I came to Ireland from Cameroon on 15 August 2005. That day changed my life forever.

I flew here by myself at the age of nine. Ireland was a completely different world. I had to grow up so much that day.

My parents believed that I had a better opportunity of life here. I took all the opportunities I was given with two hands and I made the best out of it. That day determined the rest of my life.

People tell me that I don’t act like a 24-year-old. I’m mature for my age because I had to grow up very quickly. My father already had children here with his wife so I had to be an older sister and I’d never been an older sister before. I had to take that responsibility at that age and really grow up. I felt at some point, my childhood was taken. The fun of life was back when I was in Cameroon. Landing here in Ireland I had to really take responsibility for other people. Asking that of a nine-year-old is quite hard.

I grew up back home in a really supportive background, with family surrounding me. We all took care of each other. It was very nurturing. In Ireland, your family is your mom and dad, and your brothers and sisters. Where I was raised your family are your neighbours! You can’t say you don’t have a family because your neighbours are your family, your neighbours are like your parents, like mom and dad. That’s how I was raised.

I remember my first day in Ireland and I was asking my dad, ‘can we go and play with the neighbours?’, and my dad was like, ‘no, you can’t play with the neighbour, this is not Cameroon’. It was really like, ‘this isn’t how life here works’.

I didn’t really know anything about racism because back home it’s different. It’s so innocent. You don’t get taught about it because we’re all the same. We never spoke about it. It’s when I moved here that I was sat down and told about it. Which is sad, because you’re kind of putting a limit to who I am and what I can do.

I never really understood when my parents told me that I was different. I didn’t really understand what racism meant because I had never experienced it. At that age, you don’t really understand.

I understood that I was different when I was going to an all-white school and I was the only black student. I was really welcome in my school. I didn’t speak English so I was trying to learn it to fit in. It was a completely new world.

I think any child that has been in my position would tell you, it was a really difficult time. Being taken from a place that you loved so much to being brought to a completely different world, that you have to adjust to and you have to fit in. But, to be honest, I’m very proud of myself. That’s what you have to do.

My first encounter of racism was in primary school when I was playing football with the guys. I remember I asked to play and they were like, ‘yeah…’. Then a ball came to me and they were like, ‘Linda, you know black people don’t play with white footballs’. I had been taught from such a young age to not reply, to not fight, it was ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt’. You just walked it off and it was sad that my parents had to tell me these things. But obviously, they knew what we were facing out there.

It’s really sad because I felt like I really wanted to respond back but I can’t because I will get in trouble. You can’t fight back because you already know that you’re different. You have to fight twice as hard to have your voice heard. You have to fight twice as hard to be somebody. I remember going home and really feeling down and it was the first time that I was like, ‘yeah, this is what I’m being taught at home, this is what my mom and dad are talking about’.

I am different.

When you open your eyes, you see that there is not enough diversity in everything that we do. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable because people will look at you, probably asking, ‘what is she doing here?’. And that’s hard. That is so hard. That’s why I tell people, ‘try and live in my shoes just for one day and see what it feels like being black, being different’.

I have sat down on buses and someone asked me, ‘are you black? The colour of your skin is so dark!’, and I’m thinking, ‘are you ignorant or what?’. But you can’t talk. I just go on about my day. If some people have put in their head that they are not racist then you’re putting it in your head that you don’t need to change or you’re refusing to consider it. This is a bigger issue than ourselves.

George Floyd’s life shouldn’t have been taken for people to start talking. ‘This is not right’ – it hasn’t been right for generations. Every single time a person had to die for people to be like, ‘ok, there’s something wrong’. Something has been wrong for generations. You either want to make a change or you just don’t. This thing will never go away. For centuries, my grandma, her grandma, and her grandma have relived it. If you want to know about my history, you will know about it. But that is if you want to. I’m not going to push it on you to learn about my history. But it’s up to you to learn about my history if you really care and you want to make a difference.

It’s funny how I went to school and I learned about Columbus and his three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, the Santa Maria. I learned about the Cuban Missle Crisis and the Cold War. These things have nothing to do with me. I was going home and being taught black history by my parents but I was in school being taught about Columbus. I was sitting beside white children and I was learning about their history, but how about my history? How do you expect them to understand me, to understand where I’m from, to understand my culture when it’s not even being taught at school? People are like, ‘how can I change?’. You need to educate yourself.

When have Columbus’ ships ever been an important topic of modern life? My history comes into every single day. But that’s something that’s never been taught. My history to this day, in 2020, is still being talked about. I don’t know the last time someone asked me about Columbus’ ships.

I am Irish. Irish history is my history too. I still learn about it every single day. I went out and I learned it. I want to know more. But how many people want to know about my culture or where I come from? That’s what we’re facing to this day. There are so many things you can do to change but, to be honest, I don’t even blame people. You were never taught this. You were taught about Columbus.

We are not born to be racist. We’re not born to harm others. But it’s the system that we live in that affects us. People say here they want to educate themselves but where do you even start?

For example, my hair. People are like, ‘can we touch your hair? How come your hair is long today, how come it’s short?’. Because you don’t understand my culture. You don’t understand my hair texture. You’re not educated about me. But I know everything about your hair.

I would try and pronounce your name right. Names, like Caoimhe, Saoirse, Aoife. I will pronounce your name right but please pronounce my name too. I go home and I practice your name. I don’t tell you that I’ll go home and practice your name, but God damn, I do it. Because I want to treat you the same way as I would like to be treated too. So when I go home I will write your name several times and pronounce it and come to you the next day and pronounce your name. Saoirse. Aoife. Caoimhe. Siobhan. Oh God, you better pronounce my name right too. But that has been a topic where I’m just like, ‘it’s fine’. I have to accept it. I don’t understand how people can pronounce ‘Djokovic’ and can’t pronounce ‘Djougang’. My simple name cannot be pronounced or written properly.

Rugby has definitely changed me as a person. It has taught me so much about life, about having to work together to achieve something. The camaraderie in rugby is just incredible. If someone is ready to put themselves on the line for you, then your friendship will last forever. I think that’s what’s so special about rugby. In order to even play a game, or even be able to win a game, the bond in the team has to be real, has to be so strong. You have to connect together. That is so special because I don’t think there’s a sport out there that requires all these specific elements to be able to really achieve something.

I think that’s why I fell in love with the sport and I still am in love with the sport. The friendships, the respect between one another, these have to be shown on the pitch. I think that’s very special. We may come from different parts of the world but the thing that we have in common is that we love rugby – it’s in our DNA. The sport and our passion for it are what bring us together.

I’m really grateful for the fact that people have seen potential in me, have wanted to help me, and support me to achieve my goals and give me the opportunity to showcase my talent. Wearing the blue jersey, the green jersey, for me, that’s just the beginning of it all. I’m really looking forward to what it’s going to bring. There’s going to be a lot of joy out of all this so I’m really looking forward to it.

I am so grateful to even be part of the team and feeling their support. I’m playing with the most amazing women. You can’t ask for more.

The journey has just begun.

Sport Against Racism Ireland

World Rugby – Rugby For All