In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to me, we meet Nandi Jola, who is a poet, playwright, and cultural ambassador.
I’m originally from South Africa. I came to Northern Ireland 20 years ago and I came here to find work, and it was through a recruitment agency. I didn’t know Northern Ireland, but I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Since I’ve arrived in Northern Ireland, now I am a mother. A lot of things have changed. I came here with the mindset of being a migrant, and that is to work any job I could get, you know, send money home or go home at some point. But what I have discovered, being a mother in a foreign country, is that it was not as simple as I had envisaged it to be.
From time to time, this conversation of where home is, was very important, because my daughter says Northern Ireland is home and I always refer to home as being in South Africa.
And then my career progressed as well. First job, I was working as a receptionist, as an administrator. And then I stopped completely and I went into writing poetry, which is something that I’ve always done. And then from that, I ventured into screen writing and play writing. I found that I was no longer living the migrant dream, but I was just living my dream.
Northern Ireland to me is a lot of things. I can’t describe it as one thing. First of all, it’s a place where I have grown to become. So, personally it has changed me, but also it has changed how I look at the world in terms of conflict, how conflict is maybe sometimes resolved and sometimes not resolved. And also how I write. I write about things that are universal experiences. And sometimes I write about things that are my own experiences of, maybe, stereotypes or prejudice.
That’s what Northern Ireland is to me — it’s a transformation of self, through writing experiences and also observation.
So for me, a hundred years later — I am now called a Northern Irish writer, but also I was a mentor on the 21 Artists for the 21st Century programme, which is a Northern Ireland Office project. And on that, there was a lot of new voices from Northern Ireland who didn’t identify with the Troubles, didn’t identify with the trauma, but they were identifying as themselves. My daughter was in it — she’s black, Northern Irish. So, I think moving forward Northern Ireland will be an intercultural society — that new tapestry that we’ve all created. We are layering history.
What Northern Ireland Means to Me is presented by Julia Paul and produced by Shared Future News, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office.
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Images © Allan LEONARD