Read article in the Sunday Independent here

Barbara McCarthy

‘Just don’t go back,” a new Irish friend in South Africa insisted when I mentioned how long I was planning to stay in Cape Town. “You can’t. You can do extraordinary things here.”

It made me ruminate. At home in Ireland I, like everyone else, am too busy struggling to be extraordinary. My income won’t allow for rent, childcare and other living expenses, whatever about the luxury of indulging in fanciful scholarly pastimes which may or may not bear fruit.

Despite my abilities to perpetually pull something out of the bag, the past few years of looking for somewhere to live while trying to find a creche cemented the reality that I don’t earn enough to live in Dublin, the city I grew up in, no matter what way I try to wangle it.

With that in mind, I thought ‘f*ck this sh*t’ and left. So here I am, working away on my own for the first time since my daughter was born almost three years ago, having just dropped her to creche.

The drive from my apartment takes 53 seconds one way along some of the most stunning coastline in the world. It’s so close, I’ve suffered the minor irk of not being able to listen to a banging old-school house tune in full as I pass the galvanising aquamarine Southern Atlantic Ocean.

My apartment has a pool, a large balcony and sits beside a sandy beach. Sure I know it’s in South Africa, people earn much less here, the average income won’t allow for such a set-up, but it’s nice to be alive again.

From the comfort of my new life, I read about the freezing temperatures at home and see images of tents along the canal housing rough sleepers, whose numbers have doubled in the past years.

I look at daft.ie and see that there are only 73 properties for rent in Dublin under €2,000, and only 21 under €1,500, mostly studios and one-beds, and think: ‘Jesus, if I didn’t have my family home to fall back on and endured a series of bad months, which is likely in my precarious career, would I end up in a similar predicament?’

The average salary according to the Central Statistics Office is almost €2,500 per month, but the average rent in Dublin is €1,819, while the average creche is €1,000 give or take a few shillings. I’m no mathematician, but I know that it doesn’t work for me.

It doesn’t work for The Economist either, who called our housing situation “embarrassing”.

In a piece published last month, the magazine pointed out that more than 60pc of our pre-tax private sector income goes on housing, while casually mentioning that a recent report by WorldFirst, an international payments firm, found that Luxembourg is now the only European country where renting a home is pricier than it is in Ireland.

As a single parent, I’m at the bottom of the food chain, so if a would-be ‘immigrant’ working for a big international bank thinks it’s expensive, how the hell is someone like me meant to get out of my ‘undesirable’ box?

And the thing is, I even followed the formula. I completed post-graduate education, learnt unique skills and have a CV the length of my arm, yet Ireland has rejected me, spat me out if you will. This is over-dramatic, but it turned me into a refugee of sorts.

I have friends who didn’t make big careers for themselves in their 30s, just doing odd jobs or contract work. Now, when I call them, they tell me they haven’t eaten in two days and are facing homelessness for Christmas.

My friend, who works in hospitality, told me she earned €160 last week. Her hair is starting to fall out due to stress and she hasn’t had a hot meal in a week. Is that OK?

She’s a single mother who has no family to turn to in times of need.

Ireland is tough if you’re going it alone, not just financially but socially, too.

Feminist empowerment rhetoric and arbitrary hashtagging on social media is all well and good, but the reality is, if you don’t have a partner to share duties and costs with, living in Ireland in our position can be tricky.

For the large part, our much-lauded spurious economic upsurge coupled with our housing famine has spawned a form of ethnic cleansing for anyone earning less than a certain amount.

Luckily I saw my current status as an opportunity, rather than something to hold me back. I have been endowed with an adventurous spirit and I always wanted to live in Africa, so I thought nothing of bringing my toddler with me for what I thought would be a few months, but has become a longer spell.

I’m in the honeymoon period in South Africa, but certainly I’ve found people don’t begrudge you here, rather they celebrate your madness.

I have new friends I see every day – in Ireland I hardly see my friends because they often work two jobs trying to make ends meet or are so stretched looking after their families, a bi-quarterly reunion is the best we can hope for.

But what makes me happiest about being here is the fact that my daughter is having a great time.

She doesn’t want to hang out with me at home. She has an amazing new best friend, and luckily I’m friends with her mother, which makes life pretty sweet.

During her creche’s Christmas show last week, I had a tear in my eye when I saw her trying to sing along to the South African national anthem. She misses her friends and family, but she’s so happy to spend all this wonderful time outdoors.

If I were to return home now, I’d join the 215,000-odd people over 18 living with their parents who have jobs but can’t afford their own home.

I often wonder why they aren’t on the homeless register because, let’s face it, from both sides we don’t really want to live together after a certain age, so very often the decision to do so is not made by choice.

That said, South Africa is not without its flaws. I walk 10km a day in Ireland at least. Here, I can’t walk anywhere, hence the 53-second car ride. It’s a dangerous place and you can’t walk around on your own, which will bother me in time.

Also, it’s almost impossible to get a visa. An Irish friend of mine has spent €30,000, been to court five times, the Home Office 28 times and still doesn’t have a visa.

But it’s sunny and beautiful. At home, I often succumb to the odd rant. Here, I can’t recall a time when I’ve moaned about anything.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I don’t want to sound like a caller on a talk radio show. I love Ireland. My family and friends are there and it’s the greatest country in the world, but I wasn’t living there any more, I was merely existing.

Dublin is my home, but I can’t afford a home – not to rent and certainly not to buy. I fear that the land of creativity that we sell ourselves on is fading, replaced with unctuous leftist puritanical narrative, which has become so utterly tedious, fit only for those who achieve a certain standard.

My life in Ireland isn’t hard. It’s just better here. Without wanting to sound like a cheesy Facebook meme, here, I think I could be extraordinary.

 

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