Irene

Sex worker

 

 

 

Her accent is heavy, but at the same time she speaks very carefully, as if she wants to treat her new language with respect.
‘I have worked in hotel restaurants for 12 years. I’ve been in this one for 2 years, doing lots of things as it is a small hotel, but my main job is the breakfast.’

As I had seen for myself earlier that morning. She made quite a show of it, welcoming every guest, almost with a song. ‘I learnt that when a customer gets cold soup and an unpleasant welcome, he will forget the soup, but not the bad service.’

She is 43, born, and educated, in Ukraine:  she has a degree in communication. ‘But when I applied for an engineering job in Dublin, they said I had to go back to college for at least another 3 years… they recognised my education, but they still thought it wasn’t good enough, my technical English wasn’t good enough. Later I went to College here, and got a degree in restaurant management.’

‘Why Ireland?’
‘In 2000 the Irish government had issued work permits to foreigners to work for small businesses and farms. Some of my friends had gone and they told me nothing but nice things about Ireland. Also I had learnt a little English at school, not German or Spanish. So I applied for a job in a restaurant, somewhere in the country. Through phone and mail: the first time I actually met my employer was when he picked me up from the airport. And I have never felt uncomfortable, always welcome. People helped with everything, but that was in the countryside, not here in Dublin. Probably too many foreigners, people here have too hectic a life.

‘Sounds like you miss the countryside.’
‘Yes,’ she says looking really sad all of a sudden. ‘I’m from Odessa, the city, where it’s very busy. Where people are a bit cold, they rush, and in my little village in Ireland it was so quiet. And people were so friendly. My neighbour, on old lady, made rice pudding to welcome me.’

Old lady – sometimes her accent is a mix of Ukrainian and Irish. ‘Nobody locked their doors, they had nothing to hide. But I moved to Dublin because of my daughter, I want her to have a good education, so she goes to a private school, a German school.’

‘Must be expensive.’
‘Yes, it costs a lot of money. I invest everything in my daughter.’

‘Does she appreciate it?’
‘I heard that Irish children aren’t always that respectful to their parents, but we Ukrainians are, usually. My daughter is thankful; she will return the favour when I’m old! Here when a family has a business, they pay their children to help, in my country they don’t.’

‘You said ‘my country’ but you were talking about Ukraine.’
‘Oops,’ she says and is quiet for a few seconds. ‘I’m happy where I am now. Life is easier here, you know. I got a big loan from the bank when I arrived, I needed it for my house. In Ukraine I would never get a loan.’

‘Do you know how newcomers in general are treated?’
‘Irish people are warm and welcoming by nature.’

‘And if you were African?’
‘I have never seen any discrimination. I mean, Filipinos, Nigerians, you see them everywhere. People opening shops are Pakistani, Latvian, every 3rd restaurant is Italian. If you are qualified, you’re welcome. There are a lot of offices here to help people to integrate, and there are also special events, like next month there’s an evening with Ukrainian culture.’

‘What does Europe mean to you?’
‘I don’t think the EU will last for long. There’s so much disagreement. It was good when they had Germany, the Netherlands, countries like that, because they were at the same level. Not Romania, Poland, Bulgaria. There for example electricity was cheap, in line with the wages, but not anymore, so life had become too expensive. But there is a good side: one can travel easily, see different countries. For culture and education it’s good. I think it is a very good thing that school children exchange countries: my daughter stayed with a French and German family. The changes have been fast… fifteen years ago we didn’t know a thing about Europe. There was hardly any news from outside the country, now look at my daughter’s life!’