This Much I Know: Khanyo Dlamini - a poet and writer, living in direct provision in Clonakilty, Co Cork

Khanyo Dlamini chats to Martha Brennan about the struggles she faced before moving from her native South Africa to the Clonakilty Lodge direct provision centre
This Much I Know: Khanyo Dlamini - a poet and writer, living in direct provision in Clonakilty, Co Cork

Khanyo Dlamini has fallen in love with Cork since she moved to Ireland following the deaths of her brother and mother.

I’m the third of 10 children. Six girls and four boys. My parents grew up in a village but when they had their second child they moved to the city and rented houses so we moved to many places in South Africa.

I used to drown myself in books. I was a very good reader and storyteller. When I was growing up there were no TVs, we used to gather around the radio. At a particular time in the evening, there would be a story on and I used to listen and everyone would gather around and I would tell the story. I learned to change voices and everything to play the characters.

I didn’t have many pictures growing up but the one I remember is when my mum dressed myself and my sister in these bright yellow dresses and we’re holding flowers. They don’t have them here in Ireland but they were yellow and white, like lilies. My mum used to keep everything for us. I hope they still have the picture at home.

My brother was murdered during apartheid and my family broke after that. My mum never got over that loss. She passed in 2007 when she was 56. I was 25. It was one of those huge losses. My brother’s loss was hard for everyone but we still had our mum and she kept us all together. When we lost her everything changed.

I wasn’t really close to my siblings after. My mum went with everything. I believe that mothers are hens, they cover everybody. So when she passed on everybody tried to find a life for themselves. My father passed in 2016 when I was here in Ireland.

I’ve been here almost 12 years now. My sister was here and one of her friends was looking for a childminder so I was a live-in au pair for two and half years in Dublin. At the moment I’m studying intellectual disability nursing at UCC. It’s hard with all the restrictions and homeschooling my two children, but you find a way of juggling.

I think I’m shaping my way back to where my passion was when I was a child. In my early years, I would nurse my dolls but over the years I left that and did many kinds of jobs. Now I’m studying to get to where my heart is, which is nursing.

I have faced many challenges but the one that tops everything is leaving my three adult children back home. It’s still a topic that touches the parts I don’t want. I was so torn. I feel like I’m half a mother on both sides.

The greatest advice I ever got was from one of my friends who said “tough times don’t last, tough people do” and when things are tough I remember those words and draw my strength. My courage and strength still surprise me.

My proudest achievement is that I wrote a poem that featured in a collaboration book. I used to write poems growing up but I never thought of them as poems. One of them was read at my mother’s funeral and when it was read it sounded so different and I thought it was cool. I went to an open mic for writers later and somebody came up to me and said they knew someone looking for poems. The deadline had passed but she said to try my luck so I sent it and they wanted it. 

I would like to be remembered as a woman of integrity. I love to speak for people who can’t speak for themselves. I think my greatest quality is compassion and the lesson I would like to pass on is humility and kindness. I would like to see people be more kind to each other. We feel the same pain as humans.

I’m best at cooking. I’m well known for my beef stew. I love to have people around and make meals for everybody. No offence, but Irish cooking is not good. When I first came I couldn’t believe how quickly people cooked here.

Back home you clean your house early in the morning. The sun would be shining by 4:30am and you would have the house clean and the washing done by 8am, plenty of time to cook.

But, there wouldn't be a week when we wouldn’t come across a snake. One day I was home alone and I sat down once everything was done and a snake came all the way down from the ceiling and it just looked at me and I looked at it. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t do anything, and it didn’t move. We stayed looking at each other for a very long time and at some stage, it just slowly wiggled itself out. Nobody believed me. I’m terrified of them now. I still check for them, even though I know there are no snakes in Cork.

I love living in Clonakilty. Cork people are so down to earth. They share passion and care for one another. People don’t just pass you. And best - no snakes.

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