Zahra Ali

Zahra Ali is a community nurse, originally from Somalia. Zahra travelled with her husband as a refugee from her homeland to several places including India and Dubai, before settling in England in the early 1990s. Whilst attempting to travel to Canada to join other family members, she was refused entry onto a plane during a stop-off in England, as she was 9 months pregnant. Zahra lived for several years in Manchester before moving to London where she felt more accepted into the community. She trained as a nurse in the late 1990s and discussed the challenges of balancing work, study, and home life during her interview. Alongside her work as a community nurse, Zahra is also passionate about volunteering and community-building. She has worked as a volunteer translator and is Chair of the Roehampton Cultural Centre, which provides a religious, educational, and cultural space for the local Muslim community.

My name’s Zahra Ali. I’m from Somalia and I’m a Community District nurse.


Growing up back home is totally different from here. Back home, the resources are not there. So my dad had a clinic which he shared with a Gynaecology doctor and an ENT doctor. So he was the General, so the whole neighbourhood, the whole tribe let’s say, the whole everybody who knows somebody who knows my dad or my mum, any illness and they would come to our house.


So this day, my uncle passed away and my dad was going to the funeral, my mum was also going to the funeral. So midday somebody turns up knocking on our door, he was someone we used to buy meat [from]. His brother who came outside the Capitol where they have malaria, he came, he wasn't speaking, he wasn't even breathing. Well, his tummy was bloated, fluid, his skin was green. And my dad looked at him and he said, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t’, he cannot send him away’. So my dad started and he kept watching his watch. And he said, you know, well, Zara, come here. And he had a tin and he said, ‘when you reach there, you have to take the needle out and you have to put plaster, wash your hands’. And then back then there was no gloves or anything, you know, no PPE or anything. So he told me what to do. And after it was shocking, the guy who wasn't speaking and he was in pain, the minute that fluid came out of his tummy, and then the guy says, ‘Oh, can I have a cup of tea?’ when I take everything out. I was like, ‘Oh, so you can speak now’. And he can breathe. He was chatty, you know, the tummy [had] gone down. I was sort of feeling ‘I’m a doctor, I fixed a guy’, although I didn't do anything.


For me was, our destination was supposed to be, we were in transit. And we were stopped. We were separated. And I was so afraid, and they told me ‘you're not going to any airplane because you're fully pregnant’. Somehow I passed all the checks in India, we also had that transit in Dubai. Nobody noticed, I was very skinny little girl hiding. But because of the eight hours, nine hours sitting, I was swollen, my face, my feet, everything. And then they just call us from the line, we were in transit to go to Canada. Our destination was Canada. And then they stopped us. And then they call the doctor and everything. And he confirmed that in two weeks, I'm going to have a baby. And they said that ‘you're not going, why you go into Canada?’, ‘We are refugees. That's where we’re going’. And they say ‘no, you have to stay’. I was so afraid. But, I’m grateful to NHS and everything. The doctors, they were fantastic. Although I was fearful and shaken, I was fully checked. You know, we were given a hotel. We couldn't believe it. We’ve stayed 30 years now. You know, we’ve almost stayed 30 years now.


We moved to Manchester in ’92, end of ’92. And we were there for four years. I moved back to London ’97. It wasn't a good experience in terms of community. Because of the war. People were fragmented into groups and tribes. So where I was in Manchester, although it was 30 years ago. The people who were there, so many people, although there was a small community, they came from outside the capital. So I was the outsider. I came from the Capitol, I'm young, I'm studying, I was doing access to health, same time working. And nobody liked me. They used to call me ‘from the Capital’, and there was, one day, somebody knocked my door. A lady who came from another part of the country, not the capital, but you know, a small city. But we have the same dialect. They actually sent her to me, they said, ‘Oh, that lady, she speaks like you’, so you have to go to her. And she was in tears, same community. She knocked on my door, and she said, ‘Are you Zahra?’ ‘Yeah’, ‘I'm from so and so. I can't find any friends. I'm new to the country. I talk to people and they keep saying your name and where you live and ‘go to that person who speaks the same dialect as you’’. Oh, I had to give her the biggest hug. Although she didn't even come from the capital. But we were sort of like, same situation. So I didn't have a lot of friends. I had that lady but she moved within two years, she ran away from it.


When you're a working mum, or studying, it’s the hardest thing ever. I never thought I would finish it. My third year I was pregnant, nine months on my own in placement. And it's tiring, five o'clock in the morning, you go into placement, and you're pregnant. And you just, you can't get up, you’re just thinking ‘I’m gonna throw myself off the bed at five o'clock’, because you just had four hours, two or three hours of sleep. And that three hours, you won't even sleep deep because of the tummy pain or back ache, you’re just sitting in the bed, and then you the alarm went off, and you just think oh my god. A few times, I just wanted to stop, I thought I was killing myself with the family and work and commitment. But thank goodness, I was strong enough to just finish it, you know, and I'm happy that I'm really looking back. I'm thinking I am glad I didn't quit, you know, until I wanted to. But it's you know, it's worthwhile. But it's hard.