Celebrating Africa Day — Irish style

In a week where all things African were celebrated throughout the world we talked to some Afro-Irish about how important celebrating their African culture is.

OSUEMHE UGONOH, Miss Africa-Ireland 2012 and student

Last year Osuemhe Ugonoh, 18, decided to enter the Miss Africa-Ireland competition to explore and understand her heritage. To her surprise and delight she won.

“I am very proud to be an African, I am very proud of my culture. I think it influences a lot of my decisions. It is a way of being,” she explains.

Osuemhe, whose parents are from Nigeria, was actually born in Poland and has been living here for seven years. She is currently studying for a degree in Health Science and Nutrition at Athlone.

“I have never been to Nigeria. We lived in Poland and then moved here. I love living in Ireland. I really appreciate the culture here too, I love the music and songs like ‘Galway Girl’ and I enjoy ceilies,” she says.

The Miss Africa-Ireland pageant was launched in 2000 to give “Diaspora Africans a sense of belonging”. Initially, Osuemhe was reluctant to enter the competition, but one of her mother’s friends suggested it might be fun. “It made me think. I had to educate myself and learn a lot about Nigeria. It made me embrace my African culture, which was great,” she says.

“The competition also gave me confidence in myself. I was so excited when I won. I was screaming and my mum was jumping around, she was so excited and happy for me.”

Her parents, who own a shop in Dundalk selling African and Asian products, moved here to be with family. “My mum always says she misses two countries, Nigeria and Poland. The cultures and the people are very different but she misses them,” she says.

When she finishes her degree course in three years time, Osuemhe hopes to go travelling around the world. Not surprisingly, Nigeria is top of her list of countries to visit.

“I would love to go to Nigeria. I want to see exactly what it is really like, to explore and learn more about it and my culture. It would be so interesting,” she explains.

TIMI MARTINS, businessman

FOR Nigerian businessman, Timi Martin’s World Africa Day is a “fantastic” celebration of his culture and heritage, and he is heavily involved in organising and running the events.

“One of my proudest moments was in 2011 when I was made the Irish Aid, Africa Day Ambassador for Ireland and I met the then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese,” he recalls.

This year Timi will be in charge of a special hip-hop show in Dublin and will be inviting everybody to learn to dance. “I think it is important to give something back,” he says. “I think people should integrate more and be involved in their local communities.”

Timi, 35, who runs an on-line events management company, came to Ireland 17 years ago to further his education and fell in love with the country. “Ireland is very laid-back. It is very friendly and relaxing. I have never had any problems here. It is a very beautiful place, and when it is sunny, it is even more beautiful. It feels like home,” he says.

So what does he miss about Nigeria? “The heat,” he responds, immediately, laughing. “I do miss the food too, I am married to a Polish lady, who doesn’t know how to make these Nigerian dishes and I am a useless cook.”

Now a father of two young boys, Timi has not been back to Nigeria for more than four years because the cost of flights have “sky rocketed”. But he hopes one day to show his sons his birth country.

ELIZABETH TEFFAYE, mother and housewife

Three months ago, Elizabeth Teffaye, 26, closed down her guest house business in Ethiopia, said goodbye to her family and friends and moved to Co Cavan with her son and Irish husband.

Although it was very hard to leave Ethiopia, Elizabeth has settled in well in her husband Eddie’s home town of Virginia and is embracing Irish life. However Elizabeth also believes it is important to celebrate World Africa Day as it shows how positive and varied the Continent is.

“Everything makes me feel proud to be African. The culture, the history, just everything. I think it is very important to celebrate being African,” she says.

“East Africa is different from West Africa, and the North and South are very different too. Ethiopians are very smiley people, we are very happy people. I think it is so important to celebrate our culture. It is all very positive.”

To ensure that her two-year-old son, Emanuel, knows his African heritage, Elizabeth is teaching him Amharic, the Ethiopian language and reads him her favourite Ethiopian stories at bed time.

“He can understand a few words now. I think it is very important for Emanuel to be multi-lingual as it will really help him in the future,” she explains.

Elizabeth is also having to adjust to eating different foods and getting use to the different tastes and flavours in Irish food. “We have a special bread in Ethiopia called injera, but unfortunately you can’t find the ingredients here in Ireland, and so yes, I do miss that,” she admits.

Not surprisingly, Elizabeth also misses the Ethiopian weather, but is optimistic that she will eventually get used to the cold and rain in Ireland.

“The weather is a bit difficult for me,” she says, laughing. “I am enjoying living in Ireland but I think everyone from Africa would feel the same about the weather. It is a bit too cold for me. But I am sure I will eventually get use to it.”

CATHERINE MUIGAI MWANGI, Kenya’s Ambassador in Ireland

The Kenyan Ambassador Catherine Muigai Mwangi believes World Africa Day to be both “very important and special” for all Africans.

“Africa is our Motherland. All Africans — men and women — recognise and appreciate how proud we are to be part of the Motherland,” she explains.

Ambassador Muigai Mwangi points out that during the last 50 years, since the very first World Africa Day, the continent has changed dramatically. “We have seen it develop in leaps and bounds, economically. It is a growing and emerging market. From a political point of view Africa has also come along way, most of our countries have held democratic elections and are now following the path of democracy,” she says.

“Africa is in a good place, Africa is growing. Economically we are growing, politically we are growing. There is a lot for us to celebrate.”

As a Kenyan woman, Ambassador Muigai Mwangi says she is also “very excited” to see how her own country has developed during the last few years.

“Women are greatly appreciated in Kenya. My government is committed to gender equality at every level. We actually have positive discrimination,” she explains.

“Home is always home. Kenya is my country. I miss my family and the familiarity of Kenya. I miss being part of my own community and being able to contribute to the development of my nation.”

After being here for six years, Ambassador Muigai Mwangi’s term in Ireland is coming to an end and she knows she will miss this country greatly.

“Ireland has been good to me. I have been able to do some very positive work here. The Irish government and the Irish people have been extremely hospitable,” she says.

“I do think the weather is a challenge. You show me one Irish person who is not challenged by the weather. But hopefully the sun will shine for Africa today.”

PEADAR KING, documentary maker and author

Peadar King, the documentary maker and author, hopes that World Africa Day will help people understand and appreciate how “vast” the continent is and how different each individual country really is.

“When we think of Africa we think of one people and one country we have a very limited sense of it. Africa is an extraordinarily rich and engaging place with a very diverse, rich and indeed troubled history,” he explains.

“I think it would be great if people came away from World Africa Day with a sense of how vast the differences are within this thriving yet endangered continent. Its environmentally endangered, its people are endangered, and its wildlife. The economy is still very, very fragile.”

Peadar has travelled widely across the continent, and describes his thoughts and adventures in his latest book What in the World — Political Travels in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Although Peadar believes there are many reasons to be optimistic about the continent’s future, he stresses that there are also many “real” challenges ahead.

“There are grounds for optimism in Africa. There have been changes for the better, the days of the great big men of Africa are over. A new generation has emerged and women are also participating both politically and culturally,” he says.

“But there are a number of real challenges ahead. Climate change is a huge challenge. Providing adequate supply of food for its people and the increasing birth rate are going to pose real problems in the future.”

So what does Peadar miss when he leaves Africa ? He pauses and then reveals it is the breathtaking silence of the place. “When you are out in the middles of the African countryside, it is very, very silent. The countryside and landscape is so very vast, that you have a real sense of being in another world.

“The silence is really remarkable,” he says.

* www.africaday.ie


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