The Blow-in of Blow-ins!

by Masako Carey
Audio version recorded by Masako Carey

‘Blow-in’. I first heard this phrase from a friend from my local village Martinstown. She explained, that if you are not born and reared here, you are considered as a blow-in. She was from Cushendun. My other friends were from Ballymena, Ahoghill and Belfast. They are all blow-ins as well. If the people from Northern Ireland are blow-ins, what am I? Coming from Japan with black hair and black eyes, I am the blow-in of blow-ins!

I came to N. Ireland 20 years ago. I met my husband in Tokyo through business, and here I am living in the countryside with two children. When I first spoke to the local people and described where I lived, they said ‘Oh you live in Omerbane.’ There was no name on the map called Omerbane. As far as I knew our address was Cloughmills. It was quite confusing to me. This was the beginning of encountering the words that only local people knew.

When I first visited my in-laws, I was very nervous. His parents seemed delighted to see me though. I secretly thought that had a lot to do with their relief from getting rid of the last one. My father-in-law is a very gentle kind person. The conversation was led by my mother-in-law. I used to work at an international school as a kindergarten teacher. After that school closed, I studied and became an interpreter where I met my husband. I knew my English was not excellent but was comfortable to hold a normal conversation. As we continued speaking however, I started to sweat. I could only understand about 65% of what my mother-in-law was saying. She spoke with an accent known as Ulster Scots. I tried saying, ‘excuse me’ and ‘pardon’ however, my mother-in-law replied with the same phrase, the same accent, the same speed but just louder. Probably I was the first person she encountered whose first language was not English, and it did not occur to her to change the way of speaking to make it easier for me to understand. I just smiled and nodded, thinking this is what Japanese people do when they don’t understand English to save face.

Quite often, meeting with my mother-in-law meant, ‘learning something new’. She threw jargons in our conversations, and put me into confusion. One day she said, ‘I’m starving!’. I thought she might be hungry, which turned out to be she was cold. Another day she said ‘Oh Martin’s wains did this and that’. I was thinking who is this ‘Wayne’ which turned out to be Martin’s children. The new words seemed to pop up endlessly.

My mother-in-law developed Alzheimer’s and she is in a care home. Her feelings and mind cocooned inside her now frail and tiny body. How I wish to hear her speak, and learn a new word from her once again…

Masako Carey