Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Fringes of ( Irish) Society

Imagine running away from home for fear of being bombed, tortured or killed. Imagine running away as fast as you can, your heart pounding, hearing your torturers run right behind you, coming closer and closer.
Suddenly you see a beautiful house, full of light and music, with Neon Lights outside spelling 'Welcome, you are safe here'. You stop for a second, not believing that you finally found a safe place, you run forward and knock on the door. The door opens, a voice says, do come in, you are safe now. You are inside and for a moment all you can see is the light, all you can hear is the beautiful music, and you cry tears of relief and happiness, you are safe.

The day after your arrival in the safe haven of the Emerald Isle, though, reality kicks in. The gentle voice who welcomed you is now not so gentle any more, but is trying to make you see that you actually had no reason to run, that you were really just pretending and that a serious investigation is needed to find out whether you were indeed at risk of being killed or tortured, or if you were just hungry and needed a place with plenty of food.
As long as this investigation is running, they say, you can stay in a place called Direct Provision Centre, where you will get food, not the best food, but something you can eat and you may have to share your room with a few other people who also ran away from their countries, and you ask if you could maybe do some jobs to earn some money and find your own place and cook your own food while you wait for this investigation to finish, and the voice says 'No'. Thou shalt not work! Thou shalt get 19€ a week to buy thyself a drink and a snack, but thou shalt not work!

So what do you do?

You try your best. You try and get on with the others in the Direct Provision houses. You befriend them and you chat to them and you soon find out you are all bored out of your minds.
So you put your pennies together and get some alcohol and organise a party. It feels good to be drunk, you want to do it again, but hey, your week's 19 € is all gone. What to do?
Maybe if you could do some work on the black? Don't let the Direct Provision Centre's manager notice, just go for walks around town, find a restaurant to wash the dishes where the owners don't care if you have a work permit.
Go and paint houses, fix cars, anything, anything you used to do at home and can put to use here will do. A long as it is a little secret.
So you find a job like that and you work and earn less than the average worker, but more than the 19 € a week, and you are able to buy more alcohol and party and forget.
The more alcohol you consume the more people you meet who also drink to forget, and you soon form a circle of friends of the wrong kind.
You work on the black and you drink and you drink some more, but you are a grown-up man and you need sex. So you date drinking Irish girls who swear every two words and want an adventure with a man of a different colour. Drunk, of course.

You carry this on for a few months and you drink more and more until the day your drunken spirit starts a fight with another guy who thinks you screwed his woman. You return to your shared room with two black eyes and a few teeth missing and you fall asleep, or rather nearly in a coma.
You wake up with a bursting headache and stumble to the bathroom, and there you see yourself in the mirror.
'Is this me?', you think. You remember how only last year, before the bombing started you were a teacher in your country, you enjoyed a certain status and you were respected by everyone in your environment. Is this me? How did I get here?
Am i really this bum that goes around drinking and fighting? How can I get out of this?
You stay indoors that day and find a woman from one of your neighbouring countries who is willing to talk to you. You tell her about what has happened and how ashamed you are of what you have become. She doesn't react.
She stares at the floor and sighs. You ask her what she's thinking. She looks at you, her eyes filled with tears, and says 'at home I was a nurse, I took care of people, Here I take care of only men, with big bellies, in their cars, on the side of the road..........

This, dear readers, is what is happening right here, on the fringes of society. The Direct Provision Centres are a source of deep misery, where people are forced to live in very bad circumstances and trouble is brewing. If the government doesn't find an alternative solution to the treatment of asylum seekers, it will soon be faced with serious problems that have been brewing right under our noses and we have all chosen to neglect hem.
What do you think when you pass by the Direct Provision Centres? Do you even know what and where they are?
What do you think when you see a black man walking on his own late at night, looking drunk? Have you ever thought 'this guy is probably a highly qualified teacher, doctor or IT specialist who had to run away', or do you just think 'Another one of those so called asylum seekers'?

It is high time to investigate the provision centres and to act and give people the dignity they so deserve!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Expat Life is Good In Ireland

One of the best things I have done over the past few weeks is making the decision that life is what you make of it, and you can sit down and despair or you can go out and make things happen. I chose the latter.

I got in touch with Jeanett Taku, a mighty wonderful Nigerian woman who lives in Cork and who organised the very first Miss Bronze and Gold Ireland scholarship pageant, with the goal of empowering young women. The prize money for miss Bronze Ireland would be money to pay for college fees.
I like that idea, interviewed Jeanett about the event and then invited my friend, Ken Buckley, cultural ambassador of the Irish in Europe Association.
We both invited our own friends and were treated like royalty at the event.

The evening went well, and apart from the wonderful ladies who took part, I also got to meet a lot of new people. And as one thing lead to another, I met and interviewed Cordelia and Tony, who were organising a multi cultural evening with the noble goal to bring all the different nationalities in Cork together and party.
And there is no better way to enjoy yourself than at a party with African House music.
Myself and Ken went again, with friends. At our table were two South Africans, one Argentinian, One Irish man, one Polish lady and myself. We had a ball. And we made new friends again.
I am now working on an art project with Kasia, The Polish lady, and I found a very good friend in Julian from South Africa.
It took me 16 years to come to this stage, For too long I tried to be like the Irish, but I now realise it is a lot more fun to be just Belgian and enjoy myself the way I am.

I am meeting Cordelia and Tony again this week, because we want to work on the next cultural night and hopefully get enough attention for it, so Irish people will join in as well and get a taste of what their new neighbours are like, and maybe find new friendships.

Last week then, this blog helped Kinsale to stardom in Belgium. The crew of Vlaanderen Vakantieland, a programme on VRT, the Flemish National TV, came over to Ireland to film the Wild Atlantic Way, I met them at their last stage in Kinsale, we were wined and dined in the Fishy Fishy restaurant by Martin Shanahan and then I walked around with the celebrities, showing some of the lovely places Kinsale has on offer and talking very briefly about the historic background of Kinsale. It was pretty cool to walk around being filmed, my ten minutes of fame were great fun anyway. We ended the evening with a barbeque with the Flemish crew, it was great to feel home again for a couple of hours speaking and joking in Dutch.
So there you go. Let's all become a bit more cosmopolitan and show this country off at home, it can only be a win-win situation.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

800 Babies

In Tuam, county Galway, werd onlangs een massagraf van tenminste 796 babies ontdekt. De babies werden in een lege sceptische tank begraven, lijk op lijk. het gaat om kinderen die stierven in de periode tussen 1925 en 1961. Ze stierven aan verwaarlozing, ondervoeding, ook TBC, mazelen en maag-, darmonsteking. De nonnen hadden genoeg geld om de kinderen te voeden, ze verkochten de gezonde kinderen aan families in de VS.
Dit schokkend nieuws kwam als een donderslag toe. We dachten dat we het intussen allemaal wisten, we dachten dat de schandalen nu wel allemaal blootgelegd werden.
Na een Twitter campagne pikte the Daily Mail het verhaal eindelijk op, en Vrijdagavond kwam het eindelijk in het nieuws op RTE.
Er zal nu een gedenksteen opgericht worden met de naam van elk kind dat daar begraven ligt. Maar is dat genoeg? Wordt het nu geen tijd om eindelijk toe te geven dat de Katholieke kerk hier in Ierland schuldig is aan serieuze misdaden tegen de mensheid? Moeten we weer tevreden zijn met de uitleg dat 'het vroeger anders was', dat niet alle nonnen en pastoors mededaders waren en dat er veel goed werk verricht werd? 'Wir haben es nicht gewusst?
Mijn mening daarover is dat als iemand lid is van een instelling die misdaden pleegt, en daar bewust van is en toch in die instelling blijft, dan is die persoon schuldig door associatie.
Hier is een excellente blogpost die een inzicht geeft in de Ierse 'familie -eer' die aanzet gaf ( en nog geeft) tot zulke misdaden.

Ierland, het mooie groene land, met zijn Guiness, Leprechauns en plezier, heeft donkere, donkere geheimen, en het wordt tijd dat de schuldige instelling ook schuld bekent.

Hier is de RTE nieuws uitzending.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Some advice before you head off on the Wild Atlantic Way

Many a tourist will be visiting the West this year, at least that's what we all hope with the Wild Atlantic way being advertised everywhere. There are a few things you need to be aware of when you come to the West, and who beter to tell you than someone like me, a true foreigner who's been living in the (South) West for the past 16 years.

Here are a few things you need to know when traveling the Wild Atlantic Way.

1. Language
According to the 2011 census 82.600 people speak Irish every day outside of work/school in Ireland. The areas where Irish is the first langugae are known as the Gaeltacht.
if you see this sign , you're in an area where Irish is the predominant language. You will not understand a word of what is being said, but do not panic, everyone in these areas is bilingual and if you ask kindly, they will help you in English.
You will be popular if you try and say a few words like 'conas atá tú'
( how are you), or if someone says that to you, you could answer'Tá me go maith',

( I'm fine).
Caution! You might think people are speaking Irish sometimes, when, infact, they speak English. Like these Cork/Kerry farmers

2. Greetings.
You will notice while driving that everyone greets you. I was told this is not out of kindness, but just to make sure not to miss anyone known to the driver, as to ignore someone could be taken very badly. It is therefore better to greet everyone you pass. The way to do this is by sticking up your index or briefly hold up your hand. Don't wave at people, that is just too silly.

If you pass someone you talked to the day before and that person says 'how are ya', please don't make a fool of yourself by stopping and explaining you have a bit of a sore head that morning because you're not used to drinking Guiness, don't stop at all, just keep walking and mumble 'grand, and yourself?' You should never say 'very well', that's just not done, in order to make the other person feel OK about himself you just say 'not too bad', while walking on, of course!

If you do want to start a conversation, talk about the weather. People will stop and take their time to talk about the weather. Now bear in mind that ' a lovely day' in Ireland can vary from a very grey dull day with no wind and no rain to blue sky and sunshine. Irish people are always very optimistic when it doesn't rain. I needed a few years before I could say 'isn't it a gorgeous day', while looking at a grey sky. But here any day without rain and heavy winds is a gorgeous day.

Don't be shocked if a man winks at you while turning his head slightly. It is not an indecent proposal ( as it would be where I come from), it is just his way of saying hi. I've never seen a woman do it, so ladies, don't try. Come to think, men don't try either, there is a special technique to it, which only Irish men from the West seem to master.
No, Irish people don't say 'top of the morning to you' , I've only heard it said once in my whole 16 years here.

3. The Ocean
The Atlantic ocean is wild! Be careful. Learn about rip tides, try and bath at beaches with life guards, stay close to your children and don't take risks. Tides come in very fast in some places.
The ocean is cold. Think about wearing a wet suit. This is not the mediteranean, although last year you could have mistaken the coast for it, that was exceptional. You normally freeze in the water. No topless beaches here!
The ocean is fun. Go surfing, kayaking, kite surfing, wind surfing, sailing. Anything is possible. Just leave the jet skis behind. We can do without the noise.

Eat fish. There are some great fish restaurants around.
Enjoy Irish breakfast. You won't need lunch and you can save some money that way. Make sure you know the difference between an English breakfast and an Irish one, and when you do, come and explain the difference to me, I still haven't quite figured it out.
If you eat out, always check if a restaurant takes cards. Some don't and you don't want to end a great night out with washing dishes.

5.Night Life Well, that can be great fun of course. Try and seek out the traditional bars, the most fun you can have is when people burst out in song spontaneously, although, beware, they might put you on the spot and demand a song from you. So, to make sure, rehearse a few 'party pieces' at home, don't end up singing a nursery rhyme in a panic.
Enjoy the wealth of musical talent in Ireland, you can never be disappointed.
Be aware of extreme drunks,.
If you happen to pass by a teenage disco, where teenagers are locked up in a hall with music from 9 pm till midnight. You are not prepared for the revealing clothes, at least not if you're not British, or Irish. You will be shocked by the make up and the mile-high heels the 14 to 16 year old girls wear. Your mouth will fall open and that looks silly. Mine did, the first time I went and picked my eldest son up from such a disco, and again another time ( around Halloween) when I saw one of the girls dressed in an Ann Summers red latex nursing outfit . No, this is not meant for untrained eyes.
You do get used to it, but not during the course of a holiday break.

Most of all, enjoy the beauty, the sound and the fun of this wonderful part of the country. Send me some pictures!

Monday, May 5, 2014

A cry for help in Ireland. What to do?

On Saturday I went to the Ballydehob jazz festival with my friend Lucy, a Moorish looking woman from the West. Lucy married a Corkonian with an Italian father. I always thought she was the Italian of the two, but I was wrong.
We thoroughly enjoyed our evening, although we barely heard any jazz. The town was buzzing, the charming little pubs that probably never changed over the last 100 years were full,everyone looked happy.
We went in to the Levis' bar and settled in the tiny living room in the back, which felt like a museum with the old stove and the towels drying above it, the lovely old photographs, and posters with bed time prayers on the walls,the kitchen cabinets with porcelain, the sacred heart on the wall, it felt as if grandma Levis had only just gone out the door to get some peat.
A few people sat down at a table next to our seats and we started talking. They were from Edingburgh, visiting their friend who lives in Schull but was from, and here you have it, Sligo.
'Oh dear' I thought, 'here we go, we'll never get away now'. Because, you see, my friend is from Sligo as well, and when two Sligo people meet they have to compare notes on who they know, pass on the gossip and especially show how happy they are to meet another Sligo person.
And I was right .
Lucy 's cousin had been to the same school as the other Sligo lady whose name I can't remember, they told each other where they lived, what they thought of the movie 'The Calvary', which was filmed in Sligo, and used the local butcher's as one of the locations.
Oh and how was the local butcher now? Gossip, gossip, gossip. When I thought everything had been said, the other Sligo lady exclaimed 'wait, there is a Sligo man standing at the bar, he's a musician who lives in Cork, but he's a Sligo man'. It didn't take long before mr Sligo came in, all excited about meeting his town compatriots. Of course he knew such and such and so and so and on and on it went.

It made me think. When I meet another Belgian, we mostly exchange a few words, and then never see each other again, unless it's accidentally. If anyone tells me they know another Belgian, I just say 'Oh Really?' but that's about it. So it is nice to see that over here even being from the same county is special.
What would Lucy do if someone from Sligo became ill, depressed, or needed any other help? I think she'd step in and do all she could to help out.
So, when I got a text message from a fellow Belgian last night saying 'please help' I decided to go and find him.
I don't really know the man. Someone brought me in contact with him a few months ago when he was destitute, thrown out by his wife, unemployed. with no social welfare. I helped him by pointing him to Focus Ireland, invited him over for dinner a few times and went out for a drink and a chat with him as often as I could, but as I was going through a separation myself, he was dragging me down, so I told him , once he had sorted his social security out and found a room, I wouldn't see him anymore. I didn't hear from him again, until last night.
Until that message.
I drove over to where he was at the coast.We talked and talked, I tried to convince him to seek medical help, which he refused. It is not easy to convince an ex- university lecturer, but at least I think I did manage to stop him from doing something stupid, just for the next 24 hours anyway. He went back to his room. I sent him a text this morning, which he answered saying he still felt like it makes no sense to go on living. And this afternoon I got no more replies. And here I am now, worrying about this fellow Belgian, who is somehere in Cork, I have no address, only a mobile number.
I sent him another text asking him to contact The Samaritans, with their free call number. No reply.
What should I do?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

16 jaar in Ierland: Wat ik mis en wat ik kan missen als de pest

Ik ben intussen 16 jaar weg uit Belgie, en er zijn zo een paar dingen die ik echt mis, en andere dingen waarvan ik blij ben dat ik ervan weg/af ben.

De dingen die ik mis, na 16 jaar in Ierland:

1. Terrasjes.
Oh, de terrasjes in de zon, het plezier om buiten een koffie te drinken, of met vrienden to middernacht buiten te zitten eten en drinken, dat is het eerste waar ik aan denk als de zon hier schijnt. 'In Leuven zit de Oude Markt nu vol', denk ik dan terwijl ik zelf ergens binnen zit, want buiten zitten de rokers. Als niet-rokers zijn we er goed op vooruit gegaan met de rokersban in cafés, eerst vond ik het leuk toen ik overal terrasjes zag opduiken, maar nu weet ik het wel. Zelfs buiten kan je verstikken in rook. Er is één gastro-pub waar ze ook het terras in twee gedeeld hebben, en de rokers opsluiten in een glazen kooi met open dak., maar dat is er ééntje, de rest houdt gewoon de rokers buiten op de mooie terrasjes.

2. Kriek.
Het zijn waarschijnlijk mijn Dworpse roots aan mijn vaders kant, die me naar Kriek doen verlangen. Ik houd van de meeste Belgische bieren, maar Kriek kroont ze voor mij. Vorig jaar had Sipke een reis gemaakt door Belgie met zijn Zweedse vriendin, ze kwamen terug met een Kriek als souvenir. Nooit heeft een bier mij zo goed gesmaakt als die koele Kriek in de tuin in de zonneschijn.
Je vind hier wel Stella Artois , Hoegaarden en Leffe, maar daar heb ik geen behoefte aan. Kriek doet me denken aan mijn vakanties in Dworp, bij mijn groottante en mijn grootmoeder die ons altijd een glaasje Kriek met een klontje suiker erin gaf, en meestal ballekes opdiende met opgelegde krieken.

3.Chocolade in al haar vormen.
Choco, lekkere chocolade repen, muizestrontjes, truffels. De chocolade hier in Ierland is maar van lage kwaliteit, en smaakt meer naar karton dan chocolade. Er zijn nu wel een paar chocolatiers, en ze doen hier hun best om Ierse chocolade bekendheid te geven, maar ze winnen het niet van de heerlijke Belgische versie.

4. Mosselen eten met vrienden,
De Ierse mosselen zijn heel lekker, maar er is geen echte mosselcultuur zoals in Belgie. Ik maak maar zelden mosselen klaar, want ik vind het triestig ze op mijn eentje te eten. Mosselen eten is een feest dat met zoveel mogelijk mensen moet gedeeld worden.
Slechts twee van mijn kinderen lusten mosselen, eentje ervan zit op de universiteit in engeland, dus meestal wachten we tot we eens naar Belgie gaan.

Oh waren er hier maar sportscholen! Het zou zoveel gemakkelijker zijn voor Fintan, die nog altijd aan athletiek doet, en het ook heel goed doet. Ik moet hem wel 4 tot 5 keer per week naar Cork brengen ( omwille van slecht openbaar vervoer, zoals verder beschreven)
Fintan gaat naar een protestantse privéshool, voor de sport faciliteiten die ze daar hebben, maar het bleek al vlug dat de sporten enkel rugby en hockey zijn. Er wordt enkel in het derde trimester aan athletiek gedaan, en dan nog met ondermaatse coachen. Gelukkig heeft Fintan nu een goede coach in Cork, en heeft hij een plaatsaanbod gekregen in Cardiff Metropolitan University, hopelijk behaalt hij de gevraagde punten in zijn Leaving Certificate eksamen in Juni en kan hij zich daar gaan uitleven.

7. Een echte boerenmarkt.
De 'farmers markets' hier, zijn eigenlijk fastfood markten, met maar weinig boeren of echte marktkramers. Ze zijn bovendien duur, het is een luxe om iets op de markt te kopen, net het omgekeerde van wat je zou verwachten.
Het is wel gezellig, natuurlijk om 's zaterdagsmorgens op de markt een capuccino te gaan drinken tesamen met een paar vriendinnen, terwijl de straatmuzikant die door de marktkramers betaald wordt gitaar speelt. je kan er pizza's, kebabs, pannekoeken of braadworst eten, klaargemaakte diners kopen, en bio groenten kopen bij de ( Nederlandse) groentekweker. Maar voordelig is het niet en dat verwacht je toch van een markt.

8. Openbaar vervoer
het zou een zegen zijn mochten de oude spoorbanen weer gebruikt worden. Je kan hier nergens naartoe zonder auto. De fiets is ook mogelijk, maar de banen zijn er te gevaarlijk voor, em er zijn geen fietspaden, Er is een bus naar Cork vanuit BAndon, maar dan moet je toch nog eerst aar Bandon rijden. En bussen zijn hier erg duur. Je spaart er echt niets mee uit.

9. Betaalbare en betrouwbare geneeskunde
Tja, dat zegt wel genoeg, denk ik.

Dingen die ik kan missen als de pest

1. Koninklijke families.
Oh wat is het heerlijk om in een republiek te wonen. De president is verkozen door de bevolking en geliefd door iedereen. Geen vernederende familie moeilijkheden, geen adelijke families, geen dotaties. Enkel een man waar iedereen fier op is. Kijk naar Mary Robinson, Mary Mc Aleese, en nu Michael D.Higgins, die zonet een historisch bezoek aan het Verenigd Koninkrijk heeft afgerond, het eerste officieel bezoek van een Ierse president aan het VK.

2. Mannen in speedos op de winkelstraat aan de kust.
Jongens, jongens, dat trekt echt op niets.

3. Chauffeurs onder invloed.
Het valt mij altijd op dat er in Belgie niet te zwaar getild wordt aan de alcoholgrens. Ierland is wel bekend om het hoge alcoholverbruik, maar toch ken ik niemand die nog durft rijden na meer dan de grens gedronken te hebben.
In 2013 waren er 190 verkeersdoden in Ierland. Vogens de Road Safety Authority worden 1 op 3 fatale verkeersongelukken veroorzaakt door alcohol, Dat betekent dat er in 2013 63,3 verkeersdoden vielen wiens dood veroorzaakt werd door alcohol. In Belgie worden 1 op 4 verkeersdoden veroorzaakt door alcohol, er vielen in 2013 720 verkeersdoden, dus 180 hiervan werden door alcohol veroorzaakt. Als Ierland dezelfde bevolking had als Belgie, zouden er 132.9 verkeersdoden veroozaakt zijn door alcohol. een verschil van 35.4% !

4. Het woord 'allochtoon'.
Een verschrikkelijk irriterend woord vind ik.

Er zijn waarschijnlijk nog een pak dingen in beide lijsten waar ik nu niet meteen aan denk, hoe zit dat met de andere expats? Wat staat er op uw lijstjes?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What has Ireland ever done for me?

It's nearly sixteen years now since we moved to Ireland from Belgium. I can still see the scene in the airport. My dad was pushing the buggy with Fintan (2) in it around the departure area in Charleroi airport, Sipke (5) was walking with him and singing ' Molly Malone', the only Irish song we knew at the time, apart from a few notes from 'No, Nay, Never' and 'All Kinds of Everything'.
I don't know what must have gone through my dad's head at the time, he never told me. It must have been tough for him, but he didn't show it.
He did send me a sweet letter a few weeks later, which I keep as my treasure, the only letter my dad ever wrote to me and me alone. Now that he's no longer there, that letter has become the most precious of my posessions, together with my mother's old wrist watch.

A lot has happened since that day, and I think it's time to have a look at my Irish experience so far.
What has Ireland ever done for me?

I have shed the unpleasant Belgian habit of being too formal.
When I first got here, I was seven months pregnant, and went to see a doctor. I was totally shocked when everyone in the clinic called me by my first name. Such rudeness! It didn't take long for me to get used to it, though, and if I go back to Belgium now, I find it very hard to get used to anyone calling me mrs. Demol. I much prefer the Irish way.

I have rediscovered my singing voice.
I used to sing a lot when I was younger. I loved stealing the show during family reunions, or with my friends in school and later in nursing college. But then I met mr Wrong, who told me I was making a complete fool of myself. So I stopped. I never thought of it again. Life took over, and in Belgium life is all about work, and a tiny bit of free time.
It was only when,in Ireland, one night during an after-hunt singsong, I was put on a table in the pub and announced as the lady from a far away country who would sing a tune, that I remembered how I used to sing. I was in a panic and sang the first song that came to my head, a Flemish folk song, which I would have laughed at as a teenager. I sang it and got a warm applause, and I fell in love with the Irish singsongs. I realised I needed some party pieces, and was much better prepared after that. A friend of mine invited me to join the Chorus of Opera Cork, and about 3 years after I arrived in Ireland, I was standing on the stage in the Opera House in Cork as a member of the Chorus in Strauss' 'The Bat' or 'Die Fledermaus'. I never stopped singing since, until a couple of years ago, when family troubles took my voice away again. But the love of music has remained.

I have been able to get rid of the shackles of Catholisism.
This may seem odd, as I have come to a very Catholic country, but the Catholicism here is not what it is in Belgium. I couldn't believe how much the Church rules the lives of most Irish people. The horrible stories of child abuse, the shock I felt when I learned about the Magdalenes, made me sure that I did not want to belong to any religion. I had long had serious doubts before, but the scandals and the exaggerated involvement of the Church in politics and state matters, helped me to make my decision. I am now happy to call myself a secular humanist, and that, thanks to Ireland.

I talk to people that I never met before as if I've always known them.
This is something you do very rarely in Belgium. The chitchat on the train, in a shop, in a lift, in the doctor's waiting room, or just anywhere two strangers are in the same space, is something I would never have done before. Even saying hello when passing someone on a walk has become strange over there. You keep yourself to yourself and the people you know.
It is definitely different here. I have become a true chatterbox. I talk to anyone willing to have a chat, and I find it a lot of fun talking to complete strangers. The funniest is though, that everyone always knows someone I know, whether I meet them in Galway or Dublin, there is always a connection with Cork.

If I have an idea, I can just go ahead and realise it.
It is so easy to be creative in Ireland. Maybe it is in Belgium too, but I have never felt the need to do something different over there, probably because everything is organised for you there anyway..
Apart from starting a jazz club ( which is on a stand-by at the moment due to lack of money), I have organised several concerts. It started with 'Classics in The Countryside', where The Chorus of Opera Cork and The City of Cork Male Voice Choir performed in small churches in the country side, after that I organised a couple of very successful concerts called 'It Must Be The Music' with local artists and a few very willing professionals, and it culminated in the musical theatre that Swiss woman Olivia, together with director Ciaran Bermingham and myself created. It was a love story, told with the use of French songs. We performed during Culture Night in Cork, and at the Bandon Arts Festival. Always with great success.
Unfortunately real life became too much like the story we were acting out, when my husband decided to leave the family, and that's where I lost my voice. But I know for certain that I would never have been able to do this in my own country.
Right now we are in talks to start a community radio in Bandon town, just because we can.

I can now produce and present a radio show.
It's virtually impossible to find an interesting job at my age,but I have become involved with an online radio station, where I have been allowed to produce my own show, The New Rebels and Sounds and Places. The first is a show for immigrants like me , the latter is a world music show.
I didn't apply for a job, I just talked to the woman who was in the process of creating Irish Radio International, and told her I always dreamed of doing a show for immigrants, and she gave me that chance.
So, although it is unpaid, I have learned a load of new skills, and have found something I really enjoy doing. I have in the mean time completed a course in radio documentary making, and can hopefully start monetizing at least a little in the future.

I have found the best possible friends in this country.
Women help each other out so much more than in my old place. The friendships I have here and the support I've had from my friends during the time I had cancer, and now, during the separation, are second to none. And although I'm sure there are deep friendships to be had anywhere, there just is't time enough in busy places like Belgium.

I turn off the immersion and I know what a hot press is.
Yes, I have come to that stage now, where I worry about the hot water costs.

Last but not least, I have had a glorious time with my children
I have cursed the Irish lack of childcare facilities many a time when I first got here, but now I look back and think it may not have been all that bad.
The Irish country side is just perfect for children to grow up in. There is a freedom here that you don't find anywhere else. Belgium has a lot more facilities, much more activities . There are plenty of music schools for everyone, there is always a sporstclub, a sports hall or a youth club. There is pre- and after school care, and great child care facilities. Maybe it's just a bit too easy though. That is what makes Irish children strong. Not everything is organised for them, they have to put a lot of effort into what they want to do. This makes them more independent and much more mature than their peers in Belgium. I know, I know, it is just an idea I have and I may be totally wrong. what do you think?

This is not the full list of good things I have found in Ireland, but I could probably fill a book.
And for the bad things? Well, I've written enough about those.