27 September 2012

My obsession

Tunnock's tea cakes are delicious.
That is all. 

Sorry to those for whom those
delicious cakes were intended.
They are in my belly.

23 September 2012

Facing History

This has been a very full week, and I will do my best to synthesize all the thoughts running around in my head into one semi-coherent thought!

With Amanda at
First things first: last Tuesday, I had my first visitors! OK, so Amanda was really in Ireland to visit her family, but I was totally the beneficiary of this trip when they came to Belfast on my day off and I was able to go do "touristy" things with them. I was particularly excited to take the bus tour, hoping to receive new insights on the murals which Doug had only touched on in passing during orientation. As it turns out, Doug is such a fantastic tour guide that he gave us more information in passing throughout the city than the fellow whose job it is to provide this service! Hooray for Doug!

It was interesting, however, to see the murals through a different lens. I've begun to see how people can quickly categorize others around here, as the perspective of this nameless tour bus driver was quite different from those I've experienced... so my first thought was automatically, "I wonder if he grew up in a Nationalist neighborhood?"

On Wednesday, Anna, David and I went to an event hosted by David's placement site, the WAVE Trauma Centre (introduced here). As part of their week-long Autumn Seminar Series, they hosted a night exploring the use of comedy as a peace-building tool. It was an interesting insight into a coping mechanism of those living in Belfast at the height of the Troubles.

The following night, WAVE hosted a discussion of the film Judgment at Nuremburg as an example of their Facing History series. Clips from the video were shown interspersed with discussion about the psychiatry of compliance and conformity of the German population. Of course, for an Anthro/Soc nerd like me, it was a blast hearing Durkheim's collective consciousness discussed in casual conversation... but the heart of the conversation seemed to carry through my experiences for the rest of the week. Essentially about what it meant, both in Nazi Germany and Belfast at the height of the Troubles, to be an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, and individual complicity therein. How do we move past this to rebuild a healthy society?

On Friday, my coworkers from Fortwilliam and Macrory went to the old Crumlin Gaol (jail) for the unveiling of a report given for Bridge of Hope, a program of the local Ashton Community Trust, entitled Transitional Justice: Grassroots Engagement. I was intrigued by this model, exploring the place where conflict ends and rebuilding begins. Much like the discussion on Thursday night, there was a focus on the high costs related to the "survival skill" of moving forward from conflict without looking back and recognizing where you've been.

Transitional Justice launch
at Crumlin Gaol
The goal of this report was to look at the past and to have those difficult conversations, in an attempt to show the young people in their communities that they are committed to moving forward and ensuring a future that is peaceful and prosperous for future generations. 

The Transitional Justice model has five key pillars: 
  1. Truth-seeking and fact-finding
  2. Trials / criminal accountability
  3. Reparations
  4. Institutional reform
  5. Memorialization and collective memory
In essence, as a trust-building measure each party must be willing to listen to the other about their disparate experiences related to the same conflict. Different neighborhoods in Belfast have different experiences of the Troubles, which highlights a deep divide in this society. Much like the Judgement at Nuremburg film, it is important to face the truth of our past to help the survivors of this conflict, to recognize that harm has been done or trust has been broken, and to step up to the responsibilities of individual needs that arise from this. It is important to recognize where mistakes were made or systems were flawed in order to move forward efficiently, but it would be a disservice to those who have been affected by past injustices to move forward without recognizing the realities of this past.

The very location of the event was meaningful in that the jail is where many political prisoners were held during the Troubles until the building was decommissioned in 1996. For reference: the report states that 30,000 people spent time in prison due to the conflict. Many of these former prisoners have been internationally recognized as playing a positive and critical role in conflict transformation. A few of these were instrumental in this project, and in attendance at this event, which made me wonder what it would be like to go back in such a different time - facades repaired, cells repainted... completely whitewashed for public consumption.

    Original cells in unfinished side                                          Refurbished cells for public tours
      Dirty, peeling paint and general disrepair                      What a difference a fresh coat of paint makes!

In the spirit of looking back, next weekend is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant. This document essentially stated at the time that the undersigned would like to remain loyal to King George (and by extension remain a part of the United Kingdom), and is still very important to many people in this community. The key phrase included, however, is "...defending,... using all means which may be found necessary...", which has been used by some as a rallying cry for violence. With this important anniversary approaching, as well as the recent uproar over parades, much of the city is bracing itself for potential unrest to occur over the next few weeks. It remains to be seen whether this concern will be valid. 

I realize that this post has expanded to record length, so I will leave you with words from my supervisor at Fortwilliam & Macrory, the imitable Reverend Lesley Carroll:

"In the short-term we face a parade on September 29th with the potential to have civil unrest around it. In the longer-term we face the challenge of how to live with each other even after all these years. We face the challenge of how to let each other off hooks, how to do things that will help the other side to trust us and step out on new roads of relationship. We face the challenge of building and not tearing down, of offering hope to young people who as things stand right now don’t even have the hope of a job, at least not many of them. We face the challenge of working out what mutual respect actually means and looks like in society. We face the challenge of what to do about the truths yet to be revealed and we kid ourselves that a good dose of some truths will put things back the way they should be with the good people looking after the governance and the bad people either shamed or in jail. It simply won’t work. In the longer-term there is much to be faced."

(I encourage you to visit this page and read the rest of her post on transitional justice.)

15 September 2012

A week in the life

We had gorgeous weather for our first week or so in Belfast, but now the weather has returned to what we can expect from a traditional autumn. The rain has started back intermittently, and it's fairly chilly in our little house. We're trying to add layers to delay the inevitable day when we'll have to work out our notoriously difficult heating system... so the hot water bottles I brought from home are definitely in rotation!

We started work last Wednesday, but this has been my first full week at work, plus the first time I participated in a few of our programs. Since school just started back last week, there was a bit of easing in to my work since they didn't all start at the same time. So without further ado, here's a snapshot of a week in my life:

Mondays are mostly reserved for YAV meetings with Doug. I also had the ability to attend a Kirk Session meeting this week to introduce the new session members to what is going on at FMPCI. Fun fact to my friends on session at Second Pres - when you are elected to session here, you're elected for life. No more complaining about 3 year terms! Also, since I'm a ruling elder in the States, I've been invited to their meetings throughout the year.

Tuesdays are my day off. I still haven't completely settled in, which would have been a perfect task for this week, but I was still coming off last week's cold and decided to spend the day laying low with a hot water bottle on my poor freezing toes! Anna and I also hit up the Ikea in an attempt to introduce a little more organization into our inherited apartment. Don't worry, I'll share photos when it's a little better put together.

Walking to work in the rain!
Wednesday is my full day at the Vine Community and Advice Centre. Mums and Tots group in the morning is an opportunity for infant/toddlers and their carers to come have some social interaction. That afternoon we have JAFFA - which stands for Jesus A Friend For All. Kids aged 3-10 or so come in for a Bible story, some games and of course Jaffa cakes!

Thursdays are my busiest days. I have office time at Fortwilliam and Macrory in the morning, followed by a seniors lunch and then homework club at the Vine. I'll occasionally head from there to Bike Club at Macrory, but the addition of a new YouthLink worker this week has lightened my load a bit. I'm back to Macrory in the evening for Boys' Brigade. I help out with the Anchors, who are the youngest brigaders at 3-10 years old. BB and it's counterpart GB are extremely popular in Northern Ireland (I think most of the YAVs are involved at a BB or GB group in each of their churches). My best description is that it's a bit like scouts, but with a more prominent church connection and a bit of a military flair.

Fridays are mostly office days at FMPCI, working on some programming and preparing for Sunday's service. I go to Football Club in the evenings, where I cheer from the sidelines, keep score and pour juice. Luckily Mark is a semi-pro footballer and can take care of the parts that require actual athleticism!

Saturdays, I come to garden at church in the mornings. I will occasionally join the walking group in the afternoons as well. In the evenings, I have Youth Club (everything is a "club" here!), which should be quite exciting. It is mostly an outlet for local kids to come hang out, and I'm excited to try my hand at leading my first kitchen project next week.

Sundays I'll lead a Bible class during church. I may have the occasional responsibilities in the afternoon, but for the most part I get a bit of a break!

So that is a look into my crazy week! As we know, the first job of a YAV is to be flexible, so I know this will change as the year progresses! This is already a ridiculously long post, so I'll save some reflection for next time...

12 September 2012

Vote for us!

Vote for the Macrory Bike Club!

I know you're checking in hoping for more photos, updates on site placements, or just general awesome banter from yours truly - but today, I will instead share a fantastic opportunity that has just been presented to one of my work sites, Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church.

Part of what I will be doing with my time at FMPCI is spending time with the Cycling Club and Bike Maintenance Workshop each week. This is a new project that will promote cycling as an accessible means of transportation, encourage inter-community partnership and provide useful job training for youth in the local community.

We have been short-listed in a funding competition hosted by Coca-Cola. This is where we need your help! Please visit http://www.coca-cola.ie/community/thank-you-fund/thank-you-fund-voting-form.html and log in via facebook. Scroll down to where you see 'Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church' and vote for us!

We need to get as many votes as possible so please, please spread the word about this fantastic project!

03 September 2012

Small victories

I've made it through my first week in Belfast!

After a week of running around, visiting sites and learning how to do even the simplest tasks in the city, we escaped to the country for the day on Saturday. We visited the Loughinisland churches, gorgeous ruins which range from the 13th to the 17th century, on our way to the beach at Murlough National Nature Reserve.



Toes in the Irish Sea!

Sunday was our first day in our congregations, and I had a lovely time. After the service, a few of us went out for pizza, then Claire took me for a wee dander about the City Centre (a dander is a bit of an aimless stroll). We had a lot of fun. I even kissed a fish!

Claire and the "Salmon of Knowledge"

I was glad to get home and have the opportunity to put a few things in order at our flat in the afternoon, though. It's amazing how just a few changes can make a fully-furnished apartment start to feel a bit more personal. Today and tomorrow will be our last for orientation, and I begin my full-time YAV-ness on Wednesday. It looks like my schedule will be pretty full, so I'm excited to get into the swing of things!

At our Stony Point orientation, we learned about celebrating the small victories whenever you enter a new culture. So here are a few things that I'm currently quite proud of:
  • Any time I manage to lock or unlock my front door on the first try
  • Getting on the bus and making it down to the PCI offices without incident this morning
  • Cleaning and reorganizing the apartment yesterday afternoon
  • Capturing that massive spider