After nine years in Ireland, Michael Seifu reflects on life as a disabled migrant here.
Arguably, not many other events in life are as good at dismantling the status quo as migration does. It changes everything for a person. When you are a migrant, you have to make a relentless effort to inter-marry diverse cultures and value systems, as well as environmental conditions. It just comes with the territory.
My odyssey in Ireland began in January 2005 when I joined Dublin City University, one of the youngest yet liveliest higher education institutions in the country. No amount of prior information could have prepared me for the Irish winter.
I remember a professor in our undergraduate studies in Ethiopia always telling us that a true feel for economic development cannot be learned solely through books and seminars. We should go to Europe and/or North America, said the professor, to get the gist of what it meant to be an economically advanced country.
Ireland may not be the envy of the developed world, but observing the standard of life in Ireland made me realise what it means to be economically sound. This may not make sense for many people badly affected by the financial and economic crisis. Yet, the door should be left a little bit ajar for the famous economist Adam Smith’s impartial spectator.
The Irish: sweary but kind
Truth be told, I find the Irish sense of humour hard to grasp, not to mention the apparently endemic use of the f-word. Yet, I do not have a shred of doubt of the kindness and compassion the Irish show towards people affected by one or another form of injustice. They have cemented my belief that disability is not synonymous with inability.
Accessing all facilities on campus and outside with the help of a motorised wheelchair always left me with mixed feelings of relief and resentment.
While I’m relieved to know that physical barriers do not hold me back from leading a fuller life, I’m engulfed by a sense of resentment when I think of the ordeals many people with disabilities still go through in poor countries.
Currently, I consider myself, among other things, as a disability activist so as to make disability no more a side issue in all aspects of life.
Scratching the surface
As humans, we come as a package with so many diverse identities and so many perspectives. Needless to say that a short piece like this one is hardly enough to give a full account of my experience of living in Ireland. I haven’t got to give my take on race relations, cultural values, parenthood, and so on, but hopefully, I will get other opportunities to tell my other stories and views.