After growing up in Saudi Arabia, Namerah moved to Kuala Lumpur to study for her A-levels in 2014. “I’m from a Pakistani family and had a very strict upbringing where men and women were always segregated,” she says. “I would have to ask my dad or brothers to take me out if I wanted to leave the house.”
When she was sent to Malaysia, it opened her eyes to a new world. “I loved having freedom, like making friends and doing mundane things like buying my own groceries and riding the train. It was the first time I went out alone.”
In October 2014, she was introduced to Farhan, a friend of one of her housemates. She discovered that he was from Bangladesh, and studying at the same college. “I thought she seemed nice but there wasn’t a romantic connection straight away,” says Farhan.
Over the next few weeks they built a friendship, hanging out regularly in a group. By the time Farhan returned from his winter break in January the next year, they sensed there might be something more between them.
“We started talking on the phone all the time. We spoke about our lives, the future and everything else,” she says. “I had never felt so comfortable with anyone.”
Farhan also opened up to Namerah. “When I came to Malaysia, I’d come out of a relationship and didn’t want to be with anyone,” he says. “Then I met Namerah and my perspective started changing. She was the whole package.”
They talked about Namerah’s strict upbringing and their cultural differences. “Farhan is from a more liberal background and taught me different ways of thinking.” Over time her confidence grew. “He gave me the balls to be me unapologetically.”
One night in April, Farhan put his arm round Namerah to show he was interested in something more. “I’d missed all the signals but I was really happy,” she laughs. Soon after that, they became a couple.
That summer, they both returned home for the holidays. “I’d been doing badly in my studies because I was doing a subject I wasn’t good at,” says Namerah. “My parents were angry and took away my phone and laptop. They wanted me to stop my education and have an arranged marriage.” Desperate to speak to Farhan, Namerah would use her siblings’ phones in the night to send him messages on Facebook. “I would only get a message every few days,” says Farhan. “It was really hard for us both and I kept hoping she’d be back.”
Eventually, Namerah’s parents agreed to let her study in Riyadh and she got her laptop back. “But I begged to go back to Malaysia,” she says. Eventually they relented, and she returned in October 2016. “It was really good to be reunited after so long apart,” says Farhan. They spent a happy year together before Namerah was due to fly home again. “I knew my family wanted me to enter an arranged marriage but I couldn’t bear the idea,” she says. “I made the craziest decision of my life and deliberately missed my flight.”
The couple then made the decision to marry quickly in Kuala Lumpur and, afterwards, Namerah cut herself off from her family, wary of their response. “I knew they would not approve. A few days later, I let them know I was OK, and told them I was married. I told them I wanted to choose life for myself.” Her family was not supportive of her decision, and she is still trying to rebuild the relationship.
Farhan’s family was shocked they married so quickly, but welcomed Namerah. In 2019, the couple moved to Dhaka, Bangladesh, where they now live with their two cats. Namerah is a freelance writer, while Farhan works for his father’s agriculture business.
“We are both alike in lots of ways but Namerah has qualities I lack,” says Farhan. “She is so calm and composed and puts things into perspective for me.” Namerah agrees that they balance each other out. “He’s really funny and understands people. Farhan is so creative and comes up with ideas that are really out of the box. We are so happy just to be together.”
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