By Ellen Onyango
When I finally got a visa to go study in Ireland, it dawned on me that I knew nothing about this country. In a frantic panic, I rushed to google, shakily typing ‘Republic of Ireland’. You know google, always the one to bring up all sorts of information. It was overwhelming. A map here, directions there, news, YouTube videos and so on…till page 9. I gave up before I even started, deciding to just go shopping instead. After all, I was going abroad and it’s common knowledge (at least in Uganda) that one must buy the nicest things before they travel to the great overseas, lest they look like they don’t belong. But little did I know…
That I’d need to carry only warm clothes: If you’re coming from a part of the world that is warm and has some extreme temperatures like the tropics, then you must carry only and I repeat, only warm clothing. You will find this place cold from the get-go. I remember the minute I walked out of Dublin airport onto the sidewalk, heading for the bus stop. If it wasn’t for the varying entrance and exit doors, I would have run back into the airport. A wave of cold hit my body so hard, it brought me goosebumps and a powerful shiver I did not see coming. It was 14°C in the autumn season. “You should be thankful it’s this warm!”, said the Higher Learning Institutions transport assistant who saw me clutching to my shawl that had never failed to give me warmth, until now. And she was right. It has only gotten colder since. That is Limerick too. Highs of up to 16°C and lows of I don’t know how far, I’ve only been here 3 months. I’ll let you know. But you do get used to it, so fret not. Just carry all your warm clothing and you will enjoy the great outdoors.
That I’d find good food: There was nothing on the internet to suggest multi-culturalism about Limerick to me, especially from an African perspective, except maybe Ishmael Mothibi on YouTube. I wanted to find out if I could find our famous Ugandan ‘matooke’ or plantain as is known to the world, smoked fish and groundnut sauce, garden eggs, a particular kind of ‘super’ rice that I’d grown up eating and a bunch of other food. This was a real concern for me. So, I carried as much of ‘our food’ as I could, hoping that I could find a way to send for more once I got there. I chuckle at this thing I did now, because most of that food I carried is still on the shelf waiting to be eaten. Look, there is so much variety of food in Limerick that you will be amazed. I have not missed the food back home much. And just last week, a Nigerian friend I made here told me that he found a ‘cultural’ shop in town which sells plantain and other foodstuffs indigenous to Africa and some tropical countries in some parts of the world. Get ready to work out my friend, because you will eat to your fill and need to burn those calories.
That some services here are actually slow: I often heard foreigners in Uganda complain that ‘we’ are slow at a number of things which stems right from our culture. Slow with service delivery, getting things done, the way we speak and move, even how we eat. And I agreed, our culture has taught us to do things a ‘certain way’ that could seem slow to foreigners. Now in Ireland, being a first world country and way more developed than Uganda, I expected lightning bolt fast speeds of everything. Sadly though, this has not been the case. Right from the airport, where the school bus picked us up five hours after our arrival, to receiving our ATM cards a month plus after opening bank accounts, to the internet speeds from our mobile data service provider (whose name I will not say), I have been unpleasantly amazed. Don’t get me wrong, lots of things have been fast, but the areas of business you’d expect to deliver in time have been the most disappointing. Oh, and there’s no Uber in Limerick. Just cab taxi service and bus. You might need to just get yourself a bicycle when you get here.
That I’d make friends easily: The University of Limerick is known as one the best International universities in (dare I say) the world. You will find students from every ethnicity in the world, I think. To add, Irish people are really nice and friendly. This part of my experience so far has been the easiest and fun-nest.
That it’s actually really beautiful: Nope, I am not exaggerating. This place is so beautiful. I wish I could add a crying emoji here just so you resonate with the sentiment in my heart as I write this. When I shared the view from my window online, someone commented that it looked like a fairytale. See this picture attached and tell for yourself. If you must rush here for something, then let it be the magical sceneries and beautiful landscape.
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