Home, by definition, can possibly be described as a place or feeling of being surrounded by familiarity, so being catapulted from Ireland into life in the Middle East one can easily feel like a fish out of water.
The very landscape of beige and sand can take a bit of getting used to and blue skies and blistering sunshine is certainly a change from the climate in Ireland. Traffic jams are five lanes wide and the majority of the cars are white. There are no villages, no pubs and no two hundred year old stone churches to be seen. Stone walls, green dewy grass, potholes and ditches are all missing from the barren landscape which is supposed to be the new home.
Massive supermarkets filled with every conceivable food item only served to add to the homesickness as on my initial expatriation as without the Kerrygold and Cashel Blue from home, I wandered aimlessly through the aisles wondering how I was going to get a week’s shopping that didn’t include Barry’s Tea and Denny Ham. However bit by bit over the past few years’ things improved. A “non-muslim” section opened in our local grocery and we were able to buy pork, albeit not Irish pigs but definitely pig. Then the famous and most familiar Irish brands, started to appear on the shelves of Lulu, the biggest hypermarket chain in Asia. The first spotting of home was Kerrygold, the familiar gold wrapping with the image of the cow eating grass sat plumply and prettily in the chiller right beside the bland sunflower spreads, saw my smile spread from ear to ear.
Within a year, I was witness to a second spotting, when just as I popped into Waitrose in Dubai Mall, the biggest shopping mall in the world, I saw it on the chiller shelf ( I hang around the chilled aisles a lot) Old Irish Creamery Cheese, made in Effin, Co. Limerick, my heart soared with pride as I bent down to pick up the diet Coke beside it.
A few short weeks after that, as I strolled along the aisles of Spinney’s on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi, I made a most exciting find. Barry’s Tea. Before mine eyes. Grappling greedily at the boxes of tea, I cleared the shelf and filled the trolley with the best drink every to come out of Ireland. That night we celebrated with pots, mugs and cup of tea until we couldn’t drink any more, it was as good as home, but not quite, something was still missing.
Initially I wasn’t sure what the void was, I had the tea, the cheese, butter and a slice of ham when I wanted it, what was missing, could there more?
Then this week, without expectation I wandered around the supermarket, picking up my groceries as usual, when like a bolt of lightning I met with a most familiar face. Instantly I knew that this was what was missing. As I walked closer, the smiling face, the dapper dress of the guy I knew all my life, but in recent years was unable to reach out to, smiled his familiar smile and melted my heart. It was Mr. Tayto. Right here, in LuLu, the Asian shopping beast.
The Irish tayto crisps which are undoubtably the best potato crisps in the world were right here in Abu Dhabi! I dialed up the rest of the family to spread the news. Having a penchant for calling all crisps, TAYTO’s anyway, the message needed to be clarified, “Do you mean Tayto TAYTO’s?” “Yes” I exclaimed, “The real Tayto’s”. Thinking that this was too good to be true nobody would believe it until they saw a picture of the packet, and everyone had the same reaction to that familiar face, yes, they said, “it’s them alright, the real Tayto’s”.
So thank you Tayto’s, Barry’s Tea and Old Irish Creamery for bringing home a little closer and giving us a little bit of Ireland over here.