Friday, April 9, 2010


Immigration is now a significant reality in Ireland, and one that is changing the dynamics of our culture and economy. This book attempts to give these immigrants a voice, a chance to tell us how they are experiencing Ireland, and the Irish.

While on the surface it might be easy enough to adapt to a new country, the mental adjustment takes years. All the subtle nuances of communication, the cultural, political and social worldviews, picked up so gradually via radio and TV, the different humour and identifications of the host population have to be assimilated if integration has to be successful. And while the immigrant is using a lot of energy and effort to adapt, the locals don’t bother much to imagine what it’s like for immigrants – unless they’ve been there, done that, themselves. These stories give Irish natives a chance to understand their point of view.

It’s the concept of home that is so elusive to immigrants and refugees. Home doesn’t necessarily mean a house of your own, but a sense of belonging to a community, to a place, sharing a cultural identity. New immigrants often sacrifice their own need for a sense of ‘home’ in the hope that their children will one day be part of Ireland’s new cultural identity.

One of my interviewees, Sahr Yambasu, from Sierra Leone, writing an essay about his experience of migration in Unsettling the Horses, quotes Stuart Hall:

Cultural identity…is a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being’. It belongs to the future as much as to the past…Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But …, they undergo constant transformation.*

In the next generation or two, a transformation will take place in our cultural identity, and it is up to us how integrated and successful that transformation is.

Immigration is the biggest single factor influencing our society today. The Census figures for 2006 show that the Irish native population numbers 3,707,683, while non-Irish figures are already almost half a million, at 419, 733, with the highest number coming from the European Union. This means that one in every eight people in Ireland is an immigrant. This is reality that must be faced – now.

Given the low rates of immigration until the recent past, it’s not surprising that government is only now giving serious consideration to facilitating integration. But it is an issue that will require careful and sensitive handling for assimilation to take place effectively and with the minimum of disruption to the status quo.

While many Irish people have expressed alarm at the exponential rate of immigration, there are undoubted benefits for the country. I remember once seeing eleven obviously Irish faces on the cover of a Time magazine, the accompanying story telling us that as a monoculture, Ireland has such a small, in-bred gene pool, that every native looks like one of the faces on the cover! We obviously need to add new blood. The economy also stands to benefit from immigration. For employers, the advantages are a more efficient service and greater productivity, as well as a larger consumer market. Sure there’s more competition, but with increased competition comes higher standards.

Ireland was quick to predict the IT revolution, train up the youth, and offer tax incentives to foreign companies locating here. But now that salaries are not so competitive any more, foreign investors have already begun looking to relocate to countries such as India, where there are equally well-educated, trained and (let’s not forget) English-speaking IT experts. Something needs to be done to stop all that investment from being withdrawn. With multi-lingual workers joining the workforce, Ireland becoming a popular base for call centres, the picture looks more attractive to investors.

Another aspect of the economic climate in Ireland that needs to be addressed is our prohibitive childcare costs. Many women would like to work – or would work longer hours – if they could find affordable child care. Immigrants can be employed at competitive rates to look after children so that parents, typically mothers, can be released to do higher-paid jobs.

People who migrate tend to be young, healthy, enterprising and adventurous,* thus they are a rejuvenating influence in a country that is already seeing the effects of a falling birth rate and increased ageing. Many of our care workers are foreign, and will become more highly valued as the population ages and residential homes fill. Just as the supply of migrants is likely to increase, so too is the demand.

These advantages are, of course, be offset by the disadvantages, such as increased housing and waste management, as well as the social challenges of opening Ireland up to other cultural influences. But Ireland is very homogenous and hardly at risk of losing its own individuality. With careful planning, and a gradual filtering process, the outcome is more likely to be a welcome ‘sprinkling of colour on the Irish green’, as one of my interviewees put it. The Irish can well rise to the challenge, seeing this as an opportunity to redefine Ireland’s potential as a dynamic presence in Europe. As we are a relatively recent host country, we can benefit by the hindsight of other countries such as Britain, Australia, France, Holland and Sweden, who have had their doors open to immigrants for decades longer, and have learned by trial and error how to minimise the potential disruption to the status quo.

Unfortunately, in spite of the Irish reputation for being humanitarian, donating more per
capita to charity than most other European countries, in the last number of years, racism has been on the rise. Immigration has ignited a sense of resentment among many natives, who express their objections to immigrants in economic terms, when often the lashing out is actually racially motivated. It’s a common phenomenon in Ireland to project social problems onto a marginalised group. It used to be single mothers; then it was Travellers. Now it’s immigrants.

Asylum seekers are often treated with suspicion. Many locals are misinformed and don’t bother checking their facts. I’ve heard Irish people complain that asylum seekers are being given cars, mobile phones, ‘buggies’ for their toddlers. According to a Social Welfare officer interviewed in a film about immigrants called Who Are We Now?* this is ‘all rubbish.’ As for benefits received, they are more than repaid in taxes paid by working immigrants.**

Little attention is paid to the benefits that cross-cultural immigration brings. Many developing countries, such as India and Pakistan, have more graduates than they need, and according to UNESCO, as many as 30 000 Africans holding PhD degrees are now living outside the continent.***

Ireland, as one of the receiving countries, reaps undoubted benefits from their skills. But the current immigration policy is wasting this valuable potential resource. One negative aspect about the situation for asylum seekers is that while waiting for their applications for refugee status to be processed, they are not allowed temporary visas to work, and must instead depend on social welfare.

The asylum seekers I spoke to, hate not being allowed to work. They feel isolated, frustrated, anxious, depressed, stressed and bored with the monotony of waiting for their applications to be processed. Unless they come from a high-profile country like Nigeria, whose applications are fast-tracked, they could wait up to three years before getting on with real life. They are also deprived of the dignity that a job engenders, and remain in a
limbo state. Living with almost no money, and nothing to do, is humiliating and psychologically damaging. They cannot make progress in their new home. If temporary work permits were issued while their applications were in process, it would reduce expenses to the state and facilitate integration and a sense of individual well-being.

There is no doubt that the state’s handling of the situation, and the media’s tendency to highlight nationality in criminal cases, are partly to blame for the tension created by the rapid influx of immigrants over the last decade.

While temporary work permits would definitely alleviate the situation for immigrants, the state also has a responsibility to act morally, to set an example of humane treatment to refugees who are often too traumatised or in fragile health to contribute much to the economy. ‘Asylum is about morality’, writes Caroline Moorehead in her excellent book, Human Cargo, and ‘in an age of globalisation, it is simply not possible to ignore the world’s dispossessed. How a state deals with its refugees should be a measure of its social and political health.’ *

The media has the same moral responsibility. Editors should be particularly alert to potentially damaging headlines, such as, “Refugee rapist on the rampage”, one headline which was rightly criticised in a Questions and Answers programme in February 2005. It should be remembered that, whatever a foreigner’s reasons for leaving their homeland, the vast majority would not attempt to begin a new life in a new country with a hostile or aggressive attitude. It’s more likely to be one of humility, and hope.

These stories speak for themselves. They show us who we have living among us. They describe how immigrants feel about the Irish, what their attitudes to living in Ireland are, what their expectations were when they came here and how they have found it. It shows their courage, ability to adapt to a new culture, sometimes a new language. It also describes their experiences on arrival, and gives locals more of an awareness of the immigration process for asylum seekers.

I found it interesting to gain an insight into other cultures, from the viewpoint of natives of
those places, and to see Ireland through the eyes of immigrants. As long as we humbly accept their opinions as valid, we can only benefit from their ideas.

Different backgrounds and cultures emerge. These are personal perceptions and opinions of their cultures, not necessarily accurate, historical accounts. But mostly, they are simply stories of individual lives. They reveal the common ground that we share as fellow human beings: here we see, yes, some individuals who have suffered from living in communist, or war-torn countries, but also those who have studied, fallen in love, experimented with drugs, tried out different work experiences, endured cancer, the death of a loved one, the difficulty of single parenthood, the trauma of separation and divorce. In other words, just people, like us.

Afric McGlinchey
November 2007

*Unsettling the Horses, quoting Stuart Hall, cited in Rutherford, 1990:225.
* Central Statistics Office (
**(Nasc, the Irish immigrant Support Centre report about asylum and immigration policy and practice in Ireland.)

*The No Nonsense Guide to International Migration p.90
*Filmed by Eddie Noonan of Frameworks.
** Nasc report.
*** The No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration.

*Human Cargo by Caroline Moorehead

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's all the same lonely planet

Gene is a big man. And that’s not just a physical description. A Vietnam Vet who moved to Ireland in the eighties, he lives in Schull, where, with only one third of an acre at his disposal, he has developed a nursery and gardeners’ paradise. We met at his house, and he took me on a tour of his garden while he talked. I have never met anyone so relaxed, yet so alive, so enthusiastic about life. His slow, southern drawl was hypnotic, but otherwise his dreads and woolly hat, his personality seemed more Jamaican than American. While talking, he picked organic lettuce leaves from different heads for me to take home.

I was born in South Carolina. My mum had me, and three days later she went back to picking cotton. They had these bags, which they dragged along. So she just put me on the end. What did I see, there on the sack? Then we moved from South Carolina - we still have the 40-acre farm there – to just outside Philadelphia, and did a lot of migrant work, picking vegetables. So I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. There were eight of us kids, four boys and four girls. I was number four.

Everyone was mad for Mum and Dad. They did all of this, and had eight kids, without welfare. To this day, I don’t approve of the welfare system. We didn’t even find out we were poor until we moved into town! And somebody told us, ‘you’re poor,’ and we went, ‘oh no, shit, we’re poor!’ Whereas our life was fine, we always had plenty to eat. I don’t recall crying or being underweight. We all worked on the farm, picking vegetables around the area, and Mum always packed enough, and canned enough and froze enough. We ate chicken feet and chicken necks; I still remember, ‘don’t touch the wings!’ To this day, I get the wings. It’s just like fish. We used to fry the whole fish. Bones to the left, bits to the right. No complaints.

My mum was great. I used to tell her that I was going to dress her up in a pink bikini and put her on my boat when I got custody of her! That’s the kind of stuff we used to talk. She goes, ‘as soon as I get those arms around me I’m gonna grab that pair of scissors and get that beard off your face’. The she got dementia. She was getting to the point where she didn’t know me. My sisters were taking care of her. She just passed one day. I’m the only one with good memories, because I don’t do funerals.

They knew I wasn’t coming. My brother had cancer. I went over to see him. We sat there and talked. He was washing his car and doing his stuff. Ten days after, boom, he was dead. He had prepared everything and he just went on out. His family was all there. And my mum was having the best day of her recent times. Then she went home, into the bathroom lay down and died. All I got is happy memories of both of them.

When my boys asked what happened to their Gran, I said, ‘She went fishin’. So now that’s what we say. My father – Liam is named after him - is very cool, deeply religious, overweight. He had a stroke. He was expected to die. He had fallen, was bleeding in the brain. He was in hospital, on a do not resuscitate thing. We were just waiting for him to die. Then one day he woke up, said, ’I can’t eat this food any more. I got some chicken at home I want to eat.’ And he got up and left! He couldn’t walk or anything, and now he’s made a complete recovery, he’s gotten over the trauma of losing his wife of fifty something years, and he’s great. No ill effects. Just before I came over to visit him, the family goes to him, ‘um, look, it’s pointless you dying, ‘cos Gene’s done booked this ticket!’ So you got to wait till next Thursday. Then my little brother was dying. And he goes, ‘Look. You try to copy everything I do. I’m dying, now you wanna die!’ The next time he says he’s not gonna make it, they go, ‘your niece is coming at 8.30, you have to wait till then.’ And so it went on. You can’t die without permission.

So anyway, when I was 17, the Vietnam War came up, and in 1964, I volunteered to go to the Air Force to avoid combat, and ended up in the first combat outfit in the Air Force! It was just like the movies, getting trained in the jungle, I mean, this is it, living off the land, counter intelligence, all this stuff. Because it was a new idea to have combat engineers in the air force, which doesn’t make any sense, they decided they were going to intensively train us. We were already in the military with the Air Force, so they had the navy, the marines and the army train us all again! We had six of these outfits, specially named Red Horse, which stood for Rapid Emergency Deployment of Heavy Operational Repair Squadron of Engineers! In other words, they would drop 600 of us anywhere in the world – we had doctors, lawyers, cooks, everybody – and we would build cities, instantly, for the people who were coming. So we were like, on our own in danger zones, to make ready for the ones who were going to come to protect us, afterwards!

They gave us $2 million worth of equipment. Everyone had their own vehicles, everything.

The whole place was a combat zone. So it was nothing to go to sleep and wake up in the morning and find that half of everything was blown up. We had the Russians and the Chinese versus the Americans. These two great powers with the Vietnamese in the middle.

How did you feel, emotionally, about the situation at that time?

Well, Flower Power was only just beginning to kick in. The hippies weren’t even hippies yet. It was great, we were John Wayne. We were heroes. We got to die for our country! I was 17 and this was it. No one thought of the politics. All of that was hindsight. When we left the States in ’64, everyone was throwing flowers on us. Everyone was there, your parents were hugging you, your friends…when we came back everyone was throwing rocks at us.

Did you ever kill anyone?

Probably inadvertently. There was no hand-to-hand shit. Forget all that stuff. If anything, everyone runs in the opposite direction anytime shit goes down. But by loading the planes, by calling in for help or something, you were just as involved whether or not you actually saw it. I’d say everybody did like I did. If you heard someone shooting at you, you shot back as many bullets as you had, and you hoped it got quiet before you got hurt, you know? When you really, really got scared, you wanted to get hurt. Not badly. Only in the leg, in my arm, just to get out!

There were 50 to 60 000 guys a month, rotating there. So there were millions. I came back when the momentum shifted during the Tet offensive. The Chinese New Year. There was an all out reversal. They attacked us to the point where the Americans decided to leave. I made it. I got home. My brother didn’t make it.

Were you there together?

No. There was actually a law called the Sullivan Law, whereby brothers never went out at the same time. All of the Sullivan brothers died on one ship. So if there’s no one to carry the name on, you don’t have to go. But they hold you on the side so you’re next. So they gave us the choice that if he did go, he could ask for whatever he wanted. So he got to be a pilot. And he got killed.

In my neighbourhood, out of say a dozen guys I knew, three, four, five of them were killed, a couple were wounded, a couple never talked straight again. The neighbourhood I came from was devastated. It wasn’t devastated to a point where it didn’t regenerate, but 12 or 14 guys you grew up with, were gone. Aged only 17 or 18.

I do think human beings are stamped and set. The people who were affected mentally, would have been affected mentally in another situation. You can bury a little, but, basically, if you got up and started working, you would end up somewhere. As far as control goes, you have to try and get to a point where you can make decisions – do you turn right, or left - there are still decisions to make, still different outcomes.

After four years in Vietnam, I came back. I had done a lot of growing up in a very short space of time. Then I went to university. I took art. What happened was, when you went to Vietnam, your education was free after you got out, and you got paid x amount of money a week, just to go to school. And sitting around after Vietnam was kind of mild, like you don’t have your machine gun, you don’t have your hand grenades, you don’t have a licence to kill if necessary…

In the military I was an aircraft mechanic, specialising in metals. Anything that broke or snapped or cracked, that was my job. You come into a place like the military at age 17, they send you off to school, and they teach you. Then there you are, an 18 year old in charge of a 30 or 40 million dollar plane, and it’s your word to say what to do. You have a gun, you have all this stuff. What a head sweller. Then when you get out, now they don’t like what you did in hindsight. Me I just go on. I developed a tolerance for whatever people want to do.

What did you do after the war?

I signed up for evening classes and I had a lovely job on the garbage truck. I did that for seven years, and went to university nights. I really enjoyed it. I took glassblowing, sculpture, painting, English, photography. You accumulate sixty credits, and then you declare your major. You do it the way you want it. So I did all the things I wanted to do.

Tell me about the garbage job.

In the States all the black guys used to work on the garbage trucks, that was the low life job. So in this private company the Mafia had taken over, there would be three guys on the truck. And the incentive was you got 1000 houses to do and when you got done, you got a day’s pay. Now if you did it like this…(trudges along slowly) you’d be out there for 10 hours. But if you did it like this (races around the room) you’d be done by 12.30!

You’d be on the back of the truck. The driver would pull up to the trashcans, stop and put the mechanism on. And by the time he’s done that, you’ve grabbed the two cans, taken a step around and there’s a bar on the back of the truck, which you’d use, bring the cans upside down, smash them down, the trash would fall out, you’d take a step back, set the cans back up, and grab onto the truck before he takes off. Whole thing, three steps. Onto the next one. And all these black guys out there would be singing and sweating, talking shit, and you’re laughing and carrying on, and by 12.30 we’d be done, and sitting out under the trees. And I did that like for 7 years. It was a real no brain job. Then the job turned out to be so well paid, most of the whites are on it now. For years, my truck was always the first one in. Once you got back, they’d pay you $15 to go out again. And you could go and make $15 in an hour. You had to take it to the dump. They had machines where they’d push it in. big mounds of stuff, so you could get stuck. You had to know what to do to avoid a breakdown. And these guys respected that I never had a breakdown.

But then I got bored one day, called my younger brother to come by (he just died last year) and I says, ‘Gerry, here are the keys to the house, I’m leaving’. And then I went to Florida.

I used to play football and go diving and jogging, all the beach fun stuff. I was about 28. And I just met this Irish girl called Alyn who was living next door, with the weirdest, funniest, accent! And being a brother you talk all this kind of shit, like, ‘hey baby, what you doin’? And we used to sit out there and have fun. She and her boyfriend broke up and me and my friend Craig and Alyn became the three. And we’d just hang out. That was in 1979, and to this day we’ve never stopped hanging out together!

She was a pretty little delicate thing. And the most amazing thing is it’s all these years later, and it’s still the same. There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for that little girl. And she’s not afraid of this big guy. So it’s like, OK. Whatever you wanna do, babe, it’s fine. We go everywhere together; everything’s still exciting to us. I watched her take up her first pencil, go to art school, get her arts degree, start the arts festival. I love watching her do it, just like I like watching my son do music, write and all that.

How did your relationship with a white girl go down with your family?

Well, the tolerance with black people is different. Blacks don’t have the same prejudices. Prejudices only happen to people who have something they don’t want to lose. And growing up in the north with people who had tolerance, it was no big deal. It wasn’t a big deal with me. But we met in Florida, in the south. So there, actually to be with someone with a different race, you were still looked at as though you were weird. We just passed it on by.

I’ve always had a pretty steady head. People do what they want to do. I don’t mind. I’m fine, just coping with the world.

As a black, you were classified as an animal in those days. But in the army you met people from all walks of life. It was a lot more open, because so many blacks joined up to get out of the ghetto. So there was a hell of a different shift in balance.

Later, you felt it, coming back from a combat zone and then not being able to get a cup of coffee because you’re the wrong colour.

Did you get into the civil rights movement?

No, I didn’t want to get into all that. People like Bill Hogan over here, he’s an ex American and he said they turned the dogs loose on him. I admire those guys. I wouldn’t have put my life on the line and gone to Alabama or Mississippi and ended up in some ditch. With mace or stun guns. It didn’t interest me. After the war there was no way I was getting into any kind of shit. You learn to walk away. I used to be great for confrontation. I’m still great for it, but verbally. I log it in properly and get it right before I take action now.

You’re a gardener now. How did you get into it?

Well, we were raised growing vegetables. It’s in my blood. But how it happened professionally was like this. We have a great redundancy policy in the States, so in the winter when you don’t work you get almost all your money. So there I was sitting at home in Philadelphia and earning this money, playing cards every day with my friends. I was happy! But then my wife came home one day and said to me, ‘I’ve found the perfect job for you. Teaching gardening to children.’ I said, ‘wow, how’d you get me that job?’ and she said, ‘I didn’t get you the job. It’s advertised in the paper. But it’s yours if you want it! You just have to go down there!’

So I got down to this interview and there were sixty people with degrees. I couldn’t spell horticulture if you asked me to! I didn’t realise what I was doing. So after the third interview I said to the people, ‘look this is not what I want, I don’t like driving down to the city, and if you did give me the job, I wouldn’t take it anyway, unless’n I could do it the way I wanted to.’ And they go, ‘well that’s why we called you down, we’re hiring you.’ So I said, ‘so what do you want me to do?’ and they go, ‘well you said if we hired you, we couldn’t tell you what to do. So, it’s your programme!’

So I started working with thirteen troubled kids. I ended up working with 300 kids. I was on TV, on the radio. I worked with the handicapped. And I was still done by 2pm! The way they approached it was administrative, administrative. I just went in there and got results. I go, ‘OK I’ll tell you what, I’ll bring you ten of the best shovels around, and ten kids to use them. ‘ And there’d be ten kids standing there, and we’d be doing the garden. I would go to neighbourhoods where the police had guns to guard the schools, where other people would never go. Didn’t make that much difference to me, because I was part of that kind of thing. I just grew up with the idea, ‘you talk nice to me, I’ll talk nice back to you.’ So that’s the way I did it. So I ended up teaching the teachers and the kids at the same time. So that was great.

So they had plans for me! And then Alyn’s mum died. And we came home here. I just walked, after four years.

How did you feel about coming to Ireland?

I wanted to come here. I mean, this is rural. I grew up in a rural place. When you ask people their impressions of the States, they think it’s one city. It’s fifty countries! And each one of them has a populated city, but mostly it’s rural. So I wanted to come here. And when I got here, I just grabbed my little bag, my seeds and my tools and my trays and I went into the schools. I taught at all the schools around, and at the college there, for two years. After the holidays, I went back, and the kids had all these tables, pumpkins, and all kinds of stuff.

And I said, ‘wow, where did all this come from? And they said, ‘You gave us the seeds!’ Usually you don’t expect kids to do that during their holidays! And it was in the paper here. One of the headlines read, ‘children gave up their chip money to buy seeds’!

I grow traditional. I grow things with the best knowledge and information that I’ve got. I don’t use chemicals per se, but I don’t necessarily use organic seeds. If something comes along and I want to try it, I try it. But I do everything with conscience, the Steiner method. Everything is planted to create a canopy. In the Steiner method, you create a garden of approximately 100 square feet, and in that space you should be able to raise enough food for a family of four. A canopy conserves the moisture, and there are very few weeds. You don’t pull the heads of the lettuce up. You just take what you need off of it. So I can pick two leaves off a few different heads, and it’s enough. And it never goes away.

I got here and I just wondered why there are no trees here. And they said to me, ‘they won’t grow here.’ ‘They won’t grow here?’ I said, ‘but the climate’s fine.’ And I found that you could grow trees here. People didn’t grow trees because they didn’t want trees! They just wanted grass for cows!

So I started growing trees. All of what you see here has been grown from seeds. A lot of the stuff I grow is new, so there aren’t pictures available. I take photos and put them on the computer, and sometimes on my website (www.thestandingstoneschull) and Alyn shares it with her paintings. There’s a lot of rare and different stuff here that takes a long time to grow. People come by who are plant collectors, and they all go crazy, because they will say, ‘would you have any kind of fruiting trees, and I’ll say, ‘ the cactus fruit, there’s pecans, walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, hickory nuts um…and they go,’ ‘What about fruit?’ And I go, ‘There’s cherries from Barbados, a wild peach from Africa…’ and then they say, ‘do you have anything that can make preserves, and I go, ‘Quince, cidona…’and it goes on! It’s like a plant collector’s dream.

But you ask me anything about a petunia or a rose, and I’m lost! All I know is what I grow.

Do your kids feel Irish or American?

They know they’re American, because they have both passports. But they live here, they grew up here, so their heart is here too. I’m hoping they’ll travel the world and then end up back here, ‘cause it’s a safe haven. I mean America, for all its faults is still a fantastic place, and they can come and go, as they want. And I think they should hang out there, do whatever they want. Shannon probably will do university there. As good as the education is here, it’s limited.

What other aspects of life here are different to life in the States?

In the States, Shannon for example if he was outside in the yard and I couldn’t see him, I would rush outside. That ‘s the difference between there and here. Here he could just do his thing. Liam now is into electronics. Cian is into tools. The rope. He’ll take it, hook it round his waist and drag it around. He has really learned how to use the beach. Here, the kids can play on their own, which is a really good thing to be able to do. There were eight of us, and mum would say be home before dark. And we would just get home in time to get something to eat. And that was it.

What do you think of the Irish?

I think they’re great. They don’t really have prejudice for black or for white, but for religion. I really like it here. They’re inquisitive but not too nosy, inventive, but not energetic! They’re like Jamaicans. They’ll pay you what they owe you…soon. In this part of the country they’re quite happy just to go with life. I went into Skibbereen to buy some wallboard and thought the price would be cheaper. It was €70 and I told him I’d pay it later. He just wrote it down.

I’m quite sure racism is coming though. And it won’t just be the arrival of foreigners; the Irish moving back here will bring it with them. The population is about to double here. People want to leave cities and move back from London to get away from the trouble and the crime and all that, and don’t realise that they’re the trouble. They’re going to bring all that stuff back here, their kids throwing rocks and all that. This is how countries are built. They just better watch out ‘cause what’s gonna happen is that those kids are going to go to their school and marry their sons and daughters and everyone’s going to be half Czech and half Irish, and half English and it’s gonna be beautiful! A black kid with an Irish passport speaking Czech!

What kind of reception did you get from the locals when you arrived?

Oh yeah, here’s a good one. Jimmy Reilly’s father used to have the coal shed down by the pier. I used to go down there. ‘Good morning,’ I’d say. He goes, ‘Hi, how are you?’ I go, ‘Fine.” He goes, ‘Are you here on holiday?’ I go, ‘No I live down at the standing stone, and he goes, ‘oh yeah, you’re Japanese!’ And he’s 80 something so we have the same conversation every day.

When I got here it was so nice. I’d go walking down by the pier. These guys go by in a boat and go, ‘hi. You visiting?’ And I go, ‘yeah’. And they go, ‘you want to come over to our place?’ And they took me off to Long Island. I go down the street and people open their doors and go, ‘come on in and have a cup of tea’. I’d just disappear all the time around here. I don’t distinguish between the doctor and the farmer. I’m liable to come home with muck all over me, or come riding home with the mayor, anybody. I talk rubbish to all of them. I’m quite comfortable here, and people have gotten used to me. This guy said to me the other day, we were at the pool, he said, ‘are you here on holiday?’ and this other guy goes, ‘can’t you see he’s Irish?’ People ask me, where are you from, and I go ‘Schull’.

So this is home to you?

Of course. Home is wherever you’re comfortable. It’s all the same lonely planet.


The Vietnam War, which lasted from 1959 to 1975, was the longest military conflict in U.S. history. The hostilities in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia claimed the lives of approximately 58,000 Americans. Another 304,000 were wounded. During the conflict, 3 to 4 million Vietnamese on both sides were killed, in addition to another 1.5 to 2 million Lao and Cambodians who were drawn into the war.

From 1946 until 1954, the Vietnamese had struggled for their independence from France during the First Indochina War. After this war, the country was divided into North and South. North Vietnam came under the control of the Vietnamese Communists who had opposed France, and who aimed to unify the entire country under communist rule.
The South was controlled by Vietnamese who had collaborated with the French. In 1965 the United States sent in troops to prevent the South Vietnamese government from collapsing. Ultimately, however, the United States failed to achieve its goal, and in 1975 Vietnam was reunified. In 1976 it officially became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From Somalia to Solitude

Rashid is a soft-spoken, slim, light-skinned Somalian. I met him on market day in Bantry. He was open and friendly, showing me his identity card, which gave his full name as Cadbi Rashid Sharif Xasan. He readily agreed to talk to me, and we met a week or so later in the hotel on the square, where they gave us the use of a quiet room. He was casually attired, wearing pressed jeans and a jersey. He had the whitest smile I’ve ever seen. His English is still very broken, but considering he didn’t speak a word before he arrived here eight months ago, it is some achievement.

I am from Somalia. I was born in capital city, in Mogadishu, on Indian Ocean. We lived near capital, in a village called Afgogoye. My family is still there. My mother. My brother. My wife is there too, with my two children.

Mogadishu is not very big, but modern. The population of Somalia is 8 million. In the city it is around 1 million. Before 1991 it was good. But then it collapsed. Civil war broke out. Elected new government, but war is continuing. Tribal war.

The bordering countries are Kenya, Djibouti, Indian Ocean, Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians come across the border. It’s not a problem. And we can go there.

So no problem with that tribe?

No problem.

Is Somalia multi-cultural?

Arabians, Europeans, different tribes, yes.

Somalia used to be a colony. North part was British. South part was Italian. It became independent in 1960. Now there is trouble everywhere in Somalia. Even before the war, people were leaving Somalia, but now everyone goes.

Is there a problem with AIDS in Somalia?

No. Not in Somalia. I never heard of AIDS until I came to Ireland.

The biggest problem in Somalia is the tribe fighting. My tribe is peaceful. Other tribe is fighting and they took your land. And property.

My religion is Muslim. So I was brought up with no drinking. We went to the mosque. Now we have Ramadan. We make a big pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in our lifetime. We have Muslim belief, and also traditional spiritual beliefs.

Inflation is very high in Somalia. US$20 is 2 million Somali shillings. Typical food for us is maize, which we grind with a machine, and we have it with anjira*. Like porridge. We roll it. Also pasta.

Many people don’t go to school. But we go to mosque. We read Koran. We learn to read at the mosque. There are no girls in the mosque. They have their own place. They cover their hair.

Tell me about your day to day life in Somalia.

Wife, she look after children, and cooking. And for me, working outside, farming. Typical day I wake up at 7 o‘clock. I get dressed and go to work. There is a river near my farm. I can use the water for the crops, cut my trees. They are called Kora, I don’t know the English word. I work there. Then I come back at dinnertime. 3 o’clock. I eat a big meal. My wife is there. We have maize meal and meat. After dinner I go back to work, and come back then at 5 o’clock, We eat a small meal. Then I go out to see my friends. My wife stays with the children. Then I come back at 8 o’clock, and we go to sleep.

What did you do for a social life?

I go to my friends. We go to parties, to the cinema. It is like Ireland, but no pubs. I never drink, ever in my life.

After Ramadan we have to celebrate. People come and we visit each other, and eat food, and give gifts. It’s like Christmas. But I’ve never seen a Christmas.

Your children, do they go to school?

Yes, a nursery school. I’m not going to school. But I want them to go to school.

I never went to school. I was farming. I grew maize and vegetables. I did this all my life, from a small boy. My father was a farmer. I worked with him. Our village, Afgogoye, was about 30 kms from the city. All the wives had their piece of land.

All the wives?

My father had four wives. He had 13 children. We all lived in separate houses. My mother was the third wife. It was difficult for the wives when he died. He was killed by militia. Their brothers take care of them now.

Tell me what happened.

We had trouble in 1992. The militia came to my home and took everything. They took all our possessions. Then they killed my father. My father had a small gun. When the militia came to my house, my father tried to defend. But when they saw that my father had a gun, they shoot him. I was there. I very angry, so angry. But if I try to fight, they shoot me. Many people killed in village. So we ran. My brother, my mother and me. Many people in the minority tribe are killed by militia. The government is collapsed. The militia take over.

When they killed my father, I scared. Then they took everything in my house. When they gone, we come back, and the next day we bury him. My brother came back from Mogadishu. My brother-in-law too -I have only one.

Now my mother is age. She is in her 50s.

The militia are a different tribe. My tribe is Daroed. Other tribe is Hawiye. They are the majority tribe. The other wives were OK. My mother and father are same tribe. Other wives are other tribe.

I left and went to another country. I go for Djibouti, a country north of Somalia. East Africa. When I go to Djibouti my uncle send me money. He was working in Abu Dhabi as a night watchman. Before the war, he got job. He send me money to get agent. I went to Abu Dhabi. From there I went to Ireland. Good people. I don’t know nothing before. My agent chose the country, not me. When we travel from Abu Dhabi to a European country, I said, ‘what country is this?’ and they said, ‘this country is called Holland, but you are in transit only. You are going to another European country, called Ireland.’ I arrived here 2005, January, by plane. We landed in Dublin. I had a passport for Holland. When I arrived in Dublin, they took it. But they didn’t deport me.

So your passport was illegal. How much did it cost?

US$ 4 000. My uncle paid.

When I came here a Somalian interpreter took me to this office. I asked for asylum. I go to a Somalian restaurant in Dublin. They told me where to go to get asylum. So I go to that office. I had an interview. In the interview they talked about Somalia, about minority tribe. They ask how it is in Somalia. Asked how do you come to Ireland.

I waiting for answer now. They sent me to Cork. I lived there for seven months, in a hostel.

I don’t speak any English when I come. I try to learn English in Ireland. I go to school called Welcome School in Cork. In Somalia no writing. Just Somalian language. Local dialect.

I am hoping to stay in this country. When I get asylum, then my family can come. My elder is 10 my younger is 8. I am missing them.

My English is small, so I can’t tell big story.

Can you tell me a little story about something that happened in your life?

I can tell you about one time, I was 12 years old. My uncle and my father fought with each other. Boxing. My uncle is older, and stronger than my father. When they were my father fall down. I tried to defend my father. But when I go to punch my uncle, he catch my hand and threw me. Then we made friends.

Why did they fight?

My uncle had the land. My father bought some of the land. Then when my uncle finish the money, he tried to get the land back. So they fight.

Tell me about your wife.

My wife is from the same tribe as me. She is from the same town. I choose her. I pay the family money. Not much. She liked me. It was love. But I’m sorry that now I’m living in Ireland, I’ve no contact with my family. I have telephone, but I’ve lost the number. They live in a small village. I have contacted my uncle. He told me he would find information about my family.

Kadija is my wife’s name. She was 16 when we got married. I was older. We got engaged and then the local chief married us. She wore a special dress. White, with a veil. We give the ring. But it’s not special. Just the family came. Her family and mine, together. My father had a house for us.

My brother is also married. His wife is from another tribe.

So it’s not a problem to marry someone from a different tribe. But the Daroed tribe is a problem for the militia?

Yes. The militia are separate from the president. He can’t control them.

Did you get circumcised?

Yes. I was 12 years for my circumcision. They cut some skin. It was painful! It happened to all the boys. They teach us to be a man. For one month. Boys, not a problem. For girls, it’s a problem.

So there’s female circumcision in Somalia as well?

Yes. It’s a problem for girls. It’s for religion. It happened to my wife. She was 10. For woman it is painful. They cut because in my culture, they say it’s a problem for women not to do that.


They do it because of sexual frustration. Other people say, ‘don’t cut the girls.’ But the parents, the father and mother, they want to do that.

Even the mother?


The girl has no choice. There is infection, bleeding. There are many problems. Takes time to heal.

Who circumcises the girls?

The nurse. Woman in village.

How do you find Ireland?

The weather is different! Before I come Ireland, I know difficult for weather. Cold. Windy. But I get used to it. I go to pubs. Everybody like drink. I don’t like. I drink coke, or something. I don’t have a problem with that. My problem is I don’t get a woman for eight months! I can marry again in my religion, but my wife won’t be happy. She will be upset, but what can she do?

But rules of Ireland, not allowed to marry. Muslims you are allowed. But I don’t know how it is here. It takes time to bring my wife here. Maybe three years. It’s a long time.

I don’t have any problems in Ireland. But sometimes I have trouble living in hostel with many people. When I come to Cork hostel, people were shouting. Not big problem, but frustration. We live four people in one room. Different countries: Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, Kuwait. Now they send me to Bantry.

I go to English course, we do writing, listening, spelling.

Now we are three in my house. From Nigeria, Kuwait. But the one from Kuwait has no English. He can’t speak.

I can’t do course, only English. |I can’t work. I go twice a week to English lessons. But otherwise I am just waiting. It’s lonely, no English, can’t talk to people. I found a job, but I can’t work. It’s boring, with nothing to do. Not much money, so can’t buy in shops!

I exercise every day. Otherwise, nothing to do. I like Cork better. Big city, more to do. Now I am in Bantry. Too small. Nothing to do. I go to library in Cork.

In Bantry there is no mosque. Only in Cork. We go on Fridays. Different people, we pray. I have met other Muslims. The imam comes and preaches. Women are there, but separate. Outside we talk.

Have you experienced racism or any trouble?

No, no problems.

When I get to Ireland, I need to stay here, to work. I don’t have experience in more work, but I want to work in construction. Or in cleaning.

I’m getting a good life. But my family, I need to bring to Ireland.

Do you miss your home?

I miss my home every night. When I sleep, I dream every night about my family. My wife and children are still in Afgogoye. My mother is with them. My elder brother is in Mogadishu. He works in small shop.

But not safe in my country. If I go to other countries I will compare Ireland. But now, this is the only country I know.

I miss my country. The place I grew up. I miss my family, (voice breaks) my wife and two children. The weather. It’s hot in the rainy season. Dry in the winter. We have trees. We have two rivers in Somalia. My village is on one river.

I never go another place in my whole life. Only Mogadishu, 30 kms from my place. Until now. My wife wants so much to come. Now here I am, far away.


In August 1940, Italian troops invaded British Somalia, to take the colony from the United Kingdom. Britain launched a return attack in January 1942, and by February, most of Italian Somaliland had been recaptured. In March, British Somaliland was again retaken by a sea invasion.

In 1949, the UN gave Somalia as a protectorate to Italy. The Ogaden province of Somalia was given to the now repatriated Ethiopian government by the British Empire. The UK kept British Somaliland (or northern Somalia) under its protection rule. The French kept Djibouti under colonial administration, and Djibouti would not gain independence until 1977. Though Somalis and other Africans fought hard on the Allied side in World War 2, they were re-subjugated soon after the conflict. Somalia finally won its independence in 1960.

The goal of Somali nationalism was to liberate and unite the Somali lands divided and subjugated under colonialism. However, Somalis were being expelled from Ogaden province, and Somalia, already preparing for war since the failure of diplomacy, supported the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and went to war with Ethiopia in 1977 and 1978. As Somalia had acted unilaterally without consulting the international community, which was generally opposed to redrawing colonial boundaries, they found no allies. Even the Soviet Union, a long-standing ally, refused to help, and instead backed Ethiopia, along with Cuban forces. The Somali Army was decimated. In 1978, as a result of many Somalis becoming disillusioned with life under military dictatorship, resistance movements sprang up all over the country, leading to civil war in 1991.

The civil war disrupted agriculture and food distribution in southern Somalia, resulting in famine. In reaction to the continued violence and humanitarian disaster, the United States organised a military coalition called Operation Restore Hope, which was successful in restoring order and alleviating the famine. In 1993, most US troops withdraw, leaving the United Nations operation in control, but the UN withdrew in March 1995, having suffered significant casualties. In the decade following the UN withdrawal Somalia has suffered ongoing conflict. The rule of government has not yet been restored.

Somalia was also one of the many countries affected by the tsunami which struck the Indian Ocean coast following the 2004 earthquake, destroying entire villages, and killing an estimated 300 people. In 2006, Somalia was deluged by torrential rains that struck the entire Horn of Africa, affecting 350 000 people.

A book called Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures)* gives true accounts of the experiences of UN staff in war zones. In one account, a Somali woman is in labour. ‘At first,’ writes the author, ‘I think she’s been burned, her vulva has that running-wax appearance of burned flesh. But then I see it and I understand. There is no vulva. There’s nothing there, it’s all been sliced off and sewn shut. The doctors now have to reopen her so she can give birth to her child.’ In the course of my research for this book, I asked one woman if she has been circumcised. She was shocked to be asked. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Maybe when I was a baby. In our culture, we don’t talk about such things.’

Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I come from the Cote d'Ivoire

Thérése Guei (not her real name) is from the Republic of Cote d‘Ivoire. When I met her, she was sitting with an adorable three-year-old girl dressed in pink, ribbons tied in her plaited hair. Thérése escaped to Ireland to save her baby’s life. The father of her child wanted her to abort. As we chatted, Fabrice hopped off her mother’s knee to play with some toys, which she occasionally brought over to show to me. (The children’s names have also been changed.)

I come from the Cote d’Ivoire, from the west of the Ivory Coast. My village is Toulepleu. Guéré is my language. I did my primary school there, and my secondary school in Abidjan, the capital city. After that, my parents didn’t have enough money to pay for my course at college. So I got a shop, a boutique. I sold children’s clothes and women’s clothes. That’s what I did before I came here.

My father had three wives. He is not Muslim, but in my country, they like to take another wife when the first woman becomes old and can’t work. I am the first daughter of the first wife. We are five siblings, including me. My mother is 57 now. I am 44. So she was young when they married.

Was she angry or upset when he took another wife?

No, she was happy. She said, ‘first time you marry. Good.’

So he had girlfriends before that?

Yes. Marriage is better.

How many children did he have altogether?

The other wives have five altogether. So he has ten. My father did not have a job, but he had land. My mum sold fruit, and tomatoes in the market in Toulepleu, like the other wives. Our village was about 2 000 people. It’s inland, not near the sea. We had a happy life. There was no war. Life was beautiful. But after some years, in 2002, the war started. The rebels they don’t like the president. They want another president. Now the situation is, after much fighting, Ivory Coast is divided in two. The rebels, they are in the north, and the president and his supporters are in the south. They want to have elections, but the rebels don’t want the president to control the elections. They want new people to control the election. The rebels are a different tribe. My parents had to move because of the fighting. But then they moved back home later.

I am from the west. The people from the north came to the west to kill plenty of people. My mother and father moved to Abidjan. I don’t like politics. I don’t like to say my tribe. When you say one side, the other side come and fight you. So I say nothing.

My boutique was nice, really nice, but I had a family problem and I had to move. I separated from the father of my children. He’s from the east. We met, but our parents were not happy, and in the end we separated. We had three children by then.

Then when I got my boutique, I met another man and got pregnant. He was Muslim. He didn’t like it that I was pregnant. He was not happy, because he’s the first of his family. He says the mother of his child has to be Muslim. I told him that I don’t want to be Muslim. He says, ‘OK if you want to be like that, I don’t want you to have the child’. So he started to fight with me. He wanted me to have an abortion. I say, ‘I can’t have an abortion, I am already three months’ pregnant.’ He beat me, started to fight, fight, fight. He really didn’t want me to have his child.

He also wanted to take my boutique from me. He took some young men to go and smash it up and steal all the stock. I had to move. I went back to my village – this is before the war – and stayed there. He came there, said, ‘sorry, I won’t do that again’. So I went back with him.

Later there was more trouble, and I had to move again. Find somewhere to go. If I stayed in the country, he could get me; he could find out where I was. So, I came here. And I have my baby today.

How did you get here?

A man took some money from me. He gave me a passport. I don’t know if it belonged to his girlfriend or something like that. I think he was from Congo. He told me if the people ask, just show them the passport. They collected me and put me on a boat, and we travelled, and travelled. We come here, but I was not OK. Because I fought too much with the father of my child, so my stomach was not OK. I was five months pregnant, and the journey took fifteen days, I think. We stopped at other countries on the way, and stayed one or two days. I didn’t know which ones because I did not go outside. I stayed inside.

When I came here, I knew nothing about Ireland. I wanted to get out in France. But then I met this lady on the boat, and she said to me, ‘no, you know, France is too full. Ireland is not a big country, but it’s OK.’ She said her friend in Waterford told her that it’s good here. ‘France’, she said, ‘is a big country, and many, many people from our country, from Africa go there, and it’s not easy’. I said, ‘but they speak French, which is good’. She say, ‘but there are many difficulties. Let’s go to a small country. There’s more of a chance there’. So I said OK.

I knew nothing about Ireland, except what she said.

The lady said, ‘let’s go and see my friend in Waterford first, before we do immigration. We can learn how it works here.’ So we went to Waterford first, before we went to immigration. The second day, I don’t know if somebody told them where I was, the police came in the morning. We had to show the passports. The man took the passport and asked for documents. I don’t have any documents. I said, ’I’ve come to Ireland to be a refugee. I am an asylum seeker.’ They said OK, but they have to take me to prison.

I went to prison for one week, in my pregnant state. They brought me first for three days to the prison in Dublin; I don’t know the name. But after the three days, they brought me to Limerick prison for four days. When I went to prison, my stomach, my baby, was not easy. In prison, they gave me medicine. Someone came to me and gave me his name. He was a lawyer. And the lawyer said if I want to be free, I have to bring my ID from my country. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll call my friend.’ She can send a fax of my ID to my lawyer. I told him I want to be an asylum seeker. So I need to go to Dublin.

After that, I went to Dublin, to immigration. I registered. They sent me to a hostel, near the airport. They brought me there, and I stayed there for one month. We were three in the room. The other two were from Nigeria. It wasn’t too bad. They were very nice. The hostel was OK too. Then after one month, they brought me to Cork. They didn’t ask me, they just did their list, and they brought me here.

I asked for English lessons. I went to an English language school. I was looking for a house in Cork, but I couldn’t find one. So I went to Waterford. I found a house in Waterford, a holiday house near the sea. I stayed there six months, then after that I came back to Cork, because I like Cork! Now I’m in Douglas. I have my own house. I have my children and my husband.

Your husband?

I met Gerard (not his real name) here. He is from Togo. I met him at the Kinsale hostel. He was very sick. He had an infection. You know, the food in the hostel wasn’t good for him. So when I got my house, I cooked for him. Then we got married. He’s OK now, but not better. He is in pain sometimes. The doctor says maybe it’s cancer. They have to take blood, and do many tests. They are checking the stomach and liver. They are not sure yet. Now they check, check. We’re wait for the results.

How were you treated at the hospital?

One day we went to Emergency at the hospital. We had to wait, I don’t know how many hours. But it was OK, because when you are not in your own country, you don’t criticise too much. If they give you something to eat or something for your health, it’s good. Whatever you get, it’s good. That’s it.

How have your children adjusted to you having a new husband?

My first son is 17 years. He’s a big boy. Sometimes it’s difficult for him with another man, but well, it’s OK. The other two manage OK too.

My younger son is 12 year old. He is very good at football. Maybe one day he’ll play for Ireland! (Laughs). He’s going to be 13 in April. They are very happy. In Ivory Coast they were very good at football. He has his father’s surname, not my name. A woman can change her name if she wants, but I have kept mine. My youngest daughter has my name.

What differences have you noticed here?

I don’t see negative things about Ireland. I would say it’s not easy to accept somebody who is not from your country. In Ivory Coast you can do that too. They know you are not like them. They are like that. It’s not easy.

Here sometimes, they don’t like you, maybe because you are black, or something like that. The problem in Ivory Coast is religious, Muslim, Catholic, or sometimes if you don’t speak my language, something like that. So, it’s the same here, but now it’s because of colour also.

But here at least, they accept you, give you food to eat, a place to sleep. I think that is a big thing.

Have you experienced direct racism?

Not like that, but, well, it’s true, like, when I finished my course they ask me to go and get work experience. My friend in the school got a job in a shop in the city. Then after that she said she wanted to change, she wanted to get a job in another place. And she said to me, ‘OK Thérése, go there, because I have my new job. That’s the name of the manager, tell her that I’m not able to work there any more’.

When I went there, the woman said no she can’t take me for work experience. And before, she took my friend. But because it’s me now, she says she doesn’t take people for work experience. Maybe it was my colour. Maybe it was because my English is not good.

So you must be happy that you live somewhere, you can sleep, you eat. I think, it’s OK. Don’t expect more.

I thank God for everything, for people like you, like Nasc, where I volunteer now, because they don’t like discrimination, you know. But some people, they don’t accept black people.

My wish is just to find work, and to take care of my family.

The children are learning English; later, maybe they will Irish. I would like to learn Irish too. You know why? When you live somewhere, you have to adapt to everything. I am not in the Ivory Coast now, I am here. So I have to attach myself to this place, to everything here.

Do you have friends? A social life?

I remember last year, two years ago, a lady who worked for a charity for the Ivory Coast group, invited me to some meetings, and also Nasc invited me to a women’s group last year. I did some things with women’s groups in my school. So that is how I met people. Now I have this job. It’s good, because it’s difficult for me to get a job when I can’t speak English like you. Irish people cannot speak French like I speak French though! I am 44, so it is difficult, but I am trying. It’s not easy.

Are you happy to be living here?

Yes - we thank God there is no war here. There are no people to steal your wallet. There are no people to smash your boutique. I think it’s a better place. Because in the Ivory Coast you walk on the street like this (demonstrates) you talk on your mobile phone like this, and they come and take it like this. Or sometimes you have your necklace, and they come and break it off your neck, just take it. Or your bag, they push you, take your bag. Crime is very, very, very bad there.

The weather is very good there though. In the Ivory Coast, the weather is 35 degrees centigrade, 40, 31. And if it’s cold, it’s maybe 25! I travelled here in June, and arrived here in July, but it was still cold. It’s too cold here. I do miss the weather. And my Mum, and my daughter. I miss them too much. I have four children, but one is left in my country. She is 20. I would like to bring her here, but she is over 18, so it’s not possible to bring her here under the family reunification programme. I miss her too much. I have been here three years. First I came alone, and then three of my children came.

I don’t know what to do. It’s not easy. You have to get some money. She has to get a visa. It’s not easy for her.

Have the children settled into school OK?

Yes! They are very happy. Last year my son did drama. And he spoke French. And all the teachers when they saw me, said, ‘ah, you’re Michel’s mum! Ah, he is a good boy!’ He’s in Douglas Community School. They speak English more than me now. And Nathan is playing hurling and Gaelic football and soccer too. They don’t miss the Ivory Coast. Before, when they were not with me, they missed me, but now they are with me. They were two years without me. Then I sent for them. They flew here one year ago, in October.

My eldest daughter is going to college in the Ivory Coast. I don’t know the place. I need to bring her here. I miss her too much. Sometimes I can’t eat. Sometimes I sit down like this, 4 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning. We speak on the phone. (Cries.)

I don’t know how long we have to wait for the appeal.

Maybe she can apply as a separate individual?

Yes, maybe. I don’t know. If I can get her a student visa for St John’s College maybe.

What is your dream?

My first dream is my children’s future. To have my daughter here. For my children to go to school, get good jobs. That’s my first dream. If my children get that, for myself, I don’t really think I need anything. You know, you are old, maybe I will be lucky and get work, maybe later I will be able to see my Mum again, my family back home, then I will be happy.

Dominated by the French culture, and with a multinational population, Cote d’Ivoire is a mélange of the traditional African lifestyle with an overlay of modern Western influences. Located in West Africa, with a coastline along the North Atlantic Ocean, Cote d’Ivoire is flanked by Ghana and Liberia, other border countries including Burkina Faso, Liberia and Mali. Since independence in 1960, Cote d’Ivoire has maintained close ties with France, and that, together with cocoa production for export and foreign investment, made Cote d’Ivoire one of the most economically successful states in the region.

Unfortunately, the country has been destabilised by political turmoil. A military coup on 25 December 1999 overthrew the government, and the Junta leader blatantly rigged the subsequent elections in 2000, excluding the most prominent opposition leader. In 2002, rebel forces took over the northern part of the country. A peace accord was signed, granting the rebels ministerial positions in a unity government, but issues that sparked the civil war, such as land reform and grounds for nationality, remain unresolved and disputes continue.

One of the world’s largest producers of cocoa beans, coffee and palm oil, Cote d’Ivoire is vulnerable to the fluctuations in international prices for these products. Roughly 68% of the population are employed in agriculture, despite the government’s attempts to diversify, which also makes the country’s economy dependent on the weather,

A political crisis occurred when in November 2004. President Gbagbo’s troops attacked and killed nine French peacekeeping forces, which resulted in the UN imposing an arms embargo. Foreign investment shrivelled, businessmen fled and trafficking in weapons and diamonds increased. Ethnic fighting has driven out foreign cocoa workers, while the government has accused Burkina Faso and Liberia of supporting Ivorian rebels.

The population is over 17 million with almost 72 000 Liberian refugees documented. Since 2002, 500 000 people have been internally displaced, according to a 2004 census.

Source: CIA World Factbook


Friday, August 7, 2009

Tahira Rahman from Pakistan

Tahira Rahman comes from Pakistan. I met her crossing the road in Bantry. She had two children with her, one in a pram. She wore a headscarf and distinctive dress, and on impulse I stopped to talk to her. She was very receptive and friendly, agreeing to meet me for an interview later in the week. A few days later, I met her at her house. That day, she wore her long black hair loose and uncovered. She is pretty, with strong, black eyebrows. Her left nostril is adorned with a gold and ruby stud. Not realising it was Ramadan (*Muslim fasting period, lasting approximately one cycle of the moon), I accepted her offer of tea and biscuits, and then felt bad, drinking in front of her when she couldn’t join me. From daybreak to sunset, not even a sip of water can pass her lips.

I come from a village in the North West of Pakistan, near Peshawar. But I was actually born in England. My parents were doctors there. When I was five, we returned to Pakistan. I got married there at the age of 22, to my cousin. It was arranged when I was 14. I knew him and liked him. But once we got engaged I stopped talking to him. That’s a tradition, like, you know. So sisters and mothers would be ringing on our behalf. I was so shy, I couldn’t talk. Even my father told me I should try to talk more. We don’t go for outings as you do. People in Islamabad and Karachi are more like that. They speak and go for outings. But this area you know, the North West province, which is on the border with Afghanistan – near the Khyber Pass – is very conservative.

That’s where the recent earthquake was?

It was a bit further north. Sunday it happened. But they are saying that the earth is trying to settle down, so there will be more earthquakes.

Is your family alright?

Yes, they’re fine, but they’re terrified. We ring them. They’re scared for their lives. Like especially in the night time when they go to sleep. They have bought all these tents and they are trying to avoid the buildings. Not going inside at all. So the little children are getting sick with pneumonia, because of the cold weather coming in, in November particularly. It’s not a good situation.

They wouldn’t think of evacuating?

They have come to different places like Islamabad and Pindi, but still there are people who don’t want to leave their own homes, their place, to be homeless. They don’t want to leave their roots. They know they live in the dangerous part now, with landslides coming in, and snow is there. People don’t know why they stay, why they don’t come to safer places.

When you were growing up, did you experience earthquakes?

Yes, I did. But not as big as this one. This is the first time there’s been a massive earthquake. It’s a terrible feeling when you’re there. I was different ages when it happened: 5, 7, 10, 15. It was small-scale. But the time it happened, it was terrifying. The earth is shaking and you just run for your life. You don’t care what you are wearing, where you are running. This time, there was no warning. It was all in seconds. I just imagined how those mothers were feeling. Getting their children. Whether they were ill, in bed. Whether they were pregnant. The earthquake lasted for about half an hour. Imagine that shaking, for so long.

Tell me about some of the customs in Pakistan.

We have many traditions in our culture. For example, our dress. What I’m wearing now is called a kamise, a traditional shirt. Sometimes it’s long, sometimes it’s shorter. Underneath, you wear a kind of trousers, called shalwar. You also cover your head with a scarf. We call it a butta. Especially when there are men, you have to cover your head. When I was a teenager, I used to wear it all the time. My religion is Islam, and in our religion, you have to keep covered. But if you’re at home, you can wear what you like. You can wear trousers even. But you have to follow the culture.

I have one brother. We were just two. I never spoke to other boys. In our culture, you just talk to relatives. When you reach puberty, parents restrict you. It’s automatically in your mind. It’s not that every time your mother or father is going to tell you what to do. You know it’s not good. And you don’t feel the urge. Why should I talk to them? And boys don’t come to your home, unless there is a father or brother. They don’t visit families when there are ladies in the home only.

When they come in, usually we are not allowed to answer the door. In the kitchen, we make food, and put it on the trays and the father takes the tray. And when they are going, the husband or brother, or father tells you to stay in that room, don’t come out. If someone forgets and walks out and a woman is standing there, she will feel awkward because she would always expect the brother or father to tell her that the man is coming, and to go into the next room. You would say to him, ‘I was standing here and the man came out and saw me like this. I wasn’t wearing my veil!’ I have seen so many men who, when they enter a home, they keep their eyes down. They’re not searching, because they know the culture. Of course, some men are not angels – men are men! – so sometimes it happens that they look.

Now there is co-education, and girls are going for jobs. They meet boys to a certain extent. If they want, they can go out. But it is a kind of fearful thing. What would your brother or family say if they saw you going with this guy? You have to first convince your family. Who is he, where does he come from? What are his intentions? Because people would start ribbing you. Even if you don’t do anything, people bring bad news to that girl or that boy.

I believe in the Muslim faith, a man can marry more than once?

Well, there are conditions. He can marry up to four women. But the conditions are he has to be able to keep the first wife to the same standard as the second wife. He can’t leave or divorce her, even if he is unhappy. Suppose he is in the office and he likes some secretary, and he falls in love and he wants to marry her, and that girl is interested. What happens is he has to convince his first wife, and you’d never get that consent from the first wife! If she did, then you have to have to provide clothes, money, all their expenses, for both, equally. So you can’t compromise that. But in love, it’s different. Say you are attracted maybe just to the second wife. That is something else, the relationship. But the deeds, you have to be kind, respect, take care of the children of both. If you can do that, fine, you can marry another one. But if you can’t do that, no. People don’t understand this, they are ignorant about Islam. Basically you have to treat them equally.

Do you know of any men who have married more than once?

Yes. My husband’s maternal uncle was 65 when he married a second wife. He was a grandfather actually. He had five daughters, no boy. He was looking for a son. This is a bad tradition in Pakistan. Many, many areas will have that. They say that the woman is responsible for the sex of the child. And it’s scientifically actually the man. It’s very harsh, and very rude to the woman.

So what happened, he waited all this time, and the daughters were grown up and married with their own children. And he married a girl aged 27, like that.
Of course, it wasn’t what he thought. Like, it’s from the godside. It’s in our religion that the god favours. It’s his choice to give a child. I felt very bad for the first wife. He married that woman and the first wife was shocked, annoyed, irritable. She said, ‘I want to kill my husband.’ And the daughters felt so bad. They didn’t want to talk to their father at all. But gradually, people came round. They saw there was no way out. He didn’t compromise her. He said to her, ‘OK, you are angry with me, but what will happen? I’m not letting you go anywhere.’

He made another section in the home, separate, a small kind of cottage, and he provided that to the second wife. He said to his first wife, ‘you can stay and you will enjoy the state, and I won’t leave you.’ So, still they are surviving. Also my feeling was for the second wife. Because whatever the first wife says, she will do that. She is controlling her. She is sitting in the same car. Basically it’s the first wife’s rules. So it’s difficult. For a man living with two wives, it’s difficult. He can try his best, but he can’t do equally. So that’s why the conditions are so strict. Sometimes I tease my husband and say, ‘oh, you’ll marry another one,’ and he says, ‘One wife is enough! I’m not going to ruin my life!’ You struggle enough.

How was your wedding day?

It was nice. I felt very, very nervous. When the day was approaching, all the time I was very anxious. Like you know, you don’t know that person. You haven’t talked to him. You’ve only seen him. You don’t know how you’ll manage. And actually we don’t have sex education. So girls usually come to know about that later, when they are in university faculties, you know. They don’t get it from their sisters or brothers, they just hear from their classmates. And then they are shocked. Is this going to happen to me? How will I manage? I’m not like that! And you know, all the time you are virgin. And you don’t feel that it’s going to happen with you. You are not happy with that.

If it is a love marriage, you will find it easy. But with an arranged marriage, no one likes that. Especially when the wedding day arrives, all the girls are very, very nervous. So what happens, they give us time, say two or three weeks. They don’t touch us at all, until we feel easy. But there are also men who are harsh and have to fulfil their desires, and they just go on. So this is a harsh reality to accept. You never know a man, and then suddenly he comes and lives in your life, like that. There’s no other way out, you can’t leave him. You know you are going to live with him all your life. But what I felt was, I was happy and at the same time I was nervous.

Tahira shows me her wedding album. There are many photographs of her wearing a fabulous red gown lavishly embroidered in gold thread. Her palms and the backs of her hands are hennaed ornately, and her make up is heavy, lips painted red. She is adorned with an abundance of gold jewellery. At the centre of her forehead rests a tika, a gold ornament. She sits on a platform, expression solemn. Compared to our virginal looking brides, (who are probably anything but,) it seems ironic to my western eyes that this bona fide virgin bride wears colours we would associate with a brothel.

After the wedding, we went on honeymoon, and it all happened there. We went to the northern area, where the earthquake happened. It was very hot that day. We went to his sister’s home. It’s all in ruins now. There’s nothing left there. It’s called Atakabar. His brother in law arranged a 4 x 4 vehicle for us to take to different places. We were there for about a week, maybe two. But it was good. We got to know each other.

He was a nice gentleman you know, but I was just scared. He was 26. Also a virgin.

Is it common for men to be virgins when they marry?

Most of the boys are virgins. Like my brother - he’s not married. He’s still a virgin. But there are men who have wives, and still they have extra-marital affairs. That type, I’m so angry with these people, why they are doing this. From the godside, it’s sinful, it’s adultery, and what about the wives? For me, it’s just unacceptable. But my brother is a virgin, and many people ask him, ‘What’s your plan?’ and he says, ‘I’m just waiting to go back to my country and marry a girl from there.’ He’s also living here, in Ireland. He’s 35 and still he has friends who are not married, who are going out and having relationships, at the same time having two, three, four, five girls. And he knows that. And they laugh at my brother, but he says, ‘No, I’m fine. I can’t be like an animal, going for my desires. I’ll wait and have a proper wedding. If I go for a girl, I’ll marry her.’

We told him for the past five or six years to get a wife, but he said, ‘No, I’m doing my exams. If I’m marrying a girl, I have to give her time.’ A doctor’s time is very busy. All these exams and time in hospital. And it is true. My husband, because he still has to do his exams, he can’t give me much time. He has to study, and I have to compromise. We can’t go on outings. He can’t give much time to the children. The doctor’s life is hard for the first few years.

But now my brother is looking for a bride and I’m going to go to Pakistan in November to help him. He is looking for a certain type of lady. He says, ‘I need really a housewife. Educated. She should have her Masters. Aged 23 or 24.’ He said he would like a nice lady, more feminine. Polite. There are people who are very harsh and rude. He doesn’t want that. He wants a humble kind of person. Not too much pretty. If you go for too much pretty, you have to compromise. The most pretty girls go into the medical profession!

Tell me a little about the history of Pakistan.

English ruled Pakistan and India. It was all one country, called the sub-continent. But in 1947, the English had ruled for 150 years, so after that they left, and separated the two countries. Kashmir was left. So the problem wasn’t solved. Kashmir is where the earthquake happened. One side is, which is called Free Kashmir, is ruled by the Pakistan government. Opposite side is ruled by the Indians. But those people all have the same culture, the food, everything is the same. It’s like Ireland and Northern Ireland. Irish and Irish! But one under the English government.

Historically, Muslims felt weak. There used to be a Mogul kingdom. Mogul was the king, and he had sons. One of these sons was called Akhbar. He brought some ideas from Hinduism and some from Islam and he mixed them together. And you can’t mix really. He was very much a womaniser. He was not a proper Muslim, just so-called. He was going all the wrong way. He enjoyed women. You can see his poetry in different restaurants.

So he had this state and enjoyed this state, and enemies were coming in, but he was all the time drinking. He wasn’t thinking, ‘What’s going on in my state?’ And the English people came in and they took over. They had this history of ruling. They ruled all over the world, Asia, Africa. So they discovered the sub-continent, and they thought, ‘we should go there.’ And they were making like tricks on the Hindus and Muslims, to turn them against each other. Before that they were at peace with each other. But then they started fighting each other, and fell apart.

The English brought many good things, like education and universities, architecture. I have no bad feelings against the English. That was history. There are many English still there. Convents and so on. I would say English people are very kind. Still there are flaws. But as humans, fine. They’re alright.

You grew up near the Afghan border? Were there many refugees from that country?

There are many Afghani women who have come to Pakistan. So many in school and at university. They were very, very poor people. When I go back to Pakistan I still have one Afghani lady who comes to me. She had a stillbirth. Then she got psychiatrically ill, and she also had an operation, and during that op the doctors mismanaged. They damaged the bladder, so she couldn’t control her urine. It just goes through the body. So that was a pity. Her husband is a heroin addict. And she is in a very bad condition. Before her operation, we used to help her with food and money, give her tea and comfort her. But now she’s very angry. She’s aggressive. She can hurt you. We can’t touch her. So we can’t help her. It’s like that. She’s not eager to go to the doctor. My father is a psychiatrist and said, ‘we’ll go,’ and she said no.

What did you study?

I studied psychology. I did Masters in my country. But here it’s only equivalent to a Bachelor’s. They say I have to go back to university and do two or three years. I tried one year and did a course in counselling, but they said this year the course is off the list. They don’t know when it’s going to happen. They say I have to go to Dublin. I did distance learning, but this course you have to do at university. I was going to do the two-year course, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.

When did you come to Ireland?

We moved to Ireland one year after we married, when I was 23. I’m 28 now. I was pregnant with my first daughter when we came, and I had her in Limerick hospital. My brother is a doctor, and came here for work. My husband is also a doctor. In Pakistan there are no opportunities for doctors and the wages are poor and we thought we can’t manage like that. And he needed to come for study. He wanted to do the MRCP * so he can become a consultant. You get it from the College of Physicians in Ireland. First you have to pass your English test. So he got that.Then he had to pass his Irish exam. As you do with the General Medical Council in England. It’s called PLAB in England, and Trask in Ireland. You have to be registered. Previously you used to pay for registration. Now there is a registration exam. It’s difficult, more difficult nowadays. So he did all this and passed. The Irish exam is valid for two years, and then it expires. So the post-grad is next. He’s trying his best.

I was keen to go to England because I had a British passport. But my brother was here, and he said it’s a good country and people are very loving. In England you have to struggle. ‘The Irish’, he said, ‘are quite simple. You will manage here. I am here, and I will support you. Your husband will be studying, and you will need help in every way. You’ll be all alone and there will be too much stress.’ So what he did was he found a flat and we came to Ennis, Co Clare first. We shared the rent. That time it was IR£475. We gave him half the money. So he helped us for 18 months while my husband did the exams. He passed all his exams in March/April, but he then had to wait for jobs to be advertised. The social welfare helped us. I was in maternity. Thank God to the Irish, they helped us in that way. Then he got a job and we let them know. They were saying, ‘Thank God you told us you can manage on your own. There are many people who carry on, even when they get a job’.

Latif got a job in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. We stayed there for ten months. Then he got another job in medicine in Co Monaghan. We stayed there for almost one and a half years. Then I was pregnant with my second baby and we came to Cork and he said, ‘OK, my next exams are coming up, I must study.’ So he took off work and stayed at home for six months to study. And it was hard, that exam. He didn’t go for a job. Latif found a place in Carrigaline. We stayed there for one and a half years, and Latif got a job working first at the Mercy, and then at the Infirmary.

After that, he got another job in Kilkenny. But this time I didn’t move, because I knew it was only for six months, and then what will happen? So I stayed in Cork. After six months, he got a job in Bantry hospital. And we came here. Now they are giving indications that he has been there for almost one year, so you must go. He is in GPT (General Practitioner Training). Moving around is alright now. It’s not new to us. But it’s hard for my kids. They have to move schools. And we don’t know where they will go. So it’s insecure. When we moved to Bantry, the children were in playgroup, it was fine. But now they are in schools. Now we will have to get new uniforms.

Why does Latif have to keep moving from job to job?

Because he is a junior doctor, they don’t treat them well. So we are living like travellers. Well, they live in caravans, it wouldn’t be nice, actually, but still like, it’s like that. He is doing an interview today in the radiation department in Cork. He will only get an answer in two or three weeks, or maybe a month.

We have plans to buy a house now. We are very insecure here, because you are renting and you know, my husband saying, my job is like that, but you can stay in one place. My brother has bought a house in Wilton, and he says it’s nice, owning your own home. You don’t know, God forbid, what will happen. God forbid something happens to your husband. At least with a home, you have a place.

Have you or Latif experienced racism?

Foreign doctors do experience different treatment. The best jobs are reserved for the Irish doctors. The leftovers go to the Indians, Africans, you know. Then there is the FPR, which is a fellowship, basically. They have given every FPR to the Irish, whether they are able or not. They have excluded all foreigners. If doctors want to become a consultant, they have to do this exam, but they are not going to be given to Pakistanis. They say, at the back, ‘Why should we give these seats to foreigners in our country? And anyway they will leave this country and the good will go back to their country. So we won’t waste our time. We’ll stick to our own.’ So there are very, very few consultancies going to outsiders.

Nurses in hospitals can also be racist. They will talk to Irish doctors politely, even if they are sometimes stressed. They know they can’t show a bad attitude, because the Irish doctors won’t take it from them. They will say, ‘Stop it, you can’t speak like that to me.’ But the doctors from India, Pakistan, Africa, even though they are registrars, they can’t reprimand the nurses, because they know the nurses will go and complain about them. So the nurses speak to them in a disrespectful way, and they have to take it. It’s humiliating for them.

In Monaghan they used to call me Romanian. And I used to feel bad and think why do they call me this. I’m not saying, God forbid, that Romanians aren’t good people, they are human after all. But I think here, there’s a more common perception here that Romanians do beg. And many Pakistani women say this, that Irish people mistake them for Romanians. Then I decided, ‘OK, I will leave my scarf, I won’t wear this.’ In that way, we would say, Irish people are not open-minded as the English. English people have seen a lot of cultures coming in. In Cork, you see people opening their minds. But in Bantry, in Monaghan, small places, this small-minded attitude happens more.

When I was in Monaghan, I was walking with my pram, and a 15-year-old boy was blocking my way. I said, ‘excuse me, please let me pass,’ and you know, he was with some schoolgirls, and he didn’t move. He just copied me. And made faces at me. And I felt bad. I said, “Look, I’m just asking you, excuse me. I have a pram.‘ When he didn’t stop, I rang the Gardaí, and he ran off. And the girls vanished too. The Gardaí came and comforted me and said, ‘Relax, what happened?’ I told them and said the boy was being racist towards me. The Garda went to investigate, then came back and said, ‘His parents will come to your home and apologise.’ But that never happened.

Mind you, when I talk about racism, you should come to my country. The problems between the Pashto and the Punjabi tribes. They are from the same country, just like people from Dublin and Cork. But these people are altogether different. Pashto people have a difficulty in the language Urdu, which the Punjabi people speak. A Pashto will speak Urdu, but he might use a masculine word instead of feminine, and the Urdu people will laugh at them. They are kind of cowardly and mean, not all, but you know, they won’t confront. But the Pashto people are hot headed. They will say, ‘Come!’ and it will be like that. So this is how it is. They react quickly, while the Punjabi tribe are a bit slowed down. Those people, like my husband, they are hot headed, but here, now, he has calmed down!

Has living in Ireland influenced the way your husband treats you?

Yes! We share decisions. We have a joint account. This is a big thing, a joint account. I ask him if I need to buy something. He says I don’t have to do this. I say, ‘but it’s your money.’ He says, ‘no, it’s our money.’ He says, ‘whatever you need, just do it. Don’t wait for me.’ That’s why he bought me a car. So I can be independent.

Here it’s good. You respect people. You say excuse me. There, they are lacking. When we go back, I think, ‘Oh my goodness, they are ignorant. They are harsh. They don’t have the idea that a woman can be hurt. They only listen to the priests in the mosque. Another very good thing is that in Cork we can go to the mosque. Men in one area, women in the other. It’s very nice that they allow us.

Women don’t go to the mosque in Pakistan?

No. They have no idea! They think it’s just for men. But here in Europe, it’s different. You can come together, to meet each other, learn who is who. Because no one has time to go to each other’s houses. So you can meet each other there. And it’s nice. We should do this too, in our country.

We do have many problems in our country. You know, in our society, you have heard of the honour killing of women. The men are so cruel. That is in our culture, in our society. And it happens in Punjab, in different areas. They just have to be a bit suspicious of their wives. They don’t need evidence or anything. And they can go and murder them. And the police can do nothing. The elders just say, ‘Don’t come and interfere in our system.’

Do women have extra marital affairs?

Generally no. But good and bad are there. My husband lived in Islamabad, and he said there were some men who had affairs with a married woman, and he was astonished. That happens in Islamabad. It’s less likely in Peshawar. But if the husbands know or suspect, the consequence is death. Even if the husband is doing the same thing, he will not be punished.

If the woman is not happy, you will see the behaviour. But you never see evidence of an affair like you do in movies, naked and in the bed. Never like that. You will see that she is sitting with someone, just talking to him. And people will talk about that. So that happens. It’s just in-laws saying, ‘What’s she doing with that guy?’ But she might just be asking him to do something for the home, anything. But there will be so many in-laws and so many people see you all the time. It’s crowded over there! You have to tell everyone you are going to the shop. It’s not like here.

What do you see as the negative factors about living in Ireland?

One thing is people don’t care about their neighbours as we do in Pakistan. They don’t know who lives next door, or how they are feeling. I went out and introduced myself to my new neighbours, when I came here. I said, ‘I am Tahira. My husband is working in the hospital. We have two children. We live here, next door to you.’ Then the people said, ‘OK.’ Otherwise they don’t feel the need to know who is who.

As a human, I think you should make contact. When we were moving from Cork, the next door neighbour saw us moving our stuff down the stairs, and he never said, ‘oh, are you leaving?’ Nothing. I thought, ‘Oh God. It’s like that.’ In Pakistan, if we have a new neighbour, we would send food to him. We would know that he is tired, so we would just leave the food. But he would know he is welcome. And we would help with unloading. No one just bothered, or said do you need help. This is one thing I felt very much, that it should be like that.

It is a drawback in Irish society, not looking out for your neighbour. Maybe they are alone. That’s why people become depressed, and commit suicide. I would say. Because they feel all alone. In Pakistan they will help you. They will give money to poorer relatives, you know. We don’t have a suicide problem in Pakistan.

How do you find the schooling?

School is very good. My five-year-old daughter is enjoying it. She would have so many books at this stage in Pakistan that she would be bent over with the books in her satchel. She would be reading and doing sums. And you get so stressed, and it’s no fun at all. Whereas here, in Junior Infants, it’s all play. I said to the teacher, ‘When are you going to give them one, two, three?’ and she said no, we’re just giving them drawings, and games and gradually we’ll start that.’

What is your dream?

To be a good mother, to have a happy family. To be a good woman. So on the Day of Judgment, when God asks us, ‘What did you do?’ I can say I have been trying to be kind to people, to help them, in whatever way I can. To reach them.

Are you happy you moved to Ireland?

Yes, we are. Ireland is a good place. Cork people especially are very welcoming. Nenagh is 50-50. But here, Cork people mix more quickly than others. I haven’t gone to Dublin that much so I don’t know how they are. But Cork people are nicer than any others I’ve met, and I’d like to stay here.

Pakistan, in south Asia, is the sixth most populated country in the world, and the second most populated country with a Muslim majority. Its territory was a part of the pre-partitioned British India, and has a long history of settlement and civilisation. Most of its current territory was conquered in the first millennium BCE by Persians and Greeks and ruled by them for a few centuries. The region was also part of various local dynasties. Later arrivals and conquests include those by the Arabs, Afghans, Turks, Baloch and Mongols. The territory was incorporated into British India in the nineteenth century.

Since its independence in August 1947, the country has experienced periods of considerable military and economic growth, as well as significant instability. The British partition of the Indian Empire along religious lines resulted in communal riots across India and Pakistan. Millions of Muslims moved to Pakistan and millions of Hindus and Sikhs moved to India. Disputes arose over princely states such as Jammu and Kashmir. The long running dispute with India over Kashmir resulted in full- fledged wars in 1947 and 1965. Civil war flared into the Bangladesh war of independence and the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971.

Pakistan conducted nuclear weapon tests in 1998 to counterbalance India’s nuclear explosions in1974 and 1998, becoming the only Muslim nuclear weapons state. The relations with India are steadily improving following peace initiatives in 2002. As well as political upheaval, the country has had to deal with natural disasters, such as the cyclone which caused 500 000 deaths in East Pakistan in 1970, and the earthquake in 2005, which cost the lives, homes and livelihoods of over a million.

Pakistan has accomplished many engineering feats such as construction of the world’s largest earth filled dam, Tarbela, the world’s twelfth largest dam, Mangla, as well as, in collaboration with its close ally China, the world’s highest international road: the Karakoram Highway.