BY BREDA JOYCE
KILCASH, IRELAND (TIPPERARY LIVE) -- Chebeuche Anyanwu was born among the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria. In 2003, she came to Ireland seeking asylum. She now lives in Kilcash with her five children.
Waiting on God’s Time
The Igbo people in eastern Nigeria like to cook a particular leaf which is very bitter and will remain so if you close the lid of the saucepan while cooking. However, if you leave the lid open and do not rush the cooking process, exposing it to the air sweetens it and the taste is no longer so bitter.
I find it strange that Irish people like to keep a lid on issues such as their mental health and cancer.
Irish people are very private, they are slow to admit that all is not well on the inside. Sharing burdens and worries is important among my Igbo people.
If one feels depressed, for instance, one says so openly – there isn’t the same stigma; the person suffering is put in touch with someone else who has suffered from this same illness and come through it.
With time one’s suffering or burden is lessened through exposure and no longer leaves such a bitter taste. People are unable to cope when they try to cope alone. Loneliness is the greatest disease.
When I came to Ireland first, people here didn’t seem happy to me. I felt that people were into themselves, just did their own thing, so I felt the need to put myself in a bottle and close myself in.
My people are very open, they celebrate openly, they are lively and enjoy life, but they are also very loud spoken compared to the Irish.
When I attend parent - teacher meetings, my children tell me, “Mum you are too loud, they will think you are angry.”
They also remind me to smile even if the teacher doesn’t! Yet when I speak to my former classmates on WhatsApp they say, “You’ve become so quiet!”
Leaving my three small children behind was so painful. My husband and my mum too. I arrived in Ireland in the month of May in 2003. I couldn’t believe how cold it was.
When I woke up in Dublin, I felt lost in this strange place among strangers. There wasn’t much life on the streets or in the markets. I was hungry and there was nothing but sandwiches to eat. I was pregnant and I was heartbroken.
In Nigeria a grandmother spends the first year with her daughter to help her care for her new-born. I knew my mother would be there for my children, that they would be happy with her.
But through my tears on the plane, I could see their confused little faces looking up at me. I could feel the imprint of their tiny fingers clinging to my legs. I cried every night for those two weeks in the home in Dublin. In Carrick, in Bridgewater House, I was without them for almost a year.
Prayer kept me going, that and talking to them by phone nearly every day.
I was overjoyed when my husband came on a holiday visa for three weeks in 2004 and I saw my children again, they were aged two, three and four and when we all met in Dublin, they met their new baby sister for the first time. The baby was one-year-old by then. I had my five children and my husband in one room; it was wonderful to be together again.
It was difficult for us all when my husband went back alone. But we are Christians. We married for better or worse. I made a sacrifice for my children - I want them to have a good education and be independent. I didn’t have those chances myself.
What attracted me to Ireland is that you are a Christian people. Christian values in my country are very important too.
My mum says, “If you talk to God, He will provide the solution to your problems.” When we were small, if we had a headache my mum would pray, and we would be ok. I read the Bible every day and apply it to my life. Sometimes I pray as I walk around but my children give out to me for mumbling. They say, “Stop because my friend will see you mumbling!”
We are Catholic but the Catholic church is very different here.
Nigerian services are much livelier and last about two hours. Children are taught Bible in Nigeria.
Here I take my children to a Pentecostalist church so that they become familiar with it. It is important to me to instill moral and social values in my children though they can be mocked for knowing the Bible.
I used to wake them up at 6am in the morning to study and to pray. I gave them verses to meditate on. But they are too big now and accuse me of mistreating them, making them study the Bible so early in the morning!
I have three boys and two girls, the youngest is 15. My two eldest children enabled me to go to college and to work by looking after their younger brothers and sister.
They had no time to play sport as other children did. It is difficult to have to be a mother and a father to them at the same time. They’ve never seen me relax. I tell my kids they must work as well as study. We must work harder than white people for everything. They see my struggles. Now my three older children study politics and economics, medicine, and genetics. The youngest two are still at school.
My first job was in Greenhill Nursing Home. In 2006, I did a Health Care Support certificate course. Then in UCC I did Disability Studies over two years. After that I did an Applied Social Care degree in WIT over four years.
I have a child with special needs which made it very difficult for me to be flexible with social work as I needed to look after him.
I am now working in social care.
My children experience more racism that I do. They know there is racism even if Irish people don’t talk about it.
They experience it in school and in their environment. Too young to stand up for himself, my youngest son asked me, “Why did God not just create one colour?”
My older children can speak up for themselves now. Both of my daughters are feminists, and I am so proud of them.
Racism has made my children become hard workers, and that includes sport too. My son told me that if he shouts and complains that he is not picked for a team, it only brings out negativity, and he won’t be able to play his best.
Sometimes my children advise me, “The person who treated you like that didn’t know what she did was bad. Just leave it there and move on.”
I tell my children that we are not responsible for anyone’s behaviour to us. We just need to work on ourselves and move on. Racism won’t go away.
The way we bring up our children matters a lot. I like my children to have high expectations of themselves. I tell them, “Nobody should tell you that you can’t jump, and if they do, then jump so high that they won’t be able to see you.”
My daughter was told she couldn’t do honours English, but she jumped so high she is now studying medicine.
PEACEFUL AND SAFE
Ireland for now is our home. It is a very peaceful and safe place. Irish people in general are very reserved, very “inside” but very generous.
This is their country. Mostly people are ok, but like everywhere, some are good, some are bad. But there is a lot going on in the background. I might enter a shop and the security man follows me around as if I’m a thief.
It’s important for Irish people to realise that racism is still there; people pretend it isn’t.
Irish people who have travelled are more open. Others are very defensive and closed and insecure. People everywhere have the same worries and needs. The environment we grow up in shapes us, but we should not judge people.
We must learn about the culture of others. As Steve Jobs said, we must believe at every moment in our lives and that will give us hope and take us somewhere.
But it can be hurtful when you are trying so hard to be good. Still, you have to smile and have a positive attitude.
My name Chebeuchechukwu means “waiting on God’s time”.
Good things happen slowly for me. My surname Ogudo signifies strength and the confidence of being unbeatable.
I use our Igbo saying to encourage my children. Isi aro ka eji ama utonsi: the way you work hard and study now and the people you befriend determines your tomorrow.
My husband’s name is Anyanwu. It means “Sunshine”. I really miss him, and my children miss their dad. I haven’t seen him since 2018 when he came on a holiday visa.
I miss our extended family too and the friends I grew up with but I’ve no regrets about coming here.
We went back to Nigeria to visit in 2015. My eldest son really wants to go back there to work. He loves the culture but my youngest is big into hurling - he loves it here and has so many friends here now he wants to stay.
FEEL AT HOME
I feel at home here, but I carry Nigeria with me. I make sure my children understand our culture. Every day we eat Nigerian food, and my children love it especially onu-gbu– bitter leaf food.
I would love to go back to Nigeria and live with my Igbo people again one day, perhaps when I’m older and retired. But for now, I’m very happy to be here in Ireland.
This country has given us so much – I am so grateful in every way, but I won’t take the weather back home! If my children were in Nigeria now, they would not have the education they have.
My children are settled - they are happy here. I have learned so much from them. When I write something, they rephrase it so that Irish people will understand. My children have become very close to me and are protective of me.
Ireland has changed me for the better. In Nigeria life is all about struggling to live. I appreciate life more now. Though I have to wait for everything, I see the light coming in. Hope is patience. I am waiting on God’s time!
Our Sense of Place
Breda Joyce grew up in county Galway and taught at secondary level in Kenya and in Cahir.
Her poetry has won and been shortlisted for several awards and appears in anthologies and literary journals.
Her first collection, Reshaping the Light, was recently published by Chaffinch Press.
Breda also writes short fiction and memoir.
Reshaping the Light is available to purchase from The Narrow Space and The Bookmarket in Clonmel and from The Tudor Hub, Carrick as well as from online booksellers listed on the Chaffinch Press website.