Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Go west, young man.

Some of you will know Viktor who works in Fogarty’s and Maria who works in Costcutters. At Easter time, their celebrations are somewhat different to our own, Starting with Green Thursday, Good Friday, White Saturday, Easter Sunday and culminating in the big one Velka Noc ( big night) where tradition had it that the men threw water over the females in the village and then giving them a few belts with wicker sticks. Why? Supposedly to purify them, body and soul. The boys were then rewarded with painted eggs and a ribbon attached to their whips. They would then receive presents of money and maybe a shot of slivovitz. A far cry from our ballrooms of romance and poitin.
It’s a long way from Slovakia to Ballymore, or from Lithuania or even Hungary. All along Viktor has been at me. “Mr Bugle Man I want to tell you my story.” So the next time you see him tell him that you read it. In the Bugle. Now the night we met up with him we were ambushed by himself and three other workers who have come to live in Ballymore so the story will not be exclusively about Mr. Mishe.

Anyway Viktor was born and grew up in Bratislava in Slovakia, on the shores of the Danube. Forgoing his ambition to own a chain of sports stores, somewhat like Champion in Ireland, he decided to have a tilt at an Irish windmill and lo and behold he ended up in Ballymore. Now how he got here and why remains a bit of a mystery. It involves the payment of a fee to a Slovak agency, getting a set of directions for Fogarty's Quikpick, getting a plane and Hey presto here he is. And isn’t he a great asset to the village? Now I’m going to let you in on secret, early on like, Viktor is a morning person. He likes nothing better than to be cerebrally challenged early in the morning. The earlier the better he says. Top of the game from 6 a.m. onwards. Don’t say I told you. Right?
He is the middle child, the older brother in the U.S. and the younger lad still studying back in Slovakia. As Slovakia is now a full member of the E.U. he can work freely, well maybe not too freely, in most countries in Europe. Spending some of his summers working in the U.K he was curious to learn proper English, and was delighted to hear, from me, the best English in the world, she is spoken in Co. Kildare. He spent his childhood summers in countryside on his grandmother’s farm and much preferred it to the hustle and bustle of city life. He is well at home in Ballymore and loves the pace of life, the sense of community and generally the craic that can be had here. He loves the black humour as he calls it. Personally now, I’ve never been a fan, but I must try a bit harder.
Differences between Irish and Slovakia ways of life? Not huge. Good lifestyle since the passing of the Communist regimes. Property prices much the same. Better wages. Etc. I was delighted to hear that he has never experienced racism of any sort. That’s a good sign for us. He is saving like mad. Hopes to do a deal with Paul Newman for one of the older DB’s, then he’ll knock around on his days off and see a bit of the country. A stark comment that it is easy to get to Belfast by public transport than to Naas. Yup, never thought of it like that but he’s right. He sends greetings through the Bugle to his many local Irish friends.

Like Viktor, Maria Bugalova is also from Slovakia. That’s about the only similarity. She is much better looking. From Bytca, a town of about 11, 506 now (11,505), in north-western Slovakia. Those of you who have travelled in Eastern Europe or who plan to. Around the early part of September 2007 should be lively, should be familiar with its water castle and Wedding Museum. Interesting concept that, keeping weddings in a museum. Maria practised as an accountant in Slovakia, but is worried that her English might not be good enough for work here. NOW COME ON. Have you ever heard any accountant speak English? Maria is only here about five months and having overcome a lot of homesickness is now settling in and starting to enjoy the way of life here. With Russian, German and English as languages taken I think she is well ahead of most of us. Again the middle child with and older brother working for a U.S. multinational back in Slovakia, her younger sister is a student of French and Portuguese, currently domiciled in Brazil. Maria is undecided about the length of her stay in Ireland as a proposal, you know the kind I mean, may shorten her sojourn.

Meilute Ziceviciute is from the port of Klaipeda, Lithuania’s only seaport, situated at the mouth of the Curonian Lagoon where it flows into the Baltic Sea. Meilute was a primary school teacher back in her native city. But, in a period from 1992 to 2005 where the population of the city decreased by 10% to just over 180,000, she had to take employment in a private school. Not willing to suffer a 50% cut in salary she too joined the Eastern European exodus to Ireland. (Sounds better that landing up in Ballymore.) Both her brothers are coming to end of an extended time in the Police force in Lithuania and are about to embark on retraining in the Physical education and sports disciplines. Again Meilute likes the pace of life here, the odd pint, listening to traditional music, but not the damp cold of our autumns and early winters. Part of a tightly knit group and house sharing with Viktor & co. means lively nights involving Hungarian cuisine, a skill she has developed in the Ballymore Inn.

And finally to Hari Peter, the man with two first names. He is the tall good looking one, behind the counter in Quikpick. Peter hails from Szeged, the City of Sunshine, in Hungary. Situated on the southern border, the city was almost entirely wiped out in the great flood of 1879. When the river Tisza overflowed leaving only 265 of over 5000 houses standing. The famous Open Air Plays of Szeged, held annually since 1931 commemorate the rebuilding of the city. Peter has promised a more detailed article for one of our summer numbers. Coming from a family of teachers, peter proved d the black sheep of the family. Before coming to Ireland he worked as a desktop publisher for a firm specialising in chess magazines and books. His move, sorry but it is an obvious one, to Ireland is only in its early stages. He hopes to save loads of forints and start his own business when he gets back to Hungary. Like a lot of his compatriots his brother works for a U.S. multinational, IBM.

They all miss the snow, the skiing, their national dishes, the spices, their friends, families.The killing of the pigs in winter. The crowns,forints and litas. As none of their home countries are in the Euro zone yet. The cheap cigarettes and booze. The efficient public transport.
They all like the pace of life, the sense of community, the feeling of safety in Ballymore. They like working for decent money, they like the friendliness, the black humour, the black porter, the culture, the scenery, our openness.

Look, now you know a little bit about them. That’s what this was all about.

Oh and next Easter Monday if you see Viktor filling buckets of water, you know what it’s for.

Tim Ryan

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