I’m tired of wanting to be in Ireland
The concepts of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ have held me back, writes Ceire Sadlier as she leaves Zambia
On my second day in Zambia I went ape. “Are the taps and baths and sinks just for show then?” I asked the landlord as she explained that there was not enough water pressure in the area to have running water in the house.
I stormed back through our gate, past the drunk guard, over a cockroach, into the bedroom. I can still hear my fingernails scraping the wall behind me, feel the hot rage coming up and out of my throat and see my husband, Maurice, duck as my flip-flops flew off my feet and across the room. I was so tired, I was so lost, I felt I had no control of my life and I definitely did not want to be in Zambia.
I had been born 26 years earlier in my parents’ bed in neighbouring Malawi. They had a good life in Donegal in the 1970s. Lovely house, good jobs, happy children. So why, I asked my father, did they move to Africa? He told me that he was driving to work one day in his yellow VW Beetle and he just thought, “I’m going to live the same day over and over again for the rest of my life”.
He suggested to my mother that he might apply for a job he had seen in the Economist with the World Bank in Ndola, Zambia. It would just be two years, and they would then come back and my father would start his own accountancy firm in Ballyshannon.
There was a moment of terror, he says, as they drove out the gate with their three small children in the back seat, when he had thought: are we doing the right thing?
Return to Zambia
They came back 33 years and six countries later, just in time for us to announce on return from our honeymoon that we were moving to Zambia.
I thought it would be easy. Africa? Sure, I was born there. Moving? Sure, I’ve been doing it all my life. No bother to me.
I never did learn to love this place. I remember an Irish guy who left a few years ago writing about what he would miss the most about Zambia. The power cuts, he said. The water shortages, he said. Will you really? I mean, really?
Maybe that is just it. Maybe I didn’t have the right attitude towards all the things that don’t go according to plan. But actually, it’s not those irksome blunders that have stood between me and Zambia, because there are other things that can draw you to a place – its history, its landscape, its culture – but they didn’t. Zambia is just not for me, nor I for it.
I have wasted a shameful amount of time wishing I was somewhere else. At first, anywhere else but, more recently, perhaps since having children, in Ireland. “I’m so tired of wanting to be in Ireland. I can’t even remember any more why I’m so obsessed with it,” I gulped to my friend Isabelle on our Sunday walk.
She told me not to let go of the idea, that it was healthy, normal, important.
I almost crave the scripted life that caused restlessness in my father 40 years ago. It is the concepts of “home” and “belonging” that have held me back – the idea, wrong as it may be, that if we were in Ireland things would be just that little bit better.
We are leaving Zambia now, but we’re not going to Ireland. We’re going to Tanzania, and I can’t spend the next two or three or five years wishing I was somewhere else.
Zambia, Tanzania, Ireland – you are not my home. Maurice, you are my home. Juno, you are my home. Milo, you are my home. As long as we are together, we are where we belong.
This article appears in the Life pages of The Irish Times today. Ceire has written previous articles for the blog about leaving good friends behind in Ireland, being ignorant of the property tax as an emigrant, making a life in a place that isn’t ‘home‘, Christmas in Lusaka, the very Irish way of being kind, and flying home for her father-in-law’s funeral. Her articles also appear on her own blog, theirishexzaminer.com.