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Sana Muhammad, who is originally from Pakistan and moved to Ireland in 2013, outside a Supermac’s, where he has risen through the ranks and now works as an area manager. Photograph: Alan Place
It was December 2013 and Sana Muhammad was standing on a Dublin street in pouring rain waiting for a bus to arrive. The Pakistani engineer had just emerged from yet another unsuccessful job interview feeling exasperated and fed up. The company’s manager told him to keep an eye on his email and that the advertising agency would be in touch. But Muhammad knew he wouldn’t hear back.
“I just had that feeling I wouldn’t get the job and when I came out it started lashing rain. I realised the bus network had stopped operating and I’d have to walk about an hour-and-a-half home.
“I’d left everything behind in Pakistan and I couldn’t go back because we’d paid the fees for my degree, my wife had signed her contract, my job back in Pakistan was gone. In that moment, I had to remind myself; ‘Sana, this is the tough time. You need to stick with it and find a job no matter what’.”
Muhammad lets out a brief sigh as he recalls the many challenges he faced when he first arrived in Ireland. Nearly nine years on, he’s speaking to me over Zoom from his home in Limerick city.
“I often think of that time in the lashing rain,” he says with a small smile. “I didn’t even have the money to get a taxi that day. To get from that place to where I am today makes me feel happy and proud.”
The son of a public sector doctor, Muhammad spent the early years of his childhood moving around different cities in Pakistan depending on where his father was sent for work. After school, he studied engineering and found work in the city of Karachi after graduation. However, he struggled to settle and missed his family who lived more than 1,200km away. “The people were so different there, they spoke a different language. Karachi is also like the London of Pakistan, it’s big and congested. It took me nearly an hour-and-a-half to get to work each day and I had no social life.”
In 2012, Muhammad started investigating study opportunities abroad. He had recently married Hena, the sister of his brother’s wife, and the couple were keen to find a place where they could build a life together. She was studying to be a doctor in Islamabad and also wanted to develop her medical career overseas.
Muhammad’s brother-in-law, who was also a doctor and living in Ireland, recommended the couple move to Ireland. “He said, if you’re trying to adjust to a new culture, Ireland is the best place. People will accept you.”
Muhammad also recalled his father’s stories of his month-long visit to Dublin in the 1970s as part of his medical studies. “He told me he loved the people here and said they were very similar to Pakistanis because they love to talk and love their tea and coffee.”
In 2013, Hena was offered a role with the HSE in Limerick so the couple packed their bags and moved to Ireland. Muhammad applied to study for a master’s in supply chain and quality control management and spent his first year in Ireland commuting between Dublin and Limerick. At first, the couple lived off Hena’s salary, but quickly realised they needed a second salary to cover the cost of travel, rent and food. As a student, Muhammad could only work 20 hours per week and he eventually found a part-time role at Supermac’s in Limerick city. However, just two weeks after starting, he got a call to say his father had died suddenly. “He had suffered from heart disease since he was 43 but was not willing to spend the money on surgery because all the family savings would be gone. They’d have nothing left for their children, he didn’t spend anything on himself.”
Muhammad and his wife quickly packed and jumped on a flight to Abu Dhabi where they would catch a connecting flight to Islamabad. However, they ended up stuck in the Middle Eastern airport for nearly two days because of delays and Muhammad missed his father’s funeral.
“In Islam, it’s advised you do the funeral as soon as possible. It was summer and the middle of Ramadan, you can wait two to three days but no more. In that moment I really asked myself, why did I ever leave Pakistan? That man had raised me, educated me, financially supported me but I wasn’t there when he needed me. I still can’t cope with the fact that I missed that funeral, I should have been there.”
Muhammad returned to Ireland that summer to finish his thesis and found a second job working as a night receptionist in a hotel after he’d finished his evening shift behind the counter in Supermac’s. He eventually secured a full-time role at Supermac’s and started working his way up the ranks of operations and quality control. Supermac’s also helped him secure a work visa once his graduate visa had expired.
“It was those small things that meant a lot to me. We don’t know people here, we don’t have contacts. But my boss said he’d do whatever was needed to keep me in the company.”
In 2017, the couple’s son, Azlaan, was born and shortly afterwards, they applied for a mortgage to buy a house in Limerick. “We’d started seriously thinking about spending the rest of our lives in Ireland. I wanted my son to have his own home, I knew I had to do for him what my parents had done for us.”
In 2019, Muhammad was offered the role of area manager for Co Limerick and soon after the role was extended to include counties Clare and Tipperary. He now has Cork in his portfolio and oversees about 200 employees across 10 Supermac’s branches. Each day, when he heads out to work across Ireland’s western counties, he carries a small piece of paper in his wallet. “It’s something my father used to say, that whatever you do, you must do it with honesty. I think being an honest person has helped me achieved what I wanted.”
This sense of achievement is tinged with an element of regret that he was never able to show his parents the life he has built in Ireland – his mother now has dementia and is unable to travel. “I remember the day we arrived in Dublin Airport and I thought, ‘One day I’ll be coming here to pick up my parents in my own car and bring them to my own house’. That’s every child’s dream but it wasn’t fulfilled.
“But, now my son is growing up as an Irish-Pakistani. And I am so proud to be in this country where my family and I get love, respect and are considered part of the community.”
We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org. @newtotheparish
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