Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Ireland? In our “Jamaicans to the World” series, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy speaks with Ethlyn Thomas and Sherene Powell-Okafor, two Jamaican women living in Ireland.
Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Ireland? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, founder of Jamaicans.com. Today on Jamaicans to the world we talk to Ethlyn and Sherene who both live in Ireland. Welcome ladies, how you doing?
Ethlyn: Thank you.
Sherene: Thank you.
Xavier: How you guys doing today?
Sherene: Doing well.
Xavier: Good, good. Let me get into the first question. I will start with you Sherene, Where in Jamaica are you from?
Sherene: Oh, from Kingston, we’re originally from a place called Somerset in St. Andrew and then we moved down into Kingston.
Xavier: Alright. And Ethlyn.
Ethlyn: Oh, I’m from the famous and the best Spanish Town, St. Catherine.
Xavier: Well I was born in Kingston but I’m from St. Catharine too. I lived most of my life in St. Catharine, Portmore.
Ethlyn: Oh, we’re neighbors.
Xavier: Yes, Yes. I used to travel to Spanish Town a lot, my Mom used to have her main office in Spanish town.
Ethlyn: Okay, I used to work in Portmore, Bridgeport.
Xavier: Oh wow, I was in Edge Water.
Ethlyn: Okay, right at the corner.
Xavier: Exactly, well here is my next question and I’m going to start with you Ethlyn on this particular question. So how did you end up living in Ireland? Tell us the story?
Ethlyn: Wow. You really want to know?
Ethlyn: Well, I was in college and the Joyst Program and all. So I’ve heard of it the year before, didn’t have a clue what is Ireland so for me it was a frightening experience, I was like “no.” and the second year I was doing another course and they mentioned it again and said “Oh it’s a lovely little island and you really want to go there”, and I said “Okay let me try”. So the traveling, well it was more so the money than the traveling to be honest. Then I said, okay I will give it a shot and that’s how I ended up there for the work and travel program. And I think Sherene was a year ahead of me in Ireland and I met her through my sister. So it was a group of youngsters roaming town.
Xavier: So how many years ago are we talking?
Ethlyn: For me, it’s like sixteen years.
Xavier: Wow, wow, wow.
Ethlyn: Yeah, I know.
Xavier: Sherene, how did you end up there?
Sherene: I came on the same program, but Ethlyn came over before. I went to Mico Teachers College. So when we finish I said, “okay I would go for a few months before I start back work again.” And just explore somewhere and then I had to choose somewhere and I didn’t really want to go to America or UK, everybody goes to America, Canada and the UK. So I wanted to go somewhere that was different and Ireland was there, so Ireland. I came here July the 10th 2000 and still here 20 years later.
Xavier: Wow, Wow. I have a question, what do you guys like, and I will start with Sherene this time. What do you like the most about Ireland?
Sherene: I think one of the reasons why I stayed to be honest is the peace and quiet. When I was in Jamaica I use to live off Hagley Park Road, you wake up every morning to crime and somebody dying and it was just this constant bad news all the time and it does get you depressed. So when I came here and it was just peaceful there was no crime of people killing each other on the road, you’re not walking crunching your bag, you were just quiet free. It was so peaceful and free and I was like, I kind of like this. I was able to walk on the road anytime of the night. Go anywhere without worry. Forget your key in your front door and your neighbors are there to protect your stuff. That was what I felt when I came here, that was totally different from home which was a part of my reason for staying.
Xavier: Okay, okay.
Sherene: And! my husband, that was another thing.
Xavier: Ethlyn, what about you, what do you love about Ireland?
Ethlyn: Pretty much the same thing, it’s very peaceful. A little bit up hill now but then it was really, really peaceful because what I did, I spend a couple of months then I went back home because I was still attached to my job. I was then teaching in May Pen in Garvey Maceo. But I’ll be honest with you Xavier when I was doing the math in terms of wages, and even though I was doing a mediocre job in Ireland at the time. But when I compare it to the job back home, dressing up and looking cool and going to teach and being best teacher but I wasn’t making nothing. Then I was like, you know what, I’m going to drop these heels and I’m going back to Ireland and on top of that it was peaceful so for me it was the peace and the money. When I compare the wages I was earning like $60,000 a head of Jamaica doing what we call mediocre job compare to then.
Xavier: So here is my next question, and I want to start with you Ethlyn. And I think I have an idea of what you’re going to say, what do you least like about Ireland?
Ethlyn: The weather.
Sherene: That’s it, yeah.
Ethlyn: The weather Xavier, you could have four in one day.
Xavier: Wow, yeah, Sherene and I was talking before and I said, yes I saw three seasons in one day. Sherene what about you? What are you going to say the least?
Sherene: The weather, you never get used to it, no matter what you can never get used to it. You leave your house, the place look sunny by the time you get in your car and go down the road it starts to pouring rain by the time you reach work it might start to snow hail stones, it’s just this constant. So you always have to be prepared, that’s just the way the weather is. I think the weather has alot of effect on the Irish mood as well, because you get sunlight two or three times a year, like proper sunshine, that when they all cheer up.
Xavier: All right. Here’s my next question for you, I know especially living abroad sometimes you get these moments, you’re a Jamaican moments. When someone say you’re a Jamaican then something else sometimes tends to come after that. You’re a Jamaican, do they do this or that or something.And it typically is funny, some people might get offended but you take it in strides you take it as funny. I want to start with you Sherene. What is that moment where someone discovered you’re Jamaican and they said something and it was a little funny?
Sherene: It’s funny, like I remember when we came here first and the minute you say your Jamaican they are like “oh my God Bob Marley”, and I’m like “oh yeah great” I learn a lot about Bob Marley when I came here. We went out one night to a night club and they were like “oh my there are loads of Jamaicans in the house and we are going to play some Jamaican music” and you know as a young Jamaican’s, because we are in our early 20’s we are expecting great Jamaican music and they came out with “one love”, I was like “what” that was not what we expected.
Xavier: You were expecting some up tempo.
Sherene: Yes. So every time we go out dancing everybody just keep and the next night is like, oh, all Jamaican’s take ganja. I’m like, what? No, but they are fascinated by us that’s the thing.
Xavier: Good. What about you Ethlyn, what’s that moment?
Ethlyn: Oh my moment, pretty much in and around what Sherene said but I can give you one that was really frightening for me. I was walking down the street one day and this fellow was looking at me. So you know the way you’re fresh and they are starring at you. I’m like “weh this bwoy a look pan mi so fah?” (“why is this boy looking at me for”). The guy turn around and looked at me and say “wah yuh seh?” (“what did you say”) So I said “oh, yuh cum from dung a yard?” (“oh, you come from down a yard”) and him say, “yeah man, so gwaan talk again” (“yes man, so go on talk again”).
Xavier: That is funny.
Ethlyn: Yeah, that was the most defining moment, you get into it and think that the next person behind you don’t know what is going on and you start talking the patois and then somebody out of the blues come and say “weh yuh just seh?” (“what did you just say”)
Xavier: So here is my next question for you all, apart from the weather, what was the biggest adjustment you had to make when you got to Ireland? It may have been anything. What is the biggest adjustment?
Sherene: The one for me I think was a culture shock was, I finally realized, I was black. No seriously, you know you are black, but it was never thrown in your face. You read about things in your lessons at school you read about it in history, but you never really face it.
Sherene: When I came here first, we were only here for a few months. Visa was only for four months work visa. I was working in McDonald’s when I came here first and that was when I actually start facing that racism, plus I was on the night shift, you get all the drunkards coming in and they would just tell you everything. And at that time also was when there was a massive inflow of Nigerians coming into the country and the African countries coming in so they were just bombarded with black people at that time which was really … Actually now that I am looking back on it the way I dealt with it I kind of felt a bit embarrassed and I realized one night that if I say to people, “I am Jamaican” their attitude changed towards me. So I started using that, I made sure I have on something that is Jamaican on my uniform, so everyone knew that I was Jamaican. Because there were so many different nationalities and blacks in the shop working and the racism was just so much. So you know saying that kind of just help to quench it down a bit because their attitude change. As I said their all into Bob Marley so you know that was the biggest thing I had to face.
Xavier: Biggest adjustment.
Sherene: Yeah, and when you go out to look for housing and people see that your black they tell you that it was no longer available it was a shock to the system, but we never had that experience in Jamaica, not to that level.
Xavier: Right, it’s about the money. It’s about who has the money in a lot of cases. Not saying that there’s not some racism, not saying there isn’t some of that, because there is. Racism, classism and so on. Ethlyn what about you, what was your biggest adjustment?
Ethlyn: My biggest adjustment was to go back to college, because at that stage, I had finished college and I was working back home and I was basically working as a Care Assistant in the hospital when I came here. So for me I didn’t want to stay at that level. So I couldn’t teach straight away here because it was a thing where you have to know Irish which I don’t have a clue about, so I had to change my profession completely.
Xavier: Oh, wow.
Ethlyn: And at one stage I had to go to England and come back so, yeah that was my biggest adjustment being here. But having said that I choose something that I completely love anyways so.
Xavier: Good, good, good, good. Alright, my next question is this one. What’s your favorite Jamaican food and can you get it in Ireland?
Sherene: Oh Lord. I think mine is always Ackee and Salt Fish. What we do get is the tin Ackee. We never normally use to get it before so we would have to go to London and bring over a big suitcase of Jamaican food when you go. Or anybody going over you know you fill your car and bring it back. The Indian shops lately, they have the local, and you get to really know the owners and they now start stocking Jamaican food and since lately also some of the big supermarkets start bringing in one or two items of Jamaican food so it’s a bit easier now for us to get it.
Xavier: Good, alright Ackee and Saltfish you’re a national dish type of person, Ethlyn what about you?
Ethlyn: The good old Jerk Chicken, so I’ll get my chicken as usual and I would go on YouTube for the blending. So I just make my own, I have to be creative about that. We don’t go over and bring them over, we would never get it.
Xavier: So you don’t get the jerk seasoning in the store there?
Ethlyn: No we don’t. But lately there is an African store now that buy one and two bottles so they might come up with six bottles. By the time, all of us roam there is nothing left.
Xavier: Wow, Wow. I’ve done the blending before but I really say you know what let me just buy the seasoning and do my own little thing from it. I add some stuff to it, my little secrets.
Ethlyn: Spice it up.
Xavier: But yeah more of that is what I do. So if someone wants to come to Ireland. What is the one thing you tell them or one attraction? You tell them, you coming to Ireland visit this.
Sherene: A lot of people come to Dublin, but I’m in love with Kerry. I’ve been to Kerry like a hundred times it’s a beautiful city. It has a lot of Irish culture there and it also has a lovely water fall that reminds me of home, so I just keep going there. I think Kerry is a lovely place to visit in Ireland, one thing with Ireland thy have a lot of greenery a lot of green mountains and beautiful areas for people to see. Especially if you’re into history and all of that.
Xavier: So can you actually get into this water fall at Kerry?
Sherene: Yeah, people actually go in there but the water is freezing cold, but a lot of people they are used to it so they just do it.
Xavier: So what about you Ethlyn, where would you say?
Ethlyn: Well, I’m a bit of a greenery person just like Sherene said it’s historic and a lot of greenery. But there is this park in Dublin called Bushy Park and funny enough my kids been going there doing their extra activities football and stuff and I only would just go to the field and the other day I went beyond the field which has water falls, streams. It was amazing, something to really, really look at. But you know when you see something and it looks ugly outside, but when you go on the inside the beauty of it, that’s what that park looks like, really, really beautiful.
Xavier: So winding down, what is the thing you missed the most about Jamaica?
Ethlyn: The sand and the beaches.
Sherene: It’s still home, you know, and no matter as much as you make it your home here, it’s still somewhere that you’ve longed for. You long for that kind of relaxation and there’s a thing about Jamaica where is not that it’s stress free, but it’s also, you know, with the beaches you can get up in the morning and go to the beach or you know it’s sunny and that has a lot to do with your whole demeanor and everything. So, you know, I kind of missed that part of it, and just going out, having fun with friends to be honest. It’s not the same here at all.
Xavier: How about you Ethlyn?
Ethlyn: I just miss my food. I just miss my food. When I go home, let’s say if I go through Montego Bay, I start at Tastee and work my way in and then I just be myself. I don’t have to be twanging and speaking, I just get away. I love Jamaica, I love our food, I love our language, I love our people.
Xavier: So you start from Montego Bay all the way back to Kingston. I want this, I want that. I want this, I want that.
Ethlyn: And the kids are the same.
Sherene: Whenever I go to Jamaica my Uncle, they pick me up they know they have to come with barbecue chicken.
Ethlyn: Oh yes.
Sherene: So we stop at the first Kentucky on that Airport road and then go, we have to because Kentucky here don’t have barbecue chicken. I have to get my bucket of barbecue chicken.
Xavier: It’s the best Kentucky in the world
Ethlyn: I want to go home.
Xavier: I remember once I was in Jamaica and I was leaving to come back to Florida and I realized I didn’t have peppered shrimp yet, I didn’t have all of these things. And on the way to the airport, my friend was driving us back say, ‘yuh goin have colic.’ (‘you are going to have colic’). Because I had to get everything before I get on the plane.
Ethlyn: I love the food so much. The other day I actually missed my flight at the airport because they said I couldn’t have my seasoning, I couldn’t have my this and I decided that I’m not putting them in the bin and I’m not leaving it.
Ethlyn: It was one drama at the airport.
Xavier: So you are one of those people that they say, ‘you can’t carry this mango, you goin eat that mango right there.’
Ethlyn: Oh yes.
Xavier: So here’s my final question. Any advice to a Jamaican who is thinking of moving to Ireland? What advice would you give them. One piece of advice you would give them?
Ethlyn: My advice to anyone who wants to leave Jamaica to come to Ireland is, be ready to adapt and adjust. It’s a beautiful place, most people are friendly. You will get a little bit of racism, but at the end of the day it’s not the worst, but be ready to adapt and adjust if you want to stay. Because that’s what I had to do at the end of the day so yeah.
Xavier: Sherene, any thoughts?
Sherene: The thing for me is, as Ethlyn said that you need to adapt, but you need to be willing to learn. And you might have to make up your mind that the job that you have done back home is something totally different that you have to be here because there’s so much regulations. Like I’m a primary teacher from Jamaica and I used to teach in Jamaica but when I came here I couldn’t teach. So for the first 10 years I wasn’t able to teach here because I didn’t know that language so I had to move, as Ethlyn did into another career path. Luckily for me I was able to come back into my career path and I’m now teaching here. But you have to come to the conclusion if you’re here and you might have to go back to school, but the opportunity is really good.
You can live here, go to school and make a good descent life here, if you’re willing to work for it, it’s not going to be easy and nothing is easy. But if they are willing to come over, work for it and the Jamaicans here are very supportive. We help each other as best as we could. For all of us to survive, was because when we came here we had to like, okay is there any other person that were here on Joyst before us? And they helped us to settle and we helped others to settle, that was the only way we could cope, but you have to make up your mind to work hard at it. You can be anybody you want to be when you are here, the opportunities are here.
Xavier: This wasn’t one of the questions. I didn’t prepare this question, but, for independence, is there like a celebration? I know it’s now COVID. Is there typically a celebration for Independence there in Dublin, Ireland.
Sherene: Yes. Every year we kind of do an independence party. So we go to a big independence party and everybody comes dressed up in their Jamaican outfit. You have to order from home so anytime anybody is going to Jamaica, oh you need to bring me my clothes from Jamaica for Independence Day. We all dressed up and we kind of be like, ‘yep we’re true Jamaicans’ that day. We have been doing that for years since we’ve been here, and that was one thing we’ve never falter on. Every single year for the past 20 years that I’ve been here we’ve been having Independence Day celebration.
Ethlyn: Even if it’s in someone’s backyard.
Xavier: Wow, wow, that’s great. Well ladies listen, I appreciate you all taking the time out to join me and I wish you all the best. Thanks for the words of wisdom that you’ve dropped on us about Ireland and what it’s like as Jamaicans living there. And again, I know we’re in COVID time, blessings to you all and your family and thank you again for joining us on Jamaicans.com.
Ethlyn: Thank you for having us.
Sherene: Thanks for having us.