My name is Nandi Jola. I am 37 years old. I am from South Africa, in a small town called Nelson Mandela. I lived in South Africa until I was 21, so I left at 21 to come to Northern Ireland. So most of my life I had been a student. I left South Africa in 2001, around November time, to come to Northern Ireland.
Well, I came with a spouse, who is now my ex-husband, but with no children, so it was just the two of us. I would say I left South Africa, it was maybe some adventure. But I wouldn’t say that I chose Northern Ireland, it chose me because I had never heard of Northern Ireland before I left South Africa. So it was a curiosity to find out what the place was about.
Well the offer that was on the table at the time for work, a work permit, was Northern Ireland. So that is why I am saying it chose me, or that it chose us at the time, because that was the offer that was available at the time. I work as an independent artist: I am a writer and I am a poet. So, coming to Northern Ireland, here 14 years, and for the past 9 years it has rekindled something that was always there for me but I didn’t really see it as a career, it was always a hobby to write. But now I am doing it as a career.
I write, I always call my writing something between Belfast and Africa. Because coming to Northern Ireland I learned so much about my South Africa, beloved South Africa, because the people of Ireland in particular have so much connections to South Africa. So I have learnt so much about my greatest leader Nelson Mandela and so much respect for people in Northern Ireland. So that has triggered me to write even more, I have learnt more in Northern Ireland than I was in South Africa about my own country.
I brought a collection of my published book, which is called Nelson Mandela Thank You for Opening the Doors to Freedom and Democracy. And that is the 20 year journey that I have since Nelson Mandela was out of prison in 1994. So all the 20 years I’ve just reflected back what it was like for me to grow up under the apartheid, and what it was like for me to come to a troubled Northern Ireland. So it’s a collection of poetry about the two.
I remember apartheid like yesterday; the thing that clings to me even why I think about it is the smells. The tear gas smells that always caught the back of your throat and the sounds of the sirens. And that’s why, in Northern Ireland sometimes, it does reflect South Africa in some way. It’s not the same as apartheid, but when you’re talking about bomb scares in the news, or, you know, petrol bombs and things like that, it just reminds me so much of home.
Well, as a person, I always know that I am here for a reason. And, for me, that reason is to document, is to put onto paper, what has transpired and how, because as a human rights activist, it’s how we come about to a peaceful society. So I think it’s important than that I document each thing that I come across as a person. It’s maybe for reference as well, to say that this is what happened in my eyes because in Northern Ireland there’s always two communities, Protestants and Catholics. So, to have somebody else’s perspective, a migrant’s perspective, of how Northern Ireland is, I think it’s a very important documentation.