I hope I find you well Ntomembemhlophe. My Self I am good. The cold is not a problem now I am used to it.
Today it is a week and 4 days since I arrived in Ireland. It is so good to be here. At first I did not know what will befall me. The people I have met so far are very good I must say and I think they are actually more friendly than the people back home.
I think it is important that I write about my journey to Ireland first. After acquiring the visa to the UK I was very happy. I thought my traveling would be easy as I had a tough time applying for the visa - many questions and a lot of documents and information about my self and the people I am visiting. I left home very excited on the morning of 25th March. I took the shuttle bus to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and I was at the airport at 12.45. I had ample of time to look around for the terminals I will be using for boarding and where to check in.
At 16.45 I headed for check in. At the self service check in the machine did not pick me, I got help and all was well but as I was leaving I was called back my bag was put aside. "Where are you going Mr Mdluli?" asked the security. I showed him the air ticket but he wanted me to talk. I explained everything to him but now he wanted proof. Fortunately I had the invitation letters with me. He read them but wanted more. He wanted bank statements for the people I am visiting which I did not have. After consulting he let me through to the boarding gates where I had a bit of questioning again. I showed them the letters for them to let me board the plane. I boarded the huge double decker plane, secured my seat, relaxed and happy that I am finally flying
I landed in Paris just before 06.00 on 26th March. It was easy to find my boarding gate where I will be connecting a plane to Dublin. We started boarding at 09.15. My passport was checked, no problem but just before boarding in the tunnels another check point and the security made me wait as she was still consulting. After 10 minutes of consultation through her cellphone I was let in. Now it clicked in my mind that I might have another big questioning in Dublin. Lord have mercy, I prayed. In slightly less than 2 hours we were landing in Dublin Airport. It was very cold and snowy – my first time to see snow! I headed for the passport control.
I was made to wait for an hour and a half at this point. I had a lot of questioning, my cell phone was taken and the officer went through all the messages and emails. He was friendly though he really gave me a tough time. I am not sure if it is always like this to travel to Europe or it is because it was my first time. For me it was not easy at all.
First person I met was Jan, he looked worried. I could see the sigh of relief the moment he saw me coming in. I was relieved as well and felt at home. He took me for a drive along the sea view and went to meet Linda at Egan House which is just besides St Michan’s Church. Upon seeing Linda I knew nothing would happen, I still could not believe it . Me in Ireland. Praise be to God. I also met Linda Heather who is a new employee at United Society. Surprisingly I am popular here, I saw a lot of books with my pictures. It was good to walk across the road in the streets of Dublin, Ireland, Europe on the snowy day for a bowl of soup. We also went to the shops to buy some clothes. Since it is very cold here it was proper that I get thermal vests and underwears - they help to keep the body warm.
I spent two nights in Dublin, I was staying at the Theological Institute belonging to The Church of Ireland. I had a good stay there, meeting all the loving and friendly people, it was really good. On day two Linda Heather took me for a tour around Dublin’s two Anglican Cathedrals. The first was St Patrick’s Cathedral which is the national cathedral of the church of Ireland (Anglican). There is a lot of history about this church. This church is over 800 years old. We also went to Christ Church which is the Cathedral of Dublin & Glendalough Dioceses, another tourist attraction site.The two churches are a just a kilometer apart. At 15.30 I got an opportunity to meet Revd Ted and his wife, Revd Anne, from the Rathfarnham parish. This Parish will be going to Swaziland in July to work at St Paul’s Primary School where a new kitchen for the school feeding will be built. Revd Ted was really good to meet and he is really looking foward to the project and preparations are almost complete. After this meeting we went to the College for an evening prayer as this was during Holy Week. We had a great experience called a Seder Meal. It was all in remembrance of the Israelites in Egypt. We ate bitter herbs to remember their bitter life under the hand of Pharoah, It was good and it reminded me of Father Andrew.
On day 3 we headed for the country side, and the home of Linda and Jan. (They also have a small house which they rent in Dublin. It is famously known as number 16.) It took us about two hours to get to Mohill. Mohill is a small town in the country of Leitrim. Linda and Jan have a house here in this beautiful country side. Welcome to Inis d’ór as the home is called. It was good to be at Inis d’ór with Linda and Jan. They are a lovely couple, there is a lot that I have learnt from them just in the way they relate to each other as a couple. It is just amazing. It was good to do some house chores at Inis d’ór, preparing fire wood and I loved the cooking it just made me feel like I now have a home. It was really good to do something I have not done for a very long time now.
On Saturday 30th March at 10.00 I left Inis d’ór for Londonderry. Now this is where I will be spending the rest of my time in Ireland. I got my passport ready for crossing the border to Northern Ireland. To my surprise the passport was not needed at all. The border line is marked on the road and you notice by the road signs that you have entered another territory. In the south they use km/h for speed and in the north they use miles/h. I have been told that during my first week I will be staying with a Gordon family and the man works for the British Army. Soldiers are not friendly in Swaziland but this man has been described as a good man. I just told myself, come what may, I am ready. After two and a half hours we arrived at Londonderry which is sometimes called the stroke city, this is because there is a group of people who want it called Derry not Londonderry and so it is written Derry/Londonderry (Derry stroke Londonderry.) We met Mr Mervyn Gordon at a place called Waterside Railway Station. We went straight away to the rectory of All Saints Clooney Parish where we met Revd Malcolm Ferry and his family and Revd Mervyn Peoples also from All Saints. We had tea together and at 14.00 Linda and Jan left and this marks a new life for me altogether. I will be living with people I have never seen nor met, anyway ready for the challenge.
About Londonderry or Derry.
The Stroke City, The Maiden City, Derry, Londonderry, The Walled City, All these are the names of the city I live in. It is situated in Northern Ireland which is part of The United Kingdom. With nice old British buildings, the Foyle river running across and a couple of very old church buildings tells you that this must be a very old town. It was actually founded around 54AD. Ireland is divided into two, being The Republic of Ireland (which is also known as Southern Ireland) and Nothern Ireland which is part of The United Kingdom. Most of the people in Ireland are Roman Catholics and many of them want Northern Ireland to be part of the South. In areas where most of the Catholics live you will notice by the Flag of Southern Ireland (tri colour) and where its anti/non Catholic you will see a UK flag flying. The Catholics will call this place Derry while the other people consisting of the Church of Ireland (Anglican), Presbyterians and The Methodist call it Londonderry. There is actually one place just behind the City where by I was told it is not safe at all to go there if you are not Roman Catholic. This city has big walls all around it that were built many hundred years ago to protect it. However it has expanded around the walls but the walls have been kept as tourist attraction. A new beautiful bridge has been just completed across the Foyle river. This bridge sort of connects the non Catholic community and the Catholic community. It is called The Peace Bridge.
The People I have met so far.
Mr Mervyn and Rhona Gordon. The first thing that surprised me about Mr Gordon is that he works for the Government. He and Rhona have dined with the Queen and Mr Gordon has been awarded the MBE for dedication to his work. Mr Gordon and his wife Rhona have been married for 30 years now and they have two sons aged 29 and 27 who work and live in England. Rhona is a nurse working in a hospital very close to where they live. Their home is situated in the Kilfennan area of the Waterside just 5 minutes drive from the city centre. The first thing that gave me hope when I got into their house was seeing a picture of three black/ African girls just above the fire place. The girls were members of the African Children’s Chior and they stayed with Rhona and Mervyn for 3 nights during their stay in Londonderry. Rhona and and Mervyn are very good. I am enjoying my time with them. I am treated just like a King here. Oh! I almost forget the other two “kids” they have Lucy (dog) and Mogs (cat) both eight years old. They are spoiled, very spoiled especially Lucy. It is rare to find people with pets in Swaziland so this is an experience for me. “Dogs are used as a guard in my country” I said to Mervyn and He was very surprised. Lucy and Mogs (big fat cat) sit with us on the couch and sometimes you would find them lying on your bed, if you leave the door open. They are house trained and they always eat fresh food on clean bowls. Mervyn and Rhona have taken me to many places around NI. We have been to the North Antrim Coast at Portrush and to Buncrana in Donegal (South) and into the City of Derry. Mervyn likes walking so we would park the car and walk for miles and miles, which I like it as well, as it is good for my health. Whenever time comes for me to leave this family it won’t be easy for me. I will miss their sense of humour and hospitality. This was another powerful learning curve for me as a young man. The house chores in this house are shared, Mervyn cooks as well, just like Jan and he is a good cook too. Rhona is 51 years old but seriously I think she is 40 really.
I need help here I do not know when is lunch, dinner, supper and tea. I am totally confused. The only thing I still keep track of is breakfast. Lunch here is sometimes called dinner and after that there might come another meal, tea and after tea late in the night supper.
Revd Malcolm Ferry.
Revd Malcolm Ferry is 44. He is married to Carol for twenty years now with three children, one boy (James 17) and two girls (Sarah 16, Rebekah 14). He is the Rector at All Saints Clooney Parish. On my first day in Derry Rev Malcolm took me for a walk around town. The purpose of the walk was to know each other better. It was really unlike a priest I thought. He told me about himself and family and I shared my life to him as well. It was a good start for me though very cold especially when crossing the Peace Bridge when it was windy and cold. Revd Malcolm was off duty during the fisrt week of my time in Derry. We spent a lot of time together. I have never been so close to a priest or spent so much time. He likes swimming so we would go for a swim together, and work together. He is a Priest out of this world, A good man, a good friend, a good father, a prayer partner - the list is just endless. Mervyn would jokingly say Malcolm is lazy because he does not wash the dishes but put them in the dish washer. I am enjoying my time with Revd Malcolm and the great things I am learning from this man of God. After meeting these two families (Gordon and Ferry) I knew I will have a good time here.
The people from All Saints Parish.
I have received a very warm welcome from the good parishioners here. This is my St Matthias now, I am home so no fears. I would walk on the streets and meet people from church and they would talk to me. I am not a stranger at Londonderry but a permanent resident. They are just caring, loving and supporting. I thank God for this experience, my life has been changed. It was really good meeting with the men’s and ladies groups to talk about United Society and the Anglican Church in Swaziland. They took their time to leave their homes, sit down and listen to me. Life is much better here, if I was at home it would not be like this. I also cooked some pap for the men to eat. I let them eat with their hands. They rolled it with one hand made hole and scooped the soup, it was really good.
I have learned some Northern Ireland words and phrases:
Rabbiting. Meaning you just never shut up. (She keeps rabbiting on.)
Foundering. Meaning very cold. (I’m foundering.)
Big E. Meaning pushed out. (Give him the big E.)
Grumpy. Meaning annoyed/ bad tempered. (Mandla is very grumpy today.)
This is much better. If I was at home it would not be like this.
To be continued!!!!!