We Are Essex

Zaakia's story

Zaakia-Sultana Durrani headshot

"The way my dad brought me up, he was just like “you’re the boss”. I remember when I was a kid, I was the boss."

When I was 9 I had a bumper car accident and I smashed my lower incisors, from that I’ve always had an issue with my teeth really. For example they would bleed if I ate an apple or brushed them, and for me I thought it was normal because of the accident, but actually it wasn’t that. I went to a university hospital for treatment and that’s when I met a hygienist. The way she was focussing on my oral health, and the way she changed it from a negative experience to such a positive experience planted a seed for my future career. I loved how she was there to help people, not just with teeth; obviously that’s the main thing, but your teeth, your mouth, your smile is the window to your personality and to have someone who cares about that is actually something I really, really liked.

I finished college and started working; I was a make-up artist for a while. In a weird way that’s quite similar to hygiene, in the sense of patient rapport and all that, but it was a bit too sales focussed. Then I got into uni on my third try. I remember when I first didn’t get in I was really down, but I did get there in the end. To be honest, I did feel like giving up quite a lot but it was something I really wanted. I just knew the whole career is what I wanted, I knew it was me and suited my personality so I just didn’t give up. It was hard when I started, I’m not going to lie, it’s still hard, but you have to do the work. The effort and the work you put in, your result will equal that.

So my life plan – well hopefully I’ll get my degree. Then I’ll start work, and I want to work 5-6 days a week for a year so I can save up some money and get married to then reduce my hours. Longer term, I know this is shooting towards the sun, but I’d like to own some practices or have some partnership in them. It’s so sad because I’m from just outside Newcastle and there are hardly any hygienists there. There are therapists but hardly any hygienists. So if I got bored of hygiene I could come back for a year and do the course for Therapy. I don’t really see myself doing it, but it’s always an option.

In my course I’m proud of how I’ve grown. I intimated for a whole year, I only had a few months but I just needed that break. From then to now is a massive difference. I’m a lot more energetic. I feel like that break was something I really needed. I felt like I lost myself through uni but I took that break and found my way back. I’m proud of that because sometimes you can’t find your way back. Or when I see that a patient has taken advice and it’s changed their life, that makes me so happy. That’s something I wanted to do in the first place.

Outside of uni I’m proud of working a long-distance relationship. My fiancé is in Newcastle so I see him when I can see him. I really like that I moved away though. I have grown so much as a woman. And when I go back up north I like feeling like I had an adventure. You only have one life so live it. I’m really proud of who I’ve become and the influences I am giving to others. The way I can turn a bad experience around - that inspires my friends and makes me proud.

I’m the youngest, I have three older brothers and they’re all protective, but the way my dad brought me up, he was just like “you’re the boss”. I remember when I was a kid, I was the boss. He’s always said that it’s my life so I should take control. I’ve got two sisters-in-law and they push me to be independent – “you don’t need no man” they’d say. And you really go by it. I don’t need a man. My fiancé is my fiancé, but he’s not someone that I need so much, he’s a life partner rather than someone I’m dependent on. He’s into women’s rights and I haven’t really seen that in other men. He’s always telling me “you do you”, I love it. He always tells me it’s up to me.

So I didn’t used to wear a hijab, but I did when I turned 21. I spoke to myself; so I was reading five times a day and religiously was still there – I didn’t get into uni but I kept my faith in God. So I then decided I was spiritually ready to wear a headscarf and preserve my beauty for my husband. So I told myself that if it’s meant to be and I get into uni that’s when I’ll start wearing it – and I got in. I asked my fiancé if he’d like me wearing a hijaab or not and he was like “you do you; it’s your life and your grave”. That’s what I need in my life and that’s the kind of people I have around me.

If I could offer some advice I’d just say focus on yourself. It’s so easy to get lost in university; it’s overwhelming being away from home and your whole culture is different to college or work, so remember that you need the space to know who you are. Not only does university change the way you think, it changes the way you are as a person. So take that experience and really enjoy it, you’ll never get it again.


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