'I made a decision, I chose to be better and I had a dream'

Story by Jimmy Geoghegan

Tuesday, 17th July, 2018 1:53pm

'I made a decision, I chose to be better and I had a dream'

Harifa Daly with her book

From Malawi to Meath. It has been quite a journey for Harifa Daly - sometimes harrowing, sometimes precarious - but she got here and now she describes herself with a smile as a "Navan girl."
On her journey she has endured abuse of various kinds, imprisonment, betrayal, despair before finding redemption along the banks of the Boyne. 

She has called the Meath town home for seven years now; and she's happy to continue to live in the Royal County seeing it as a place where her two teenager children - a daughter and son - can get a good education; a place where they can get a chance in life.
A recent report stated that in Ireland "attitudes to immigration deteriorated during the recession and are worse than the average in western Europe."
Harifa Daly says she has never come across a problem. "Navan, I love it, it's a very good place to raise children, it's a quiet place," she says.
"I haven't had any problems, I smile a lot so it's very difficult for anyone to be hard on me because I smile even if you don't know me. I will smile so it's very difficult for anybody to throw a stone at me."
The 37-year-old talks about her "struggles," the many challenges she met and overcome on the eventful, often painful journey from her home in the heartlands of Africa.
Not only is she eager to talk about her life she has also written a book about it: 'Life Menu' which is described in the front cover as a "motivational book." She tells the story of how she wrote to a number of politicians, including local TDs, telling them about her book but President Michael D Higgins was the only one to reply. She is clearly chuffed - and honoured - by that. 
In the book she outlines how she has used hard-earned lessons in life; often painful lessons, to forge a philosophy where positivity is everything. One of the key ways of meeting life's challenges, she insists,  is to erase the waves of negativity that can submerge people and make their lives a misery. 
"You must learn not to feel sorry for yourself and never apologise to anyone because of how you look, live your life, and choose to do things which make you happy," is one of the lines from her book. "The most powerful weapon to protect you in life is your strength, your mind, your self-love, stay away from unnecessary drama, negative people, gossip and jealous people," is another line that underlines her philosophy.
Harifa Seleman grew up on a farm "in the middle of nowhere" in the district of Phalombe in south west Malawi. "I would wake up in the morning, go to the stream, go to the farm, that's what I knew. Waking up hearing the footsteps of women going to the market, it was peaceful.'
She was one of 12 children in her family and while she remembers her early years as very happy dark clouds were gathering. 
Illness, particularly cancer, she says, decimated her family.  "I lost most of my siblings, like five sisters, two brothers, may mom and dad, so it was tough but then sometimes when people are going through some things they accept them."  
In her book Harifa also writes about how a girl, who she names as 'Anna,' encountered the kind of experience no youngster should have to encounter: it was  the day she was robbed of her childhood. She was sexually abused by a man she knew. "She screamed but nobody could hear her because no one was home, it was just the two of them. After he was done, he told her that if she ever told anyone she would die. These things happened when she was only six years-old. Anna held on to the pain and the picture of what happened that day for a very long time." 
She's anxious to tell her story as a warning to others: "What happened to me is a warning that parents can't trust too much."  
Harifa proved to be a bright child and got a chance to go to a school in the city but she was fascinated by the outside world and wanted to explore it. She was particularly taken by white people and the lives they led. 
She describes how she took a bus to South Africa. "I didn't know where I was going and if you asked me I wouldn't be able to answer why I did it, but I never looked back."
She met a man who turned out to be involved in the drugs trade. Unwittingly Harifa was caught up in whirlwind and spent 17 days in prison in Sun City before she was released, the police content she was innocent. Harifa also became pregnant. Life, was she says, with a note of understatement, became complicated. 
"I was a sad, lonely and hopelessly pregnant 18-year-old," is how she describes herself in her book. With the help of money she received from the Nigerian man she decided to forge a new life for herself. She had heard about a country called Ireland and without knowing anyone here decided to fly to Dublin with her young daughter. 
"I bought a ticket to Ireland, a country I knew nothing about, the tickets were cheap and with my Malawian passport I did not need a visa," is how she describes her move. "The following night I left for Ireland with my six months old child. I made a decision, I chose to be better and I had a dream."  She says that in Ireland she didn't allow herself "to be distracted by fear."  
Sustained by social welfare Harifa opted to live in Navan because accommodation was more affordable than in Dublin. Harifa became accustomed to life in the Royal County and settled into her new ways. She married but that relationship floundered and she now describes herself as divorced, but she's eager to keep her married name.  
As far as she is aware she is the only "Malawian girl" in Navan but she stays in contact with other Africans through the Cultur Migrant Centre at St Mary's Catholic Church, Navan where she launched her book last month. 
She admits she has often struggled with her "insecurities" but says her faith in God and that mantra of positivity have proved huge allies. "You have to teach yourself to be positive, to wake up in the morning and realise you are blessed yourself and know that you are powerful. How powerful, how beautiful, how strong I am, these things make me feel happy about myself."  
Recently Harifa embarked on a multi-media course in Drogheda but has so far found it difficult to get work in that sector. She has created her own website on which she has interviewed people which she calls 'Miss D TV' and a 'Miss D Talkshow.' She would love to get involved in the media.
While Ireland is home now childhood memories are never far from her consciousness. " I miss the smell of Africa and mangoes, I love mangoes," she says. She recalls from time to time how as a youngster she and the rest of her family in Malawi would sit around the radio. "I didn't see a television until I was 16." 
Then life got a little crazy but she's found a path to redemption in a new-found positivity and her strong faith in God. From Malawi to Meath. It's been a quite journey, all right, for Harifa Daly - in more ways than one.