Stories from Cork, Ireland (Part 1)

I have so far spent 26 days in Cork, Ireland. Cork is Ireland second biggest city after Dublin. People of Cork are called Corkonians (sounds funny). Cork is also known as the “rebel county”. I like it here because you get to feel the real culture and traditions of people. There is a good quote that says “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”

The best way to travel to Cork is by train from Dublin Heuston train station. It is a 2 ½ hour journey to Kent train station in Cork. The first days in a foreign country can be very stressful, emotional and also confusing. So many things to understand and workaround. Understanding the currency, where to buy basics like food and medicine. Adjusting to time zone. And many other things.

Food, shopping and accommodation. We were lucky that ICOS has already booked and paid for accommodation within university hostels. That is good. A well-furnished room, with a shared kitchen and common room. Perfect place for a postgrad student. Other foreign students had difficulty getting accommodation. Apparently, there is a housing shortage in Ireland, especially in college towns like Cork.

When it comes to shopping, at first you find it difficult because of trying to convert the prices to Ugandan shillings. For example a meal in a restaurant maybe 10 euros, so in your head, you try to calculate 10 x 4000 gives you UGX 40,000. Why would you use all that for just one meal only? That amount buys you food for one week in Lira. However, I got advice from a Ugandan living here in Cork – that the best way to live a normal life is that don’t convert currencies. Just buy whatever you want. After all, you are in Ireland, not Uganda. Currency values and prices are different. Just like in Uganda, eating out (in restaurants) is quite expensive. To cut down food spending, the best way is to buy food and cook. It is even better because you get to eat what you are familiar with – in my case Irish potatoes, rice, pork, beef, lamb, eggs, eggplant, chicken and cabbages are good. While I am upgrading my papers, I am also upgrading my cooking skills. It has been a long time since I last prepared a meal back home (Mandela’s mum is always fully in charge of the kitchen).

Lectures, multinational class & accents. The first week of lectures was difficult, trying to get used to mzungu’s accent. Funny enough, just like in Uganda, every region here is Ireland has a different accent. And the Cork accent is weird. The trick was to sit in front, so I could grab all the words. Another thing was getting used to a class of students from many countries. Uganda, Togo, Nigeria, Japan, China, Slovenia, Ireland, UK, US, Korea. Different countries, different accents but same class.

The weather, leisure and culture. Ireland is predominantly Catholic, while their neighbours Northern Ireland are Anglican. Despite being overly religious, they are also have drinking & smoking culture. As my favourite taxi man told me, the Irish people believe that God will always forgive them for taking a little Guinness. Smoking? Don’t blame them – the weather is harsh. For leisure sport, the university has a sports arena (Mardyke) free for all students. I am yet to go there. For now, I prefer taking walks, sitting somewhere listening to Irish traditional and pop music on FM stations. And then, there is the internet of course – stream anything. Summer is over. We are now in autumn (remember geography lessons about 4 seasons in Europe?) up to November. The Irish say they have changeable weather (one-minute raining, next minute shinning). For now, it is much getting colder (average 11-140C) with lots of rain. You can forget your phone but not an umbrella & jacket.

Traditional, Analogue, Digital – all together. One thing I have found absurd is that the Irish people have the technology to do things, but also like to keep the old traditional way of doing things. After opening an account, the bank insisted that they would post (instead of giving me) the Debit card to me, yet I stay 200 metres away. Then, after getting the card, they insist I had to download an app to set me up for internet bank. They treasure their old ways of doing things but also incorporate modern technology. Sounds good because it favours all generations of people. I am slowly getting used to it. For official things, you need an appointment. The other thing is adjusting the time. I had never known that in Europe, they adjust the time (one hour forward) during winter and again 1 hour back during summer. We were told at the orientation to be ready to time adjustments (meaning Uganda will be 2 or 3 hours behind) depending on the period. I just find unfair. But nothing to do. And the Irish people only strictly follow time for only official things. Otherwise, they use what they call “5-minute rule”-be at least 5 minutes late. This applies to social events & functions.

Stress, Loneliness and Courage to move forward. I must admit that one of the hardest decisions I have made in life is to decide to come here- leaving family behind. It is very difficult walking away from kids – and answering the many questions they ask. Sometimes, I still think I made the wrong decision. That I could have remained in Uganda and tried other ways of moving my career forward. This only brings stress. When these thoughts come to my mind, I remember that I am not the first, neither will I be the last – in pursuing education abroad. Through the history of mankind, many men and women have left the homeland to go to distant lands to pursue different things. For pursuing education, these people come to mind. Aggrey Awori, Museveni, Mwalimu Nyerere, Andrew Mwenda, Peter Okwoko, Paul Kagame, Winnie Byanyima, my friend Zibusiso Dube from Zimbabwe. The list is endless. And there is a sense in which society listens and appreciate you more. After all, you have seen things in distant lands (that most haven’t seen). Of course, most people come here and refuse to go back. For me, my project here is the MSc only, nothing more. I have never entertained the idea of coming to Europe or America and remaining here permanently. Working for a few years is okay. Finally, the loneliness is real. Just too much. Everyone stays indoors. I miss home. Fair enough, WhatsApp takes you home – to at least to hear their voices and see their smiles. for now, I am still a Ugandan Corkonian. End.

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