It’s not quite 5pm, but the back of the house is already shrouded in darkness. The front, which faces south, is still bathed in the dying pink glow of another spectacular sunset. Outside is freezing cold, but here in the kitchen it is nice and cosy (as long as you’re wearing a few extra layers). The fire is lit. The dogs are asleep on the rug. All is quiet save for the purr of the Aga. We are entering the deep mid-winter. It’s time to get into the Christmas groove of sparkly lights, family gatherings and overindulgence.
The darkness of mid-winter is harsh, but it holds the promise light. After the Solstice the days start to lengthen again. The New Year beckons, full of hopes and plans. I usually get a little pre-Yuletide thrill around this time, but this year the festivities didn’t seem quite as enticing and I’ve been finding it difficult to get into the spirit of things. 2016 has been no picnic. This year has been pretty grim, both on a personal level and on a world level. Many of my nearest and dearest have had a really rough time of it, and the daily news just adds more distress on the mind-boggling pile of shocks we’ve already endured. 2017 looks more precarious than appealing. With so much insecurity floating around, it is easy to feel disheartened.
However, I have found a way of lifting my spirit by getting off my backside and checking out what is happening in my own community. Serendipity brought me to the Lodge in Clonakilty. What I found there, tucked away behind the bend in the road out to Inchydoney, has stopped my miserable navel- gazing and given me lots of reasons to feel hopeful.
The Lodge Clonakilty is the only direct provision centre in West Cork. It has been operating for about 15 years and presently houses around 85 people, half of them children. In the few short weeks that I have been going there I have met people from Iraq, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan. Don’t get me wrong, direct provision is a stain on the Irish Nation that must be removed…I have heard heart-breaking stories of those who have been deported after spending four years in Clonakilty; their belongings thrown into black bin liners, their children not given the time to say goodbye to their friends and school mates. But I have also shared in some joyous moments. So here is some really good news this Christmas:
After nine years in direct provision in The Lodge, Clonakilty, one family from Bangaladesh (a mother and father with their school age children) will be together with their adult married daughter, safe in the knowledge that they have been granted asylum. They have been doubly blessed, as they have found two houses side by side in Clonakilty. A couple from Iraq are celebrating receiving the husband’s papers, which allow him to stay in Ireland with his wife who had been granted asylum earlier in the year. Their two sons, one in primary school, the other in secondary, are delighted as well. They have been in the Lodge for three years. Finally, a wonderfully entertaining man from Zimbabwe has been granted asylum after only a year. “Did you hear the good news?” he asked, beaming a mile-long smile, as I met him last week. “I have been given my freedom!”
As I told friends about my new friends in the Lodge, I realised that many of them had found a similar way to beat the 2016 blues. Two friends have gotten involved with homeless charities. Another has started spending time with the elderly in a home. Others have become more active in schools and local charities. All of us have felt the same shift in our general sense of doom and gloom. Christmas is a time of giving, but it works both ways.
So if you’re feeling like the world doesn’t quite make sense, or don’t quite feel the festive spirit in the darkness of this year – go out and get involved. Call on a neighbour. Gather your friends. Check out local charities and associations that are working to make our part of the world a better place. Here’s a list to get you started:
Friends of the Asylum seekers. Contact Bridgid Madden 087-70907499.
Cork Simon Community www.corksimon.ie.
Irish Red Cross (working to bring Syrian Refugees to Ireland) www.redcross.ie.
West Cork Women Against Domestic Violence Project 027-203136.