Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Postcards from abroad: Why we love where we live now

More than 100 emigrants entered our recent competition to write short pieces about why they love their new homes. Here is a selection, sent with pics from all over the world. WINNER: Steven Lydon, Colombia.

Fri, Jul 20, 2012, 08:19


More than 100 emigrants entered our recent competition to write short pieces about why they love their new homes. Here is a selection, sent from all over the world


WINNER: STEVEN LYDON, COLOMBIAMy apartment window rattles as the shop across the street plays salsa from speakers bigger than my torso. The tropical bass-line never lingers on a single note, penetrating the single-sheet pane and compelling it to dance. My own attempts provoke unconcealed mirth on the part of the locals; I tell them that, being Irish, my hips are fixed in place. Where is Ireland? Families lounge in the summer heat, punctuated only by an occasional foghorn as street vendors carry wooden carts of fresh pineapple, passing under the palm trees dividing the road. The cracked tarmac struggles to suppress the jungle lying underneath. In this neighbourhood, a product of the dubious philanthropy of Pablo Escobar, I am the only gringo. But I am immensely satisfied that the shopkeeper has begun to call me amigo.



MARY CATHERINE WARD, NORTH DAKOTA:I’m in Bismarck on the prairies of the Missouri, a river wide, deep and temperamental. Colourful bluffs rise from its banks and provide for Canada geese, deer, and once, the winter lodges of the Sioux tribes. Cross the Missouri and you’re in the wild West – tumbleweeds, cowboys and all.We are close to the Badlands, with bison, antelope, rattlesnakes and vistas that rival the Grand Canyon. Bismarck is Galway-sized, leafy and broad-streeted. Winters are snowy but bright. Locals will ski, snowmobile and ice-fish for months. Once thaw comes, everything bursts into life. Street fairs everywhere, bicycles and motorbikes fill the roads, and the sandy riverbanks become bathing beaches. June has lilac-scented air, and July smells like barbecue and fireworks.This state has an overabundance of friendliness, a billion-dollar surplus in its budget and very low unemployment rates. Best of all, it has become, again, home.


TOMÁS Mac BREANDÁIN, SAN FRANCISCO:It was Flann O’Brien who proposed the theory that if you ride your bike often enough on bumpy Irish roads, an exchange of molecules will occur and you will become part bicycle. I had this in mind as I trundled along on a Muni train in San Francisco at high speed. As the train bumped and swayed around, I thought: “If this keeps up I will become part San Francisco. I will become cool.” I swear some freckles began to disappear.As the train rattled by Dolores Park, some of my more reddish hairs appeared kind of brown . . . my God, it’s working. I got off downtown, and within a few blocks I had bumped into people from all over the world, their shoulders exchanging molecules with mine. I knew my transformation was complete when I ordered a frappuccino . . . and me from Dún Laoghaire. Frappuccino. Jaysus.


MATTHEW SMYTH, BALI, INDONESIA:When I look out my window I see a small temple to the sun god on a pebble beach. As the sun rises behind it and bathes the bay in orange and gold, my landlady makes her offerings of incense and flowers to placate the unruly spirits that live in lonely places and the deep sea.This tiny fishing community has welcomed me, the newcomer from a distant land. I make my living by teaching people how to dive without any equipment, surprising them with their own ability to hold their breath. Although I wish I could see family more often, I am very grateful for this deep bay, this relaxed and tolerant village and this simple life.


MEAVE COSGROVE, VARESE, ITALY:Lizards turn a brilliant electric blue when the sun fries them. In the summer, crickets are the backdrop to everything. The piazza is austere in its 1930s design but, as teenagers gather around the fountain, ready to face the night, anticipation is more tangible than any past politics. Kisses are pressed warmly against cheeks and laughter is unrestrained.Humid air hits you as you step out of the train. Passing the pasticceria, glorious smells of pastries tantalise you, and an old lady cycles past, smiling a greeting every day though you have never met. The sky darkens to a deep grey, static fills the air and nature is hushed; leaves flutter vigorously – then when the heaviness feels almost too stifling, the sky splits and a large drop falls on to the ground.


CIARA FLYNN, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA:I’ve climbed to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and been captivated by the glimmering lights of the city below. I’ve camped outside Sydney Opera House and revelled in the most spectacular New Year’s Eve celebration on Earth. I’ve kicked back on Bondi Beach and watched surfers battle the waves.A thriving Irish community helps keep the echoes of a distant home reverberating. I have a job here, friends, a life. Sydney is vibrant, diverse and brimming with possibility: a concrete playground for a young immigrant. It can never replace Dublin, but for the moment, it’s home.


MAEVE GALVIN, PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA:My view spans colourful pagodas, French colonial-era mansions, wooden shacks and new apartment blocks. On the street below is the bustle of tuk-tuks and coconut sellers and the smiling faces of street children.Young wannabe Korean pop stars with hipster haircuts speed past on motorbikes and revered monks in orange robes walk past with quiet dignity, covering themselves from the intense sun.Soon “the charming city” will be like a dozen others, but right now it is unique. It is achingly tragic, astonishingly beautiful, frustrating, stimulating and intoxicating. It is geographically and culturally miles from home but it is home for the moment and has unexpectedly given me a career, a community and even love.


BRIAN O’SULLIVAN, CHILEThe street around the corner is called O’Carrol, and the next avenue is called O’Higgins, after famous mercenaries and rebels. People drink tea and eat potatoes, and at the moment it is cold, windy and wet. It’s staunchly conservative and Catholic, and the local sense of humour is witty but dark.The only Irish here were the “Wild Geese”, survived now only by their surnames on streets that the people can’t pronounce, where Spanish-speaking locals wash down weekly barbecues with wine. Instead of GAA there is rodeo.In deepest South America, so different from home, the reassuring Irish historical presence allows me to lie to myself: “I’m not really homesick.”


GERARD P MONTAGUE, BAVARIA, GERMANY:The clanking cowbells of Brown Swiss cattle in the alpine pasture, a medley of birdsong, distant tractor noises; we hear our mountain landscape before seeing it.Home is a tiny Bavarian village, but forget Oktoberfest clichés: the Allgäu people of west Bavaria are quiet and friendly in their laid-back way. We outsiders are welcomed – if we can break the dialect code.Lifestyles are modest, the ideal is self-reliance. Family-built homes are the norm, none without a stack of wood in front for the next winter, or two, or three. Apart from the lovely landscape, snow-clad in winter and Irish-green in summer, it’s solidarity which makes life good.A summer thunderstorm is threatening, so we will help neighbours with the hay. It’s not long since they cleared snow from our driveway. When the rain comes, a brotzeit of aromatic ham, dark bread and cool beer can be had at the village inn.


JOSEPH LAKE, MANHATTAN, US:A friendliness bucks the New Yorker stereotype. Sure, they’ll curse you out. But they’ll also invite you in. “I’m Irish too!” Welcoming, open, gracious. Aggressively so. The Irish rule in Queens, stick together in the Bronx, write in Brooklyn. McCann, McCourt, Tóibín.Ireland’s far, but never closer. First, second, third generations here. In pubs, having the pints, talking politics. The Hudson River, green for Paddy’s day. The NYPD choir, singing Galway Bay. Home from home.


JAMES TAPLIN, DUBAI: I can see a future from the roof of my villa in Dubai. The fact that I can also see the tallest building in the world is irrelevant. Living in Dubai has given me a reason to prosper, a desire to succeed and a vision for my young family. This was missing from my last two years in Ireland.The sun shines every day, yet we rarely discuss the weather. Dubai is built on sand and promises, and I would take that every day over an Ireland that is built on deceit. In Dubai, more than 90 per cent of the population is from somewhere else and that in itself makes you more tolerant. Dubai is the home I need and Ireland is the home I want. With a family to love and nurture, I need to live somewhere that is not Ireland.



I followed my heart to Johannesburg; my choice a person, not a city. I arrived clutching a handful of mental snapshots: high-voltage fences, late-night carjackings, burning tyres, tin shacks, chaos, fear. Hell on Earth. Yes, these pictures are true, but so far from the truth.

Life here is a babel of people from across Africa and beyond. It is copper-red African sunrises, blue-sky winter days, cicada-humming nights. It is Greek koulourakia, Italian shirts, Kenyan muumuus. It is sun-bright strawberries from a Soweto garden; a love letter painted across a downtown rooftop; a minibus full of strangers poring over my map, helping me understand. It is the taste of savannah dust, the astringent desert smell of aloes after the rain. It is hope, and unexpected kindnesses, and the energy of a million aspirations. Is it any wonder I lost my heart all over again?


I awake and draw the curtains. The scent of jasmine reaches me on the cool air and settles me. I pause for longer than I can afford to watch the deep reds, purples and endless greens of my garden. The warm earth complains that morning has arrived, too soon for it to have cooled. A new bird I have never seen chirps busily. I walk out.

Fast budding greens seep through every gap, every crevice in the concrete pathway that labours to hold it back. When I reach the street at 7am I feel like I am the last one up. School children chime in the distance, bicycles wave past, fruit stalls are open for trade. If I move quickly I’ll beat the traffic, dusty and lawless. The blanket of fluffy cloud above, pricked with intense sunshine, tells that it is going to be another scorcher. Good morning Uganda.


My window pictures the blue light of dawn to the soundtrack of waves crashing 50 metres from my pillow. The dress code is relaxed, three or four millimetres of rubber, depending on the season. The first rays graze the beach as I paddle my surfboard out to enjoy my salted breakfast. Maui, Sydney, Bali, Biarritz? No. I live in a more modest paradise, where the art in my window frame never tires, as it varies with the position of my tyres.

Two years have passed since those tyres first gripped the 25th of April Bridge to cross the Rio Tejo into Lisbon, Portugal. My time spent living on those rolling foundations has given me a new sense of home. The river under the towering bridge, moonlit pine trees, or raw Atlantic cliffs fill the view from my campervan window. On the very worst of mornings, it’s hard not to smile.