Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Heroes With Their Hands in the Air

So I got the group together to go see Heroes With Their Hands in the Air last night. I thought it came together quite well.

The play ran 90 minutes with no intermission, which turned out to be just about the perfect length. It did what I think Finton (the director) wanted it to do without dragging on at any point. Seeing it all put together from start to finish was pretty powerful. Even though I'd seen almost all of it during rehersals, I found the finished product really moving. There was one point where I almost cried.

They had one last-minute actor substitution due to illness, but he grabbed the ball and ran with it. Aside from one line (from a London taxicab driver) that no one can do better than the original actor, he did a fabulous job.

From a techie standpoint (do costume designers count as techies? backstagers at least), I have to say that the set was pretty awesome. They had a black and white map of the bogside of the floor and another one on the backdrop, along with a seperate backdrop made up of headlines, quotes, articles, and transcript exerpts. Afterwards, a few of us went up and examined it more closely. One of my groupmates was brave enough to walk right up onto the stage to get a better look of the backdrop, but no one shoed him away, so I guess it was alright. I think he was trying to read something. The stage is level with the first row of seats, so it's not that big a deal to walk right up to the set.

It's going to Belfast and Doublin after it closes here. Really good stuff.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Bloody Sunday weekend

This weekend is the 35th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. We went down to the Ancient Order of the Hibernians Hall last night (it's a men's club) to watch a documentary about it produced by CBC. Afterwards, a few representetives from the Bloody Sunday Families answered questions.

It was really quite powerful. I thought I knew about Bloody Sunday already from sitting in on rehearsals for Heroes With Their Hands in the Air, but seeing the actual footage and photographs really drives it home. If you look at the evidence and the footage, and hear the eyewitness accounts... it's horrific. Fourteen men died. Most of them were young. My age. Younger. Seventeen, some of them.

An eighteen-year-old woman was run over by an armored personel carrier. A father was shot trying to help his dying son. A man was shot dead with his hands up in the air-- the bullet passed from one armpit to the other without damaging his arms. A few people were killed crawling for cover. One seventeen year old was bleeding out on the pavement with a severed spinal cord when a paratrooper came up and shot him in the back. He died of a punctured lung.

I know this is treated as a political issue, but I don't see how it can be. It's a human rights issue, plain and simple. Innocent people were killed. It was wrong. Whether it was a result of premedetated malice or not, it was wrong.

In the Q&A, one of the family members said that the reason they're still fighting this battle is because they don't want there to be any more bloody sundays. They mentioned a school in Fellujah where American soldiers opened fire on civilians and children. The soldiers there used the same excuse that the paras responsible for Bloody Sunday used: they conjured up a fantasy gun battle; all evidence of which apparantly vanished shortly after it occurred. No bulletholes anywhere near them.

When soldiers are sent to control civilian populations but not trained in how to do it properly, innocent people die. They died on Bloody Sunday. They died in Fellujah. They've died elsewhere. It's a simple fact. I can't see anything political about saying it's wrong, and that it shouldn't happen again.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

It's starting to feel a bit like I live here.

Life is settling into a sort of normal here. Mervyn made us all jump into the deep end at the start by doing a week of placements without him, but it worked out. For me at least, it forced me to get used to L/Derry so that I know more of it than just how to get to school and back. It's an easy town to get to know.

Some of my groupmates have a particular interest in exploring the pub scene here, and I've been joining them most nights. I'm not really a drinker, but the company's good and the coke here tastes better than the stuff in the states. I think it's because they still serve it in glass bottles. This weekend, we're going out to a nightclub in celebration of my birthday. I'll try to get pictures.

The big news in the world of Northern Irish current events right now is a report from the police ombudsman (think Internal Affairs on crack) indicating that the police colluded with loyalist paramilitary organizations in the '90s to kill Catholics. Unfortunately, there's very little that can be done to prove that, because the police involved destroyed what evidence there was. From what I've seen, the general feeling here in L/Derry about it is a cynical lack of shock.

Sinn Fein has been holding policing meetings all around town this week, trying to gain support for their position as they gear up for the coming election. I haven't attended any (I live too far away for it to be practical, and there are safer places to be than Bogside (the neighborhood where Sinn Fein has the most support) at night), but some of my groupmates have. I'm sure I'll hear all about it in class on Monday.

The current challenge I've set in front of myself is to keep up with my writing while I'm over here. My first novel, a fantasy mystery, should be ready to go out to publishers very soon unless I neglect it, and my second, a Young Adult fantasy adventure story, is just starting to get up off the ground. I don't want to get so preoccupied with writing that I miss out on being here, but I've certainly got downtime that would be better spent writing than surfing the web or watching imported American movies on tv.

Speaking of which, I've got a couple minutes before my next class. Perhaps I ought to be productive with it.

Monday, January 22, 2007


So today is the first day of class. We gathered at 10:15 for our first one, which comes in two parts: 1. Strategies of conflict intervention, community building, andreconciliation; and 2. current events in Northern Ireland. We take it with Mervyn, our program director.

He was talking about forgiveness as it relates to peace and reconciliation, and about how it's a necessary but difficult part of the peace process. He asked us to think about the people who've wronged us in our lives and whether or not we can forgive them.

That's an intersting question for me. On the one hand, I know that forgiving grievous hurts is possible. I think of Tom, and how I honestly harbor no ill will for the people who kidnapped and killed him. I spent more than a hundred days of my life with knots in my stomach, loading and reloading Al-Jazeera in search of news. I still want to cry when I think about the fact that I'll never see him again. But I'm not angry; I'm sad. At least, I'm not angry at the people who killed him. I'm angry at the circumstances that sent him there in the first place. Forgiveness has allowed me to make peace in my own mind with those who hurt me. On a pragmatic level, it takes away their power over me. On a peacebuilding level, it puts me in a position to let go of the past in the interest of building a better future.

But I know that it's not that simple. I think of other wrongs I haven't forgiven. Small things. Petty things. Toxic, selfish people who used me in the name of 'friendship.' Teachers and school administrators who abused their power in the name of 'dicipline.' Decade-old arguments that no one's said 'I'm sorry' for yet. If I can't forgive that, then what right do I have to suggest that people simply move on and get over more than thirty years of violence and nearly a milennium of conflict?

Mervyn made the point that while it's one thing to tell a classroom full of students, or a computer screen, that people need to forgive the past if they want peace, it's another thing entirely to face someone whose son was gunned down by paramilitaries because of his religion and say 'you need to forgive them, because peace is important.'

Even if I've been able to forgive a group of paramilitaries who kidnapped and murdered someone that I care about, I know that it's a hard thing. And I didn't do it for the Swords of Rightiousness. I didn't do it for peace. I did it for Tom. I did it because I know that if he were standing next to me when I got the news, he would have said 'I forgave them. Please don't hate them because of me.' I did it because I knew that I would never be able to honestly embrace the ideals that he died for if I was harboring hate in my heart.

I'm not here to solve the conflict in Northern Ireland. I'm here to study it, and to study the methods people are using to try to solve it. But it seems to me that part of the reconciliation process might be finding something that people will forgive for.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Placements, Pictures, and Peach Yogurt (oh my!)

Last night was our first tin whistle class--dinner beforehand was peach yogurt (bet you were wondering how I'd tie that in...). I'm happy to report that I'm taking to it a lot faster than I have been to bodhran. When all's said and done, I guess I'm just a woodwinds kind of gal. Our tin whistle instructor also promised to teach us a few words of Irish (it's his first language. How cool is that?) over the course of the class. Very cool.

Down at the playhouse, I've been sitting in on rehersals for Heroes With Their Hands in the Air. I was right in guessing that it's formatted a bit like The Leramie Project. All of the lines are direct quotes from the real people the actors are portraying. From what I've seen so far, it looks like it's going to be quite good. I'm trying to get my whole group together to go see it--Mervyn says we can probably get funding from the cultural budget for our tickets, because it's Northern Irish theatre and so apropos to what we're studying. It opens on the 26th, and it's here for about a week before it goes on tour (unless I've gotten my dates all screwed up).

I just finished uploading a bunch of pictures. Most of my favorites are a bit big to post here directly, but I'll probably put some in my next post.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Placement week in L/Derry

We arrived in L/Derry and met our host families on Saturday. Iona and I are living with a woman named Maureen about twenty minute's walk from campus. She's quite nice; has two daughters around my age and a fairly adorable dog named Angel. She also has a wireless router in the house, but it's snubbing Padma for some reason. If I can get them talking to each other, I'll have weekend and evening internet access. As it stands, weekdays only (via the library here at school).

Today was our first day at our placements. The Derry Playhouse is HUGE inside-- two side-by-side three-storey buildings that used to be a pair of schools. It turns out that their theatre is actually their smallest department. They run a veriety of cross-cultural youth programs and workshops designed to bring young people from both sides of the conflict together. They also have a creative writing group that meets on Wednesday nights, so I'm going to try to stop by and check it out. One of the members is apparantly an American expat who's friends with Nancy Polosi.

Most of what I was doing today was reading. They gave me a big stack of stuff to look through to familiarize myself with the playhouse and its programmes. Tomorrow I meet with the peace & reconciliation staff to hear about their projects and see if there's anything that I really want to be involved in. Overall, I think I'm going to really enjoy working there. It's a very laid-back office with a whole lot going on to get involved with. They're moving out of their buildings for a while so that they can be rennovated-- they won some kind of huge BBC historic buildings competition and got a bunch of grant money from it-- but not until after I leave.

The play they'll be putting on while I'm here is called 'Heroes With Their Hands in the Air.' It's about Bloody Sunday (one of the biggest events during the Troubles) and the investigations into it. I haven't seen the script or anything yet, but from the descriptions, it looks like it's going to be formatted sort of like The Laramie Project.

I took some pictures of the city, murals, and graffiti today, but Padma and I need to have at them before I can put them up. Hopefully, the wireless here at the library will like her better than the wireless at home; I haven't tried yet.

The city continues to charm me. I know that's probably the whole 'honeymoon phase' of cultural displacement, but I plan to enjoy it while it lasts. Peace to all, and I hope things are going well.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

photos: Giant's Causeway and L/Derry mayor

Photos of the Giant's Causeway and of us with the L/Derry Mayor, as promised.

ETA: Some of them are cutting off on the righthand side for some odd reason (at least on the actual page), so right click->view image if you want to see the full shots.

This first one was taken up on the cliff above the causeway. The causeway itself is down and to the left, but I thought the cliffs were pretty, so I snapped a photo.

This one was taken from the ground below the cliff, sort of below the one above. I liked the sunlight behind the cliff.

Anthony and Greg, two of my groupmates, standing on the causeway propper. You can see the way that the vulcanic rock formed into hexagons that look almost man-made.

group shot of all of us near the Giant's chair:

me, looking all touristy on the Giant's boot. Not a very flattering shot, but meh:

And last but not least, the group with the mayor of L/Derry. I'm the fourth from the left, but I'm kinda tucked in behind Lauren where I'm hard to see. You can see my massive Doctor Who scarf, though :).

I actually took a bunch more pictures than that, but I don't want to post them all here. I might make a flickr account or something later and start collecting them all there (eljay's ohoto album feature isn't exactly the best ever for this sort of thing).

First days, first impressions.

Greetings from Northern Ireland!

Posting may be spotty for a week or so because internet access is infrequent. My apologies for that, but I've only got touristy travel log stuff to say until the program starts anyway. Not that travel logs are bad or anything; I'm really quite fond of them. It's just that the program itself is really fascinating. I'm hoping that it will generate content here that's a lot more substantial than a 'where I've been and what pictures I've taken' sort of blog.

Having said that, I've mostly only got 'where I've been and what pictures I've taken' for you so far. Mervyn, the program director, picked us all up from the Belfast city airport on the ninth and took us to the Corrymeela Reconciliation Centre, where we're staying until Saturday. Corrymeela is the largest Christian peace centre in Northern Ireland. It's perched up on a cliff overlooking Ballycastle-- absolutely gorgeous. Pictures can't capture it. I haven't even tried. Just trying to give you all a sense of the variations in the color of the water would take up five gigs. There's a pair of lighthouses on the island across the water from us. The whole place reminds me of Maine.

Anyway. Yesterday (the tenth), we slept late and then went out to the Giant's Causeway-- the so-called 'eighth wonder of the world.' It's a volcanic rock formation on the northern coast. We were warned it always rains on that trip, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Chilly but not freezing, and blue skies the whole afternoon. I had a fabulous time. The site itself was beatiful, but I especially appreciated the chance to do a bit of hiking. Not much by any means, but it was good to get up and walk after a whole day of sitting on airplanes and at airports. I'll post pictures as soon as I shrink them down to a decent web-size.

We took a walking tour of L/Derry today-- that's where we'll be until the end of March. There wasn't much time for pictures, but I figure there'll be plenty of time for that while I'm living there. The tour did take us right past my placement, though: I'll be working at the Playhouse in the walled city. It's a small theatre that's being run by a mixed group of Catholics and Protestants. It was nice to get a look at it (we didn't go in, but the door was open. Big pile of fabric inside. Maybe they'll let me sort it :D).

I also fell in love with the craft village. It's a small neighborhood inside the walls that's been deliberately styled after 18th century streets. The street level is full of small craft stores; the second is modern apartments that are intentionally rented out to young people from both sides of the religious divide. As I understand it, it's the only actually integrated neighborhood on that side of the river. Really it's the look of it that fascinates me, though. The architects and designers did a fabulous job-- it was like stepping into a time warp. I'd love to do a costume shoot there sometime.

We did a walk of the old wall as well, and heard some interesting facts about the course of the troubles in L/Derry. It's such an odd match-up, because on the one hand, it's an entirely modern city that looks completely at peace. Most parts of it look like they could be somewhere in Boston or Philly. And then two blocks away there's Real IRA graffiti (on the side of the Apprentice Boys house*, no less). There's a Protestant unionist neighborhood right near the Playhouse-- the only one on that side of the river. It's fenced off with barbed wire. The curbs and sighposts are painted red, white, and blue (the colors of the union jack, a ripped and tattered version of which flies over the house nearest the wall). There's a big mural, black with white lettering, declaring their intent to 'Never Surrender the West Bank.'

English lettering aside, it looks like it belongs in Palestine.

The walking tour ended at the Guild Hall, where we met the mayor of L/Derry (again, pictures once I shrink them). She met us in the council chamber and talked to us a bit about the current political situation (elections are apparantly back on for the seventh of March; Sinn Fein and the DUP** are not pleased). We've been invited back to come play pennywhistle for her once we learn.

After that, we went over to UU to register. They got some of my vitals (namely, birthday) way wrong, so I don't get me 'real' card until Monday at the earliest. This might make internetting a challenge. We'll have to see.

We had to face a squall on our way into the building-- rain blowing right in our face and the wind against us. I ran straight for the door, but heavens, what a workout! When we got out: blue skies. I'm noticing that a lot here. People talk about how it rains every day, but it only rains for maybe an hour at a go before the sun's back out. I much preferr it to Maryland, where if you wake up to rain, it's pretty much a garantee that the weather will be gross all day.

I'm back at Corrymeela now with just a few minutes to spare before dinner, so I'm going to see what I can do about these pictures and then head off. I may post them up later tonight if I get the chance. I'm sorry this entry's gotten so long! I'll try to post shorter entries more frequently as opposed to longer entries less frequently in the future. I imagine that will get easier once classes begin.

I hope everyone's having a lovely new year!


*The Apprentice Boys is basically a protestant men's club, named after a group of apprentices who shut the gates of the walled city against James II's catholic army. Every December and August, they do marches around the wall to commemorate withstanding the seige. The march has gone off peacefully for the last nine years, but the Catholic community doesn't like it much, to put it mildly (The IRA blew up a column on which the marchers used to hang and burn the effigy of a historic figure they consider a traitor some years back. They now burn the effigy in front of the courthouse).
**Sinn Fein and the DUP are the two largest parties for the Nationalists and Unionists, respectively.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

All my bags are packed, etc

It occurrs to me that I haven't explained what I'll be doing in Northern Ireland yet.

I'm going to Northern Ireland as part of an Earlham College study abroad programme. N.I. is a Peace and Global Studies program; I'll be studying conflict resolution with professors from the University of Ulster and taking part in field placements with organizations that contribute to the peace process. We spend the first half of the semester in L/Derry and the second half in Belfast, with a weeklong excursion to Dublin thrown somewhere in the middle. I'm not sure where I'll be living or what my internship is yet.

Tomorrow's the big day. My next post will probably be from either Belfast or L/derry.

I'm a little scared, very sad to be leaving my friends and family (and DC, because I really love this city), and extremely tired (because it's nearly 3 am). I'm also very excited. I love that I've got the chance to do this.

Once I get there, I expect to be updating much more frequently. Blogging about trip prep is like blogging about watching paint dry, which is why this place has been mostly dead so far. Once again, please allow me to direct any interested eljayers to the blog's livejournal feed.