Saturday, March 31, 2007

Goodbyes and Hellos

It was raining the day we moved to the Walled City. Our bus pulled into a gated drive in front of a huge, Gothic building, and through the tinted windows I could see a carpark at the bottom of a hill. We were called off the bus in pairs as our host families arrived. I stared out the window as the others got up and left.

We had already been on a walking tour of the walls, but I'd never seen that part of the city before. Magee Campus. My campus. What was it like? Would I be happy there? Would my host mom be nice? I stared out the window as the others got up and left, trying to get some sense of this foreign place that was suddenly home.

I remember getting lost, our second day, when we tried to walk into town. We took a wrong turn and ended up in Rosemount. Rosemount, where I'd later go for tin whistle class: up the hill and then thread between the townhouses; mind the puddles on the footpath; don't let the alleys spook you.

In my memory, I can see the carpark on the hill the way it appears at night, when I'm walking back from the computer lab in the wee hours of the morning. I can see the bridge lights above the River Foyle, and the yellow glow against the pale stones of the gothic architecture. That first look, through tinted bus windows to a grey afternoon, is a blur.

It was sunny when we got to the bus this morning. Our host mother drove my roommate and I down Northland Road to campus-- the same route I walk every day. She hugged us goodbye after we loaded our luggage. Around us everyone was chattering about their vacations. And then we were on the bus and on our way. The last drive out of Derry was swallowed up with more vacation chatter. Mark showed me his bike route through Scotland. I talked about the armoury in Leeds.

Two hours later, we were driving into Belfast. We passed under the overpass with the wierd murals of silhouettes on geometric shapes, but it was already familiar to me from visits and travel. Nothing terribly foreign about a city centre I've already explored. I'm already at home here.

It was sunny when we unloaded our luggage and stacked it up in the Corrymeela House foyer. They gave us tea and biscuits while our host families arrived. And then I was off again. My host mother and I discussed CSI and bus passes as we drove along the road that will be my new daily commute. She settled me into the house--lovely, large, and quiet-- and headed off to work.

Hi there, Belfast. Here I am.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Things I learn from airports

A few fun facts I picked up today:

-Buses in England are as wonky as ones in Northern Ireland. Sometimes, they'll decide to just remove themselves from existance for half an hour or more. During rush hour.

-A late bus can make you miss your train. A missed train can make you miss your flight. And no matter what anyone tells you about where the flybe desk at Manchester airport is, you should ignore them. They're probably lying to you because they think it's funny when people run around the entire airport.

-Flybe does not do standby. They also don't let people check in for flights when they still have time to run for it. They'd much preferr charging you eighty quid for a new flight. Sixty four, if you spend a lot of time bargaining and don't mind a 6-hour layover.

-Manchester Airport has a prayer room. It's quiet, non-denominational, and the chaplaincy doesn't mind if you basically spend the whole day there. And it's pretty empty, except for the occasional Muslim who comes in to do prayers (between flights or on their work breaks).

One of these things made me happy. The others decidedly did not. I'll let you figure out which was which.

So today's challenge in the struggle to walk cheerfully over the earth was perspective. On the first count, reminding myself that it wasn't the end of the world, and even if it was pretty much theft on flybe's part, at least I had the sixty quid for them to steal. The second was remembering not to take it out on airline staff, because it wasn't their fault. It was partially the fault of the airport staff who lied to me (twice) about which terminal flybe was in, and partially the fault of the lady who told me the doors were closing in seven minutes when I knew for a fact it was fifteen, but it was not the fault of the ticket counter lady who told me they don't do standby. She can't be held responsible for her company's (idiotic) policies.

Being able to sit in a quiet room for a while made it much easier to calm down, to the point where I was actually able to smile and appreciate the flight when it finally departed (at 5:30; my original one was at ten past eleven). I love flying, really. Airports and airlines notsomuch, but flying itself is pretty cool.

So today's lessons from airports:

-Way really does open, even if sometimes it does it extremely inconveniently, and I should be thankful when it happens, even if I'm pissed off that it shouldn't have had to. Because just when it seems like it's just my day to be mocked by the almighty, I get a prayer room.

-Flybe still loses at life. While there may be that of God in every person, I'm fairly certain the inverse is true of corporations. Especially airlines.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

oh good grief...

Just a brief comment about Bill Clinton, in reaction to some of my reading for this paper:

Say what you will about the man, but his interest in the Northern Irish peace process did not cause 9/11. No really, it didn't. Granting a temporary visa to Gerry Adams did not cause 9/11; nor was it the same thing as granting Tim McVeigh a visa to England to meet with the PM (as Margaret Thatcher suggested). It did not 'distract' him from dealing with terrorism elsewhere.

I mean good heavens. Has U.S. American partisanship really gotten so bad that we can't even give a guy props for putting forward his best effort in the name of peace? Next, we'll be hearing about how Hurricane Katrina (not just the aftermath, mind you- no, the hurricane itself) was World Health Organization's fault because they were 'distracted' by the Millennium Development Goals.

In other news: the Northern Ireland Assembly is going through as planned, with the DUP and Sinn Fein behind the wheel. I'm holding Northern Ireland in the light with hopes for continued progress and lasting peace.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Spring Break

Well, I'm off to England for a few days for spring break. My backpack contains roughly 25% clothing and essentials and 75% books for those papers I'm supposed to be writing. I have no doubt that things will get done, but I wish I didn't have to get them done during 'break.'

Anyway. I'll probably have internet access in Leeds. With any luck, I'll also have interesting things to post about. I hope all's going well with everyone back in the states.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Paper Writing and errata

I just finished up a paper on Johan Galtung's definitions of peace. I'd post it here for sharing purposes, but it's 2,300 words long and I think the eljay subscribers might kill me in my sleep. So, on the off chance than anyone actually wants to read 2,300 words of me babbling about peace research and peace as more than the absence of violence, email me and I'll send it to you.

In other news, the weather's taken a turn for the nice these past few days. This has raised my spirits considerably. I'm really going to miss L/Derry when we relocate, but I'm also really looking forward to Belfast, so life is good in general. And Thornton's (a chocolate shop) is going to be the death of me. The yummy, yummy death of me (they're selling ice cream now. How is that ok!?).

It turns out that Ireland Yearly Meeting is being held in a few weeks in Lisburne, so hopefully I'll be able to go and hang out with Irish Quakers. That would be really awesome, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Best Thing Ever.

Oh Captain Planet... I used to watch that show when I was little. I even knew the song. Man, I was so cool.

And look, here he is saving Belfast:

Best. Thing. Ever. This is just clips from the episode, but I watched the extended version just now, and let me tell you: it doesn't make any more sense than this does. Well, it sort of explains where the paramilitaries got a nuke, but besides that, the level of crack is pretty much the same.

For those of you who subscribe to this via lj, my apologies for the crosspost. It was just too funny not to share.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Back from Dublin, where the Quakers are awesome

So I'm back from Dublin.

I went to Friends' Meeting there yesterday, which was fabulous. There was a query about service and whether we devote enough time to God's work, and most of the messages seemed to relate to that.

I ended up standing to speak about something I heard at the World Gathering. An evangelical Friend was telling me about all the service projects that their church runs, because, they said, the best way to make it clear to others that there are Christians in their community is to act like Christians instead of just talking about it. It was a concept that really resonated with me.

Do I devote enough time to service, though? Not so much, really. I need to do more of that. It's no good to be the sort of 'Christian' who just blogs about their struggle to be more Christian. Blogging is not doing (rather like talking is not writing, but that's another matter entirely). I suppose I'm studying to do peacework, and that's something. But studying is not doing, either. And I feel like there's so much more I should be up to.

There was a woman there named Helen who's organizing logistics for the FWCC Triennial in August. After Meeting, she took me out to lunch and then to a museum where there was a truly awesome costumes exhibit. I really love Quakers. I came back in the evening and had Sara over for the night, which was good times. Now I'm over at a local friend's flat for another sleepover.

This week: paper writing. Lots of paper writing.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

St Patrick's Day, Dublin

Happy St Patrick's Day, everyone.

I personally had a lovely one. I went out before the parade and grabbed breakfast at a little cafe, and then met up with a friend and kept him company while he ate. By the time the parade started I was back at the hostel. I watched from the second floor (first floor, for anyone on this side of the pond, as in 'the one above the ground floor') and managed to get some pretty decent pictures. I won't know if there are any real keepers until I upload them-- sometime in the next few days.

After the parade, I headed over to Trinity College to check out the Book of Kells; a full-color illuminated bible dating back to 800 AD. The exhibit also includes The Long Room; a 60-meter long library room with two floors of stacks and a barrel-vaulted ceiling (put it this way: the Jedi Archives in Star Wars episode II are a direct, futurized and digitized copy). It houses over 200,000 of the library's oldest books; some of which date back to the fifteenth century. There are also a series of fabulous busts, including classic thinkers like aristotle alongside more modern faces such as Shakespeare, Bacon, Locke, and Parnell. There's even one of Johnathan Swift.

I spent the entire afternoon there, and ended up going through the exhibit twice. The first time I got there just ahead of the post-parade swarm, but they ended up catching up to me. There was a big crowd around the book of Kells, and then a fairly loud crowd in the long room. The second time, the place was much emptier. I ended up just sitting in the long room for the better part of an hour, taking in the smell of the books and the beauty of the architecture. Photography wasn't allowed inside, but I suppose that's just as well, because I can't imagine pictures capturing it.

And speaking of things pictures can't capture, the Book of Kells itself was incredible. I've seen shots of it, of course, in textbooks and the like. But they simply can't convey the intricate detail, the vividness of the color, or the sheer weight of history behind the book itself. This book, and the smaller one being displayed with it, were created 1200 years ago. I wonder if the scribes who copied it out and the artisits who illuminated it ever imagined that their work would still be around--and on display, at that-- more than a millenium after their deaths.

I wonder what relics of our time, 12oo years from now, will be left over to speak for us?

This evening, I'll probably go out with friends and try to get some good shots of the Dublin St Patrick's Day nightlife. Tomorrow is the UK Mother's Day. I also got some really good news today about my workload that's going to make it a lot easier for me to finish all my papers.

So all in all, a very good day. Tomorrow, I'll be holding a friend back home in the light during Meeting for Worship. I hope everyone has a lovely St Patrick's Day.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

quaker endeavors

So last weekend was the one-year anniversary of Tom Fox's death. For anyone just joining us, I knew Tom through my yearly meeting youth group, and had a lot of respect for him. He aspired to live Christ's teachings with his whole self, and I think he came a lot closer to it than most ever do (though he would probably be the first to correct anyone who suggested that he was perfect, or christ-like).

I think it's the fact that he wasn't perfect that makes him such an inspiration. He was just a man, but he was a good man, and in so being, he became an example. As I said to a friend at lunch today, he was the sort of Christian that I aspire to be.

I'm hoping to attend Friend's meeting later this afternoon. The prayer that I sit with now and will probably sit with then is this: God, help me to respect the divine light that shines through me enough to know that it is its own defender. Help me to let it shine, undimmed by defensiveness, fear, and anger. Help me to set aside those blocks that I have set up in myself that keep me from being the change that I want to see in myself and the world. Help me to be the Christian, and the person, that I aspire to be.

Dublin continues to be awesome. We took a tour today of the jail where the leaders of the Easter Rising were held prior to their executions. It was a shock to hear the tour guide tell such a one-sided story about Irish independance. I suppose I should expect that-- I mean, when we talk about US history, we rarely ever discuss those that stayed loyal to British rule in any significant or positive way. But coming from up north, where people are always so careful to be diplomatic to both sides when talking about history, it was a bit of a culture shock. I got some lovely photos though. I'll upload them later.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dublin, Day Two

I think I might have a crush on the city of Dublin. It reminds me of home in ways that really can't be described. It doesn't look like home, neoclassical architecture and low skyline aside. It doesn't sound like home, or smell like it. But somehow it is like it, in all the ways that really matter.

We had a tour of the Dail today. That's the parliament building. It's pronounced 'doyle.' Tomorrow, we're touring a jail. This evening we went to go see Julius Ceasar. The set design was quite really innovative and awesome, and costume-wise, it was cool to see someone at least try to pull off what the original costumes probably looked like-- which is to say sixteenth century doublets with togas on over them. But all in all, I was underwhelmed. I've definetely seen better.

Having the London Programme guys here continues to be awesome. Their group dynamics are significantly better than ours.

There's a meetinghouse not far from where we're staying. I wandered by there yesterday, and the signage suggests that they have thursday evening meeting. I'm getting really excited about checking that out. I've been away from meeting way too long, and with all the Crazy going on, I don't think I'd come out the worse for some worship.

I have nothing witty to say about peace and reconciliation today. I'm afraid you'll have to bear with the travel log for a little while.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mass picture upload

That drag on the internet you just noticed was me uploading a hundred photos at once.

Included in this batch: Inishowen (sp?), the WWI/II base, the ring fort, a faerie tree, and the waterfall trail, along with assorted beach shots. Also a scrabble match. They aren't sorted (yet), because I'm lazy (also because it's midnight). There's one shot of a waterfall that would probably look better without some wierd girl standing in front of it, but I take what I can get. I'll try to remember to post a few of my favorites up here later.

The mayor, the bus, and the Republic

Greetings from Dublin! The group arrived here this afternoon, and will be staying through Saint Patrick's Day (heaven help us all). The Earlham London Programme arrived in L/Derry on Sunday, and did fun 'hey, we're tourists in Northern Ireland things. It's been wonderful to see them. They're here with us in Dublin now, so we get to hang out with them all week.

Last night, we had a gathering at the L/Derry Guildhall, where we did an Irish dance in front of the mayor, played tin whistle, and ate some food. There were certificates involved. This last gave me yet another exhibit in the hall of 'no one ever get's Annalee's !^£%ing name right,' but we'll leave that alone.

The dancing and tin whistling actually went off pretty well. I didn't fall over during the former, and we managed a decent showing at the latter. There were some students from Milkwaulki (sp?) who joined us for the dancing. After that, they mayor said a few words about how Irish culture is Important, and how it's unfortunate that most people don't know Irish, traditional dance, or listen to Irish music. She then admitted that she's no exception to 'most people.'

We left Derry with the London crew at 10:30 this morning, and stopped for lunch at a town a few miles into the republic at about half after noon before continuing down to Dublin. We're staying at a hostel here that's right downtown, in the Temple Bar district. It's pretty much the nightlife area of Dublin. Mervyn and Bob, the London Programme Director, did a bit of an orientation (including the 'Dublin is a big city so don't be stupid' speech), and then took us on a walking tour of the Temple Bar area to show us the way around.

I must admit to being quite charmed by Dublin. It's a lovely city, and I have a feeling I'm going to thoroughly enjoy the visit. I'm rooming with Iona and some really awesome people from the London Programme. And hey, free wireless at the hostel. Beat that.

Things I'm especially looking forward to:
1. The Book of Kells. It's the oldest illuminated bible in the world, and let's face it: I'm a geek about these things.
2. The Trinity College Library in general. For one thing, because of the awesome. For another, because it was the inspiration for the look of the Jedi Archives, and let's face it: I'm a geek about these things.
3. Touristing around the cool historical sights. Because of the pretty.

I've got an ungodly number of photos to offload from my camera, so those should be up soon. And of course I hope to take many more while I'm here.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Visiting the Police

I've been feeling a little under the weather these last few days-- achey, tired, and interested in very little that does not start with s and rhyme with 'sleep.' If it seems like I've been neglecting to keep up here, that's why.

In any case...

We visited a police station on Monday. The station itself is on the waterside. On the drive over there, our guide, a very friendly plainclothes officer who's been policing in Northern Ireland for something like fifteen years, gave us an overview of the PSNI's local structure (PSNI stands for Police Service of Northern Ireland). Basically, they go for a two-sided system. The first is 'community policing,' which involves having officers on the beat who really know their area and the people who live there. These officers are supposed to be approachable neighborhood fixtures that everyone knows by name. The second part of their work is more traditional police who respond to calls as they come in-- the sort of policing that I'm used to dealing with back home.

The first thing that stuck me abou the station was the station itself. It's a fairly new, large construction designed to withstand pretty much everything short of nuclear fallout. As we approached, only the guard station and a communications and surveilance tower was visible over the high brick-and-sloping-steel walls. We passed through gigantic blast doors, and then a checkpoint with a barrier, before passing into an open carpark. The building inside was solid and thick-walled, with small windows that only ever open a few inches and thick, blast-resistant exterior doors.

We began our tour in the carpark, with a look at the department's various vehicles. These range from unmarked cars with lights and sirens hidden under the front grilles to armored vans with quarter-inch, spaced-steel plating, with a few 'normal' police vehicles in between (all of which also have light armor, such as bulletproof glass and reenforced exteriors).

The biggest car he showed us, aformentioned heavily-armored van, is chiefly engaged in riot policing these days. As of our Monday visit, there had been nightly riots along an interface area near the station for the last several days. The van was a little the worse for wear. There was damage to the paint job caused by petrol bombs (people apparantly add sugar to them to make them sticky), bits of garbage still stuck to it, and someone had actually managed to crack the armor over one headlight by chucking-- I don't know what to call it, because 'brick' doesn't really convey the size of the thing. It looked like part of a pillar.

But the most annoying thing, according to our guide, was the paint. People throw paint at the cars ('they must not like our color scheme,' he joked), and it's apparantly really annoying when they manage to get it onto the windshield, as it impairs driving. Everything else, he said, was little more than a nuisance. He pointed out, though, that while the heavily-armored van could go into riots and come out needing no more than a £2 paint job, they keep their more 'normal' vehicles far away from that kind of conflict. Even though they're armored, the damages could quickly ammount to a thousand or more pounds.

What he said upset him most about the rioting was that they're a resource-sinc. The PSNI is responsible for normal policing as well as peacekeeping, and the latter often takes up too much of their resources. While his team was dealing with these riots, an elderly couple had their home invaded. The burglers tied them up and stole pretty much all they had-- which ammounted to £20 and a bus pass. The police got the call, but they had no one to send, because they were busy dealing with teenagers who were using their armored van for target practice.

After the carpark tour, he took us in to the station itself. The blast doors are surprisingly well counterbalanced. They apparantly weigh thousands of pounds a piece, but you wouldn't know it to open them. Inside, we took a tour of the cells and the interrogation rooms, where we met the officer responsible for insuring the rights of 'detained persons' (the phraze 'prisoner' is no longer operative). His full-time job is making sure the police at that station respect the rights of civilians. Every arrest has to be justified to him, and he oversees the welfare of everyone being detained and interrogated there. He answers up the line to the police omsbudsman-- basically internal affairs on crack.

I know there's a lot of well-documented issues with police in Northern Ireland prior to the Good Friday Agreement, but having met the officers and seen the way they conduct their business, I have to say I fully believe the PSNI's claim to being the most accountable police force in the world.

Honestly, based on what I saw, if I had to be in police custody, I'd rather be in custody here than back home-- I think American police could stand to take a page or two from PSNI policy. For instance, one of the rights arrested persons in Northern Ireland have is access to the PSNI protocol book. They're allowed to have it in front of them during all interrogations, and allowed to consult it at any time, so that if they feel that their rights are being infringed upon they can cite it line and verse. I thought that was an extremely good idea.

Another thing that really impressed me about the station was it's committment to diversity, and not just the religious kind. Their female officers, and even their openly gay ones, are considered just a part of the team. The way they speak about and interact with each other made it very clear that this concept of equality wasn't just some notion forced upon them in the interest of political correctness, the way it is in many parts of the states. They're proud of being enlightened about diversity. Talking to them, you get the sense that it's really important to them.

But while the police have made a lot of progress, our guide told us that problems with community relations still exist. One officer at the station, a woman from a staunchly republican area of Belfast, got a phonecall one night telling her that she was 'no longer welcome' in her home neighborhood because of her status as a police officer. Several of their Catholic officers come from the republic itself to work in Northern Ireland, rather than from the local community. Our guide (who I'm declining to name because of these very issues) lamented the shortage of local people that really make 'community policing' work. For his own part, he has policies set up in his own family (like avoiding routines) to keep them safe from paramilitaries.

He ended the tour with a Q&A session, in which he talked about his work with local schoolchildren. It's kind of a DARE program combined with general crime-deterrant education. After that, he drove us back to the cityside and dropped us off at school with his contact information in case we have any further questions. I took a handful of pamphlets with me when I left, and I've been looking them over since. The whole experience was really interesting.