Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Third Party/First Party reporting and media

At work yesterday, I accompanied my boss Pauline to a symposium at The Junction. It was organized by doctorate students at Magee. The topic was 'Contested Spaces: From Third Party To First.' In essence, it was about mediators and documentary makers, and about bias in addressing issues in Northern Ireland. They tried to address whether or not there is such thing as an unbiased third party, and what ethics and responsibilities an intermediary in the conflict has.

One of the speakers does consulting work at the Peace and Reconciliation Group, where one of our professors works. The main thrust of his argument was that there's a difference between being fair and being unbiased. He says that he freely admits to having biases about the conflict(s) in Northern Ireland. But he says thay what matters isn't what he believes, but how he behaves. By being a fair and balanced mediator, he's built himself a reputation as someone who can set his own biases aside when it comes to helping people work out problems.

Two of the other speakers were documentary makers. They discussed the difficulties present in trying to tell the truth while also trying to satisfy funders, most of whom want something sensational they can sell on the air. The last was the director of a nonprofit called Children in Crossfire. He's been the subject of newsmedia and documentaries since he was ten, when he was blinded by a rubber bullet on his way home from school. He discussed using the media, and also the difficulties he's had with getting the media to respect his privacy and his wishes about what does and does not air.

Overall it was quite an interesting day. Plus, they gave us free lunch, and you just can't beat free lunch.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Belfast, again

Yesterday was the whole-group excursion to Belfast. We got a nice tour of town hall (quite a pretty building), and then did a bus tour of the murals on the Falls and Shankill roads. Those are two major centres of republicanism and loyalism in Belfast; located within a few blocks of each other. There's a 'peace wall' between them, which is to say a very large fence. I imagine anyone truly dedicated wouldn't have much troube circumventing it, but it apparantly does an at least passing job of keeping young people and drunks from making rash decisions about trouble and the starting thereof. The wall itself has a few murals on it as well.

Many of the murals are really pretty and well-done. And while there are still certainly a lot of murals about the NI political situation, a lot of the more recent ones are about other subjects entirely. One depicted George W. Bush sucking out of a straw that fed into the mural next door: an oil field. Another was of Frderick Douglass, who, it claimed, was inspired to escape slavery by a pair of Irishmen. I seem to recall seeing a 'Where's Wally?' one somewhere along the route as well (Wally is apparantly this side of the pond's younger, hipper answer to Waldo). There was one of an American flag with writing on it, but I didn't see what it said because we drove by too fast.

After the tour, we were left to our own devices in the city centre for a few hours. I spent the time walking around most of the places I'd already walked on Wednesday, but it was fun. Aformentioned diner (actually a cafe) with the bad food was called Blinkers. Walked past it; didn't go in.

I did find the comic book store, thanks to a new friend here in L/Derry who comes from Belfast. There was much rejoicing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Interview

So I went down to Belfast today for my interview with the headmaster at the integrated school*. Everything went very well, and I'm glad to report that I do in fact have the internship. The school itself is quite lovely as well. I'm sure I'll get on well there. There happened to be a student doing his GCSE in home economics today-- which means he had to cook a complete meal. I got to taste it because I was walking around with the headmaster, and let me tell you, this kid was good. Excellent onion-basil gaspacho, and an absolutely fantastic desert thing that consisted of fruit, chocolate, maple syrup (imported from home sweet home, apparantly), and vanilla yogurt. Oh my heavens, the yum.

Belfast itself was pretty awesome, for what I saw of it. I spent quite a while wandering around near the bus station and city hall. It reminded me of an odd cross between Cleveland and Baltimore, with the aesthetic of the former and the 'lived-in' feeling of the latter. I'm really hoping that the diner I ate at was a fluke, though, because the food was pretty freakin' aweful. I ordered a tomato-cheese sandwich, and they made it with what had to be kraft singles. Yeuch.

I'm definetely going to enjoy living in Belfast, though. It's my kind of wretched hive of scum and villany (wait, Richmond's the scum and villany. Belfast is... I don't know, Corellia? They build ships on Corellia, right?).

Anyway. Best wishes to all. With any luck, there's a computer waiting for me at home.

*I'm intentionally declining to name it. While I'm generally pretty fast and loose with my own identity on the internet, I don't want to pose a security risk to the school or its students.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


So campaign posters have been springing up all over the city like crocuses these last few days. Campaigns here in Northern Ireland only run for a few weeks, instead of months on end like we see in the states (the elections, for anyone just joining us, will be on March 7th). I personally think that's a much better plan, because it means officials are spending more time doing their jobs and less time campaigning.

I'm finding it a little amusing that Sinn Fein's got all their Irish-language posters up on the waterside and their English ones up in the city centre. That seems a little bit backwards because the waterside area is mostly Protestant. In the end, though, I suppose it doesn't really matter. L/Derry's pretty much an SDLP town, near as I can tell.

It's a very exciting time to be studying the situation here. Northern Ireland has been under direct rule from Westminster since 2002, and as I understand it, they were also under direct rule prior to 1998. What's that mean? Think of the situation DC's in, and you've pretty much got Northern Ireland (though NI does elect members of parliament, which is more than DC can say about congress). Politicians that are not in any way accountable to the people of Northern Ireland get to make decisions about their taxes, their schools, their health care... even the structure of their government. They can choose to start initiatives (like the water tax) that everyone here hates. And why not? Northern Ireland is not their constituency.

If these elections go off without trouble, Northern Ireland is finally looking at a long-term devolved government. No matter which side of the conflict you're on, being able to vote the people who levy your taxes in and out of office has got to be pretty nice. And for me, having a court-side seat as history unfolds is pretty nice too.

I'm going down to Belfast tomorrow for my interview at the integrated school. Everyone wish me luck!

Monday, February 19, 2007


So this weekend was a group retreat at Corrymeela. The weather was lovely the whole time, and we got to take a lovely hike down a waterfall trail. I took a lot of pictures, but as I still have no functioning laptop, I'm afraid they'll have to wait.

I've been feeling a little down because of interpersonal issues I don't want to get into, but things are looking better now. I took a very long walk on Saturday night, and wound up sitting on the side of the road with my back to a sheep field looking up at the night sky. The stars here in Ballycastle are incredible, because you can actually see them. I can usually pick out Orion, but on Saturday I could see his bow. I could see his head. I could see an odd sort of faint streak in the sky that may or may not have been the milky way.

When the universe began, stars were born of gas and dust. That same dust formed planets, and one of those planets formed us. So to paraphraze Marianne Williamson, Who am I not to be intelligent, beautiful, talented, and worthy of respect? I'm starstuff. Other people don't have the power to diminsh the divine light of creation that I have inherited from the universe itself. Unless, of course, I give it to them, and who am I to do that?

I've got a few things to say about the upcoming elections, but I think I'll spare it for another post. I hope the weather Stateside isn't too unbearable.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Foyle Women's Aid and Sinn Fein's Master Plan

So today, our 'Representing Women' class trekked down to Foyle Women's Aid to hear about their work. Their main focus is support services for battered women and children, but they also run educational programs and training services.

It's been interesting hearing from the different women's groups in L/Derry, because their work is very non-secterian. Even if the people doing the work have very strong political views, they're able to set them aside and work together to achieve what they see as a more important goal. In the case of Foyle Women's Aid, stopping and preventing domestic violence. There's also a women's coalition that tackles a veriety of non-secterian issues. Right now they're looking at the water tax (which is noncontentious because, near as I can tell, everyone L/Derry hates it).

In class, we've been hearing about Sinn Fein's long-term goals. Everyone knows that they support a united, independent Ireland. But what's the next step? Apparantly if you ask them about it, they get very tetchy and don't answer. But our professors tell us that their long-term plan involves a single-party, marxist-style socialist republic (with them as the single party). That's a little scary when you take their history into account, but maybe I just have a cultural aversion to single-party government structures (I'm not much for dual-party systems either, though, so go figure).

Just as a heads-up, I'll be away from the computer this weekend because the group's going on a retreat. On the picture front, my laptop has died a rather spectacular death, so it's going to be a while before I can upload more. My wonderful family has worked out a way to get me another one for the rest of the program, but it won't be here until sometime next week (I'm guessing. It's coming from London).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Visiting Donegal

We took a group trip to Donegal last Sunday to visit an ancient ring fort, an old WWI/WWII base, a beach, and a pair of cute little towns whose names I forget entirely. I snapped a bunch of photos, but I'm experiencing a spot of significant computer trouble so I can't share them yet.

The inside of the ring fort was closed due to renovations (yes, renovations. I don't know either). I had a good look at the outside. Very sturdily constructed, I have to say-- even after all this time, it's not at all in ruins or anything. It looks like it could have been put up ten years ago. I'd like to go back sometime when the inside's open, but I don't know if that'll happen before I leave.

The base was a British base during WWI, and during WWII the Irish used it as a defense point to keep warring nations from violating their neutrality. I snapped some neat pictures of gun posts and other military fortifications, but what interested me most was the ghost-town remains of the base's living spaces.

The barracks, the bathhouses, the mess hall... little if any effort has been made to preserve most of them. They're just falling slowly to shambles with the passage of time. To walk through them is to walk through the ruins of a life two and three generations gone. That's why I found it so fascinating. I can imagine the lives lived in those corrugated metal buildings. When I look at the piles of rotted wood that were once front stoops, I can picture the people who might have gathered on them. In the empty twilight beyond the broken barracks windows, I can imagine the sounds of people stumbling out of bed and muttering at the bugler. What's left of the canteen makes me wonder who prepared the food here, and how they answered the inevitable complaints.

Like the historical costumes I'm so fond of, these ruins make up a 'left-handed' history. There's no denying that wars and powerful, famous people were a part of it, but the heart of this history is working people. It's the history of enlisted men. Of cooks, mechanics, musicians, clerks, and nurses instead of generals and politicians. The history of the people behind the uniforms.

Many of the people who were sationed there are dead now. Those shambling, overgrown buildings speak for a part of their life in a way that history books never will. It's chilling, in a way, to see them in such ruin. I don't know if they'd carry the same weight of history if they'd been taken care of, and yet it speaks volumes about the present that no one saw fit to preserve them. I suppose I'm not the only one who's taken an aweful lot of pictures, though. In that way I suppose they're preserved after all.

We didn't dawdle long on the beach, and we certainly weren't fool enough to go near the water (cold!), but I got some lovely pictures of the rocks and of my groupmates. The towns proved useful for acquiring batteries and ice cream, but mostly they were just towns. They reminded me a bit of Ballycastle.

The rest of the week has been fairly uneventful, computer problems aside. My fiction writing has gotten a bit sidetracked, but hopefully I can get back on task once I get my laptop back up and running (early this week, hopefully).

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Belfast plans, revisited

Ok, so the gag order's officially been lifted, and I'm allowed to tell you that I've got an interview in two weeks with the principal of an integrated college (jr high/high school) in Belfast. I've been accepted 'in principle,' but they want to meet me and talk about what exactly I want to do.

So first: YAY! Squee squee squee squeeeee!

Second: What I want to do. They apparantly don't just want an office monkey or a teacher's aide-- they want someone with a project of some kind, or something specific they can bring to the school.

Uh, yeah. I've got two weeks to come up with something.

The two ideas I've got right now:

1. Writing. I don't suck at it (usually). I could be a 'writing lab' to help students with papers and whatnot, and assist in English class with grammar lessons and etc.

2. Conflict Resolution. I've been doing it since seventh grade. I've sat through about a dozen different diversity workshops and more conflict and negotiation classes than I care to count. If my program director's right and they really do want someone to teach something, I could put together conflict resolution/negotiation workshops. Topics could include peer mediation, 'fair fighting,' and how to develop constructive, persuasive cases in conflicts with parents/authority figures. I might be able to combine this with a bit of 'diversity workshoping' for an all-around PAGS-R-Us.

This would be really intense, though, and I somehow doubt they really intend to have me actually teaching in that official a capacity. Another idea if they're looking for something less formal is for me to be present as a conflict resolution resource-- doing mediations as part of the counselor's office or something; maybe leading a single fair fighting workshop at some point.

So yes. I have to work out a formal plan. Everyone cross your fingers that I don't screw up and make them hate me.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Story Time

We've been here less than a month, but already, plans are rolling in for Belfast. I'm extremely excited, for reasons I'm not really allowed to go into detail about yet.

I can tell you a little story, though. This story is about my first ever semester of college. It takes place at Montgomery College, in the fall of 2003.

My English class had been assigned a paper. The topic was pretty much a grab bag, but it had to relate in some way to the concept of land and cultural identity. I chose to write mine on Northern Ireland. During the course of my research, I stumbled across an editorial about integrated schools. I thought it was kind of interesting, so I did some looking in to it.

The original assignment was three to five pages. My paper came in around fifteen, and I never actually finished it. Within those fifteen pages was an overview of the conflict and all of the reasons that I was convinced integrated schools would help solve it.

I chose to transfer to Earlham because they had a Northern Ireland program that offered an opportunity to work in integrated schools. It was a leap of faith, but I took it, and now I'm in L/Derry, making plans for an internship placement in Belfast.

Yes, I believe 'excited' is the correct word.