Created: 29 December 1999
Updated: 24 October 2000
I have been in Ireland since September 1999. I came here to do volunteer work in a home for people with disabilities, see the country (and maybe even a bit of the rest of Europe) and take a bit of a "time-out" between my life in Chile and my life in South Africa.
Ireland is wonderful, green, peaceful, friendly – although sometimes I find the ways of doing things a little frustrating. I found it particularly easy to be able to open my mouth and speak English and have everyone understand me, and me them. Well, almost … I must confess that I struggled, especially at the beginning, with some of the more pronounced regional accents.
Now, accents are funny things. My parents were Roman Catholic and I attended Catholic schools as a child and adolescent. In fact, just about every Irish person I met in South Africa was a nun, a priest or a religious brother. When I came to Ireland, I flew from Chile to Amsterdam with KLM, and then on to Ireland with Aer Lingus. When the Aer Lingus pilot started to welcome the passengers aboard, my first, subconscious impression was: "Oh my goodness, there is a priest flying this plane!" It took a week or two for me to dissociate the lilting voices from my childhood memories.
Even once I had become accustomed to the accent, I still had difficulties. Every country has its own use of vocabulary, and Irish English is no different. After muddling through the accent, I could still be confronted with a sentence like:
"Breda is just after giving out to John for taking those yokes out of the press and drawing on them with a biro!"
It took me a while to know that, for example, the above sentence means:
"Breda has just scolded John for taking those things out of the cupboard and drawing on them with a ballpoint pen!"
My work is – well – a relevation to me. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought I would be doing things like this – bed baths, dressing people, feeding people, physically carrying people to the bathroom for toileting and bathing, emptying catheter bags, even assisting with enemas. I read to people, everything from novels to letters to religious books. I help to take people shopping, to museums, to lunch. I play games and chat and write letters for people. And I find this work incredibly rewarding. I’ve had plenty of other new experiences too, everything from dressing up as an elf to being hit in the eye by a snowflake on Christmas morning!
For some of the people here, verbal communication is impossible. I have made friends who have to use their hands, their feet, even their eyes to communicate, and discovered that it is possible to maintain meaningful, mutually enjoyable conversation in this way. I have met people with lively, interesting, vivacious minds trapped in bodies that won’t obey them. I have learned how important it is for all people to be able to give, and to do as much for themselves as possible. This could mean washing and dressing oneself, or even going to the extreme effort of moving one’s head forward and then upright again, in order to make it easier for a carer to tie on a bib. All of the people here have normal intelligence (give or take the odd learning disability), except two. One of these two has a congenital condition, the other had a serious car accident as an adult, and has been left with permanent brain damage. Most people here have conditions like cerebral palsy, spinabifida and multiple sclerosis. The residents include biochemists and university professors – anyone can be struck down by disease or accident, and it is unfair to dehumanise and marginalize those that are.
But, enough about my work.
I work as a volunteer, but I do have a place to sleep in the nurse’s home (along with another volunteer and two staff members) and I do receive full board. And the food here is delicious. It took a while to convince my colleagues that I couldn’t eat the mountains of food heaped on my plate, though. Now, thankfully, I serve myself. I also have a family friend (Shuana) nearby, a South African of Irish descent who married an Irishman, and I often spend time at their farm. I have always been a city girl, and I love living out on the countryside. I love singing old MacDonald had a Farm to little Tia (Shauna's daughter) and hearing real cows mooing outside. I love the ostriches (don’t ask – it’s a looooong story) that I can see out of my bedroom window. I love the idea of having to put on Wellies to go and search for Norman (Shauna's husband) in the farmyard, although the reality of squidging through ankle-deep cowshit does leave something to be desired. I don’t have a lot to do with the farm, but Norman takes me along to the odd calving, and I help out with some of the admin work at home.
Ireland is a small country. It is possible to travel around most of it in short bursts of three or four days. In fact, even day trips allow one to discover lovely hidden, or not-so-hidden, treasures. I haven't had time to write detailed descriptions of my travels within Ireland, but I thought a few pictures might whet your appetite.
A three day trip took me to Sligo:
Another three day trip took Carla (Shauna's daughter) and I to Galway, Connemara, the Burren, and home through Limerick and Tipperary:
A day out took me, with Shauna and Carla, to Glendaloch, with a short stop at Victor's Way Indian Meditations Garden:
I have also gone on a short trip to Dunkerque (Dunkirk), France, with Siobhan, one of the residents here. If you are interested in reading about it, please enter here
I have travelled to the centre of Dublin quite often - I get there as often as I can. Dublin is one of my favourite cities, and I’ve been in quite a few. It is comparatively small, and everyone there is so friendly. Filled with Georgian houses with their brightly painted doors, brass knockers and peacock fanlights, not to mention the old bootscrapers, it has a character quite distinct from any other city I’ve visited. The river Liffey runs through the city and is spanned by numerous bridges, each with its own character. The museums are wonderful (my favourites, so far, are the National Museum and Dublinia) and the city is filled with old churches, statues, fountains and monuments. And gardens! St. Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square are very beautiful, well-populated by birds, flowers, trees, streams and statues.
So far, life in Ireland has been very good to me. I am at the point where I need to decide how long I will stay here. My visa is valid until August 2000. But, sooner or later, I have to get back to real life in South Africa. Or…who knows where I may end up next.
Updated: 24 October 2000
I loved Ireland! I ended up staying there until two days before my visa expired, at the end of August. I used my time fruitfully - I travelled a bit inside Ireland itself, and also managed to make a number of trips to other parts of Europe and North Africa. But what stays with me is not so much my travels, as the home I found at St. Patrick's. It was a very rewarding and fulfilling year and now, back in South Africa, I am terribly homesick for Ireland (as I am still for Chile - it is maybe more a blessing than a curse to have the privilege of being homesick for so many places on our planet)! For those of you who are used to my travel writing, this page may be a bit of a disappointment - I don't have much here in the way of travel tips and reports. But please enjoy the photos, and I hope you find the links and my list of special places in Ireland useful.