Jalan Besar. On one of these visits I met a friendly group of Bangladeshi migrant workers including Ahmed and Hasan. As I started to befriend them and share about my project, Ahmed in particular was very interested in my work as a musician. There also happened to be a guitar in the office which I happily played some tunes on, and Ahmed would eagerly show me video clips of Bangladeshi musicians in hopes that I could imitate them (which I tried my best to!). By the end of the day they had affectionately given me the Bengali name "Nil Akash", which means blue sky. Over the next few visits I met Ahmed again and began to teach him some basic chords on the guitar, and learnt that he has always loved music from a young age but never had the opportunity to learn it. As he opened up more to me about his personal struggles I felt a sublime mixture of sadness for his circumstances and joy in the fact that I was connecting with someone across cultures and widely different backgrounds.
We met for lunch at Tekka Centre the day before our collaborative creation session, and there were many things shared that impacted me dearly. Amongst them were the fact that he had just become a father 3 months ago, but with a downcast look he admitted that he was unable to feel happy about this due to his inability to sufficiently support his family financially. Another was his genuine and honest expression as he told me: "I don't care about myself, I just want to support my family.". I can only hope that through this Journey Piece I have done justice to Ahmed's story, that he can know that he is not alone in this struggle and that he can be a source of strength and support to other Bangladeshi migrant workers going through similar circumstances.
By Neil Chan