By Father Bobby Gilmore

This article was first published on the website of the Columbans in Ireland in December. Though Monica and Krzysztof are from Poland, their experience is similar to that of some Filipino couples in Ireland.

Birds stuck between two branches get bitten on both wings (Dinaw Mengestu)

Recently, I met Monica Mysko, an immigrant from Poland. In a conversation with Monica one would be given to think that she is a native of County Meath. Her accent and her English are perfect. Although she learned basic English as a child going to school in Legnica, a town near the German border, she has perfected her English as an immigrant in England for two years and in the past two years since she arrived in Ireland.

Monica didn’t plan to migrate. She completed her local high school in Legnica and then attended university from which she graduated with a degree in building and construction. However, at the European Accession in 2004 when Poland became a full member of the European Union, Monica was free to seek an opportunity in any member state. She set out for London and for two years worked as an au pair and then as the manager of a bar. As she was beginning to adjust to life in London, feeling homesick, trying to cope with unfamiliar surroundings, food and language, her father took ill and died at home on Poland. This was a setback for Monica as it is for any immigrant caught between away and home. Daily, she wondered whether she should have been at home to support her mother and sisters and brother in caring for her father. Of course she visited and remitted some money to help them through a difficult period.

But she was caught between home and away. Her head was in London but her heart was in Poland with her father.

After two years in London and with a newfound confidence she decided to migrate to Ireland. She heard in the Polish migrant network that there were plenty of jobs in Ireland. She had not put down roots in London as she always intended to move on in a search to better herself. But there was an added attraction in her migrating to Ireland. In London she met a young migrant, Krzysztof (Cristoph) Stachowiak, Polish like herself from Posnan. They liked each other and fell in love. As he was leaving London to take up a job as a chef in Ireland, Monica decided to follow her heart. She arrived in Ireland as the Irish economy was going through the floor. However, she got a job as a waitress. Like all immigrants, Monica is prepared to take whatever opportunity arises and indeed, and like many immigrants, she is multi-skilled, not afraid of work.

As in London, Monica had to make adjustments to cope with living and working in Ireland. This time she was not alone in making those adjustments as Krzysztof was with her. He was going through similar experiences, trying to cope with nuances of Irish expression, seeking accommodation, learning different presentation of food, registering with the various government agency networks.

In September 2010, they decided to take holidays back home in Poland and like many immigrants trying to save money, they did a package deal. They got married in Monica’s home town. After combining honeymoon with visits to family and friends they returned to their jobs in Ireland and started to settle down, this time as a family unit.

Monica and Krzysztof, as single persons, found leaving home difficult. As a married couple they found it equally difficult. But they had each other’s support in dealing with it this time and they were returning to a situation in Ireland that they were becoming familiar with. But as Monica said herself, ‘We are gradually getting there because we had friends here and are making new friends, we are no longer strangers’.

But, like many immigrants in the present economic mess that Ireland is in they are hanging between home and away in a kind of liminal situation, betwixt and between. They feel that there is no great job security here but equally, there is nothing happening in Poland to draw them back there, even though that is really where they would like to be, at home with their families and friends, and particularly that pull increases as Christmas draws near. However, since they are both working at Christmas they have decided to go home to visit family and for a pre-Christmas holiday. They will return here just before Christmas. Monica says, ‘There is no place like home for Christmas, but the best we can do is be there in spirit’.
Both Monica and Krzysztof are Catholics. One of the soul-warming experiences for them is the monthly Mass by a Polish immigrant chaplain for the Polish community in the local town where they now live. According to them this is the highlight of the month. They feel at home in their own language, song and liturgy and with their fellow Poles. They say, ‘The Mass in English, even if basically the same, is different, they are not touched in the same way as in their own Polish Mass, but that may happen as time passes’.
Monica and Krzysztof are like the millions of immigrants that keep the global economy ticking over. They are trying to make a new home in a new, strange and insecure economic environment. They feel lucky that they have not purchased a house as they are not sure what the future holds for them and their jobs. This insecurity probably delays their settling down and making a new home in Ireland or Poland.

They are like Joseph, Mary and Jesus who had to leave home all those years ago and seek a life in Egypt. As immigrants they too were caught between home and away. They had to take whatever work was available in order to live and I am sure they had a strong desire to return which they did when the political situation changed.

Right now, Monica and Krzysztof are hoping that the economic situation remains stable so that they will be able to hold on to their jobs and later decide like Joseph and Mary whether to return to Poland or make their home in Ireland. Sooner or later they will decide. Maybe the message of Christmas will help them.
So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel . . .

There he settled in a town called Nazareth (Mt.2-22).

The author is a Columban priest who has worked in Mindanao, in Jamaica and with Irish emigrants in Britain. He is now director of Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI).