Artistic webzine on migration, borders, human rights
“Is this worldliness —if that’s what it is— the reason for my lack of footing, grounding, Daniel asked me with a penetrating stare. The reason for my being treated as a tourist, even in my own country? It seems somewhat of a meaningless question with transnational, intercontinental flows of people, information, ideas, culture, food and genes these days… But sometimes, even a transcontinental chameleon just wants to fit in.”
Reflecting on her travels and exchanges between the four continents she grew up in before ‘returning’ to Ireland, Ciara Ryan takes us through some of her memories of Christmas, Maori and Korean food, a discussion on herbs and flowers in Malta, and unanswerable questions regarding her roots, or whatever is left of them.
Christmas smells, Santa’s bells, cinnamon, oranges studded with cloves from far away groves, a tree felled for our home, pine and fir-resin smells. Round the fire, branches draped in warmth. Red berries, glazed, bright cherries inside the pudding and the whole pan on fire with blue light – Santa’s coming tonight to bring magic to those who still hear him. Apple-rings hung round the hearth, bright orange-reds, walking the hedgerows – spring will leap soon they whisper, and the crocuses will lift their sleepy heads. Apple trees later in the year and houses made of bed-sheets, carpets of white blossoms made where they fell. Potatoes: roasted, mashed, fried, boiled, topped with rosemary, garlic. This is Ireland, my childhood: When I was sixteen, I’d sat round the table with many peoples. Each dish whispered of colours and stories from another somewhere: America, South Africa, Germany, Turkey, New Zealand, France, Canada, Ireland, Brazil. Many faces, and community. When I was eight I got meat and potatoes cooked in a hãngi in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand after we’d plaited our bracelets with flax. Later we slept in the mearae, all thirty-something of us, back-to-back.
I came home at twenty-three and found a Colombian girl, Diana, living in my old room. It was a nice surprise, for a while we hadn’t had anyone around.
‘Once a foodie, always a foodie,’ Farah said at the EU-funded cultural exchange storytelling workshop in Mdina, Malta, Ħwawar u Fjuri. ‘When you have good food, I mean, you can be happy. I ask, on my pizza, for mozzarella and tuna, pineapple and eggs,’ he said. He goes on, inviting us into his mum’s kitchen in Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania. We can almost smell the fire, hear the clanging of pots. He’s brought me back to ugali and baked beans that I got for lunch in Tanzania every day. I’ll never forget the – ‘big’ doesn’t capture it – cauldrons from which the ladies scooped and dropped food into our bowls when we get to the top of the long, long queue. And I never got tired of it, either. Farah’s also managed to bring me back to squid pancakes in a bar in South Korea. (It had been my last night. I’d decided early on in my stay to stop asking what was served. It never got me anywhere, given language constraints. With this particularly rubbery taste that I didn’t recognise though, I couldn’t help asking.)
Is this worldliness —if that’s what it is— the reason for my lack of footing, grounding, Daniel asked me with a penetrating stare. The reason for my being treated as a tourist, even in my own country? It seems somewhat of a meaningless question with transnational, intercontinental flows of people, information, ideas, culture, food and genes these days… But sometimes, even a transcontinental chameleon just wants to fit in.
In Dublin, a few days after Daniel’s question in a cafè, someone seated in front of me said I had ‘such lovely, dark eyes, and your accent is an interesting mix. I can’t quite place it…?’ There was a question mark, left hanging, a little awkwardly in the air.
‘I’m from Kilkenny.’ I replied. ‘But yeah, the accent isn’t.’
The flip side of all this of course, is that I fit in relatively well, anywhere. For a number of years, The Little Prince was my version of a Bible. I took it around with me religiously. One particular part that’s stayed with me all these years is when the Little Prince enquires as to the whereabouts of men, on Planet Earth, to a desert flower which replies:
‘People? There are six or seven of them, I believe, in existence. I caught sight of them years ago. But you never know where to find them. The wind blows them away. They have no roots, which hampers them a good deal.’
Ciara Ryan-Gerhardt is an Irish-born poet and writer of children’s literature and adult non-fiction. Having travelled widely since the age of eight, the natural world, sense of place and intercultural dialogue are often her main explorations. She wrote ‘All that matters and squid pancakes’ on return to Ireland after several years between Tanzania, South Korea, New Zealand, Spain and Malta. Ciara is a creative organiser and activist for climate justice and migrants’ rights.