WHEN the coronavirus hit, Shajneen Abedean really got to work.

She helped set up a food delivery service, kept an eye on neighbours, carried on managing her team at Swansea Council, and made space at home for relatives.

Shaz, as she likes to be known, is one of a sizeable Welsh-Bangladeshi community in Swansea.

Many came from Bangladesh – formerly East Pakistan and East Bengal, and before that the Bengal region of British-ruled India – in the 1960s and 1970s.

For Shaz, Swansea has always been home, although she got married in Bangladesh.

She quickly turned into evidence that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups appeared to be at greater risk of Covid-19 than the rest of the population.

Several studies are digging deeper into what is actually going on.

“I have got a cousin who’s a junior doctor at Morriston Hospital, and she was saying it’s something we need to be very careful about,” says Shaz.

“We started to really, really knuckle down with hygiene and PPE (personal protective equipment).”

Shaz says the temporary closure of Swansea Mosque, along with all places of worship, was a real loss early on.

“It is the focal point – there was a sense of panic and isolation,” recalls Shaz.

“I could hear friends of my mother’s on the phone crying, and rehearsing verses from the Koran.”

She explains that the Koran mentions pandemics and how they were dealt with.

The holy month of Ramadan, from late April to late May, was “very strange”.

“There were no prayers in the mosque, no eating in the mosque and no celebrations afterwards,” says Shaz.

Sadly, a Swansea Bangladeshi businessman and former restaurateur has died from Covid-19. His younger brother was also hospitalised.

It sent shockwaves through the community.

Shaz has been determined to support others, starting at home, which she shares with her husband and her mother. Joining the trio were her brother and sister-in-law, whose planned house move hit the skids when the lockdown was imposed.

“We had to make a lot of adjustments,” says Shaz.

She also teamed up with other women from the Swansea Muslim Community Service to launch a food delivery scheme for people of all faiths or none.

“I didn’t want to sit on my backside and let COVID take over,” says Shaz.

She did deliveries in March, April and May before switching to the admin side because her sister-in-law was by then heavily pregnant.

The scheme has backing from the council and Swansea Mosque, which runs its own food bank.

“There was one particular case which stuck in my head,” says Shaz.

The woman concerned was not far away from giving birth, alone at home and with underlying health conditions.

Shaz packed three bags full of supplies and took them in a box to the woman’s house, and rang her to let her know she was there.

“She kept saying she was very grateful. She said it was a time of difficulty when all the doors had closed, and a door had opened,” says Shaz.

“She was not a woman of faith, but I felt this spiritual satisfaction.”

One of Shaz’s colleagues, Aisha Rayhanna Amer, helped save an elderly man’s life when she became concerned he was not answering the door as normal and called the police.

Officers got into the house with help from a relative and found the man in his bedroom having suffered a suspected stroke. From there he was taken to hospital.

Shaz has carried on working as a council project manager, mainly from home but more recently with a few visits to her office in Townhill.

“Being a manager I had to make sure the staff were okay,” she says.

The 40-year-old has worked in some deprived parts of Swansea and says a boss once asked if she had a “death wish” when she took up a post in one particular area.

“Never did I suffer any racial abuse or discrimination,” she says.

Shaz considers herself a British Welsh Muslim, who is proud of her Bangladeshi background.

She adds: “I was probably one of the few girls in my year at school who did Welsh at GCSE. I love my Welsh heritage.”

The busy house she shares with her relatives in the city centre has been a blessing.

“We’ve never got to spend quality family time before,” she says. “It has been a bonus.”

Shaz is worried about the country of her parents, though.

“Bangladesh has been hit very hard by the coronavirus,” she says.

“It is a developing country. There is no such thing as a furlough.”

She says many workers have had to return to their villages on crowded public transport.

“You can’t maintain social distancing,” she says.

The country’s population has soared from 65 million in 1971 – the year of its independence – to 161 million now.

Abdul Motlib lived there until the age of 10 before coming to the UK with his parents and brothers and sisters.

“I could not speak a word of English,” he recalls.

After a few months in London, they moved to Swansea, where Abdul now runs the Rose Indienne restaurant on St Helen’s Road.

He did a degree in accounting and finance but wanted to follow his father’s footsteps into the restaurant trade, and for many years also owned the nearby The Viceroy of India eaterie.

The Indian restaurant sector has faced difficulties recruiting skilled staff for years and was then hammered by the lockdown in March.

As well as business worries, Abdul was also concerned about the virus’s impact on BAME communities.

“I don’t know what the main factor is – I’m not a doctor,” he says.

“Maybe the dark skin has an effect? Is it more genetics, or the social side?

“In Asian families, people often live with their mother and father, their brothers and sisters, and children. That could be a factor.”

He says the photos of BAME frontline workers who died early on in the pandemic rang alarm bells.

“That really scared us,” he says. “Some of my family members are on the NHS frontline.

“I sometimes said to them, ‘Do you have to go in?’ And they said they would feel guilty for the rest of their lives if they didn’t.

“Thank God they are all safe.”

But the death of the Swansea Bangladeshi businessman, with whom he was friends, was a massive jolt.

“I nearly collapsed,” says Abdul.

The 48-year-old recalled seeing his friend “happy and smiling” in late March.

“About four or five weeks later I had a text saying he was very ill,” he says.

“It was during Ramadan, and we were asked to pray for him.”

Abdul says his friend was young and in pretty good health. He expected him to get better.

“His death has totally affected us,” says Abdul. “It shocked the whole Swansea Bay community.”

Abdul lives in Swansea with his mother, his wife, and their three children, aged 9, 15 and 22.

The pandemic and his friend’s death has brought home to him the value of family and the fundamental things in life.

“It is a very cruel disease, but it is also bringing people together,” he says.

There is more to life, he says, than just work.

“It’s more about being a proper human being, and enjoying life when you can,” he adds.

“Make other people smile, so they will miss you when you go.”

Abdul says he would like to see a sort of lockdown every Sunday to encourage proper family time, quiet roads, better air quality and less general hustle and bustle.

Like Shaz, Abdul has warm words for Swansea and also says his Muslim faith is very important.

He, too, is worried about the impact of Covid-19 on crowded Bangladesh – the country of his childhood memories which, he says, get stronger every passing year.

Abdul looks forward to fully reopening the Rose Indienne when it is safe to do so.

“I will be happy to see our customers,” he says. “People are missing us, and we are missing them.

“But I don’t think anything in 2020 will be normal for the hospitality sector – not until vaccines come in.”

The easing of lockdown in Wales has been welcome.

For Rena Ahmed, it has meant more outdoor walks with her nine and six-year-old sons.

Rena says the younger one was anxious early on about leaving the house.

“He would be grabbing my hand and not letting go,” she says.

“He would say, ‘Oh no, there are people who are coming’. He’s okay now.

“We’ve been going out more in the last couple of weeks. You see more people outside, and there are less people getting ill.”

Rena’s parents came over from Bangladesh to the UK for work.

She has five brothers – two also in Swansea and three in other parts of the UK.

Rena’s mother lives with her and her husband, who both work full-time.

Rena also says the coronavirus’s disproportionate impact on BAME communities has been worrying, and she follows the latest news.

She says she has a distant relative in New York who died from the virus aged 24 but also knows people in Birmingham who have recovered from it.

The death of the Swansea businessman and former restaurateur was a shock.

Rena says: “It made us all aware it was close to home.

She reflects: “This will be written down in history – it’s something people will look back on.”

Rena works for the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team charity, St Helen’s road. It helps young people aged 11 to 25 and has branches elsewhere in Wales.

According to Welsh Government figures, Swansea has a BAME population of 26,400 – nearly 11% of the county’s 244,800 population. The Wales average is 6%.

Rena’s work brings her into regular contact with Iranians, Afghans, Bangladeshis and Poles, among others.

The pandemic, she says, has not stopped people coming forward and asking for support.

Again, Rena cites Swansea Mosque as a focal point – a place for weddings, fundraising and sports activities as well as worship.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, but the Muslim faith is like guidance for your life,” she says.

“It has a huge part in how I go about life.”

Rena, who is in her 30s, has regularly visited Bangladesh and says it has changed considerably in her lifetime.

It has a very large young population, she says, more business opportunities – and the appearance of chains like Nando’s.

Rena considers herself a Muslim first, then Welsh, then Bangladeshi.

And Swansea? “I love it here,” she replies. “The beauty speaks for itself. You can’t ask for more. And I’ve got my friends and family and work here.

“When relatives come here from England, they always say how friendly Wales is – people smile and say ‘hello’.”

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