‘I know I have good business sense’
2007-06-14 15:30:19 -

In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Ekemeh Christiana Ugonoh, owner of The Africa Experience shop in Dundalk 

kemeh Christiana Ugonoh is originally from Nigeria, but when she got married her husband’s work took him to Poland, where they raised their family. When Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Christiana says, “many Polish were looking to move from Poland. I had a sister, Benedicta, living in Ireland and she suggested that I come over and try it out.” Christiana duly arrived and immediately sent word back to her husband that Ireland was indeed a good place to live and find work.

Some of Christiana’s older children remain in Poland as they are completing their university studies there. “It was hardest for my younger children who came over with us,” she says, “they needed to settle in to new schools, but they have picked up English very quickly and have made new friends.”

Though their experience so far has been mostly a very good one, there have been some negative moments. “Once in a while we meet with racism or small incidents,” Christiana notes. “My daughter recently had a bitter experience coming home from school; she was hit with a water bottle by some boys. But I tell my children that although there are very stupid people around, there are also good people too.

“I tell them to accept some things. However if it happened in the school or it was someone that I knew then I would not accept it and we would follow it up. Different situations call for different responses.”

Christiana is still amazed that she is living in Ireland, as it was not really planned: “We are quite unique in that we are Black Polish living in Ireland. People are surprised and it starts many conversations.”

With her family settled in their new country, Christiana began working for her sister at her shop, The African Experience, at Dundalk’s Market Square. “It was really handy, and it was a good way to help my sister as she was expanding her career and was very busy,” she says. “I had some business experience from Poland in administration, retail and recruitment, so my sister knew that the shop was in good hands.”

The African Experience deals in speciality foodstuffs catering to African and Polish tastes. They also offer Western Union money transfer services, and those ever-indispensable call cards for contacting family and friends.

Eventually Christiana’s sister decided to sell the shop, and Christiana knew that it was the business for her. “I love the dealing and negotiations,” she says. “Organising cash flow so I can avail of the best opportunities to buy good deals is quite exciting, I love it. Customers and clients and buyers and sellers add to the excitement of the day, it’s a good business to be in and I know I have good business sense.”

Christiana went to the bank for a small loan to help her buy the business, but found out that a business loan was out of the question. “They required that I had credit history, they required that I had property here, it was impossible,” she recalls. “So I used my savings and my sister offered me a condition of repayments that suits us both.”

Business at The African Experience is good; Christiana uses her good sense and attracts both African and Polish customers from Dundalk and beyond. Her best sellers are okra, fish and call cards.

Christiana’s plans for the future include getting her qualifications recognised here; she has a Masters in law from Poland, and hopes to take things further in Ireland.
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