Friday, June 12, 2009

A few pictures from e.'s visit.

e. and me at giant's causeway.  

i think the picture above was one of the last ones taken before i dropped  my camera in the ocean.  of course, this was the third day of e.'s trip.  smart move, katie.  luckily, the camera survived with minor damage.  i suppose my camera will now always serve as a reminder of e.'s visit and the Downhill Beach (the camera will permanently carry some downhill beach sand -- getting sand out of camera crevices proves difficult).

Monday, March 30, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words...or so I hope

I thought I would share some pictures of my recent adventures since I have not succeeded in finishing/posting a blog.  

 The picture above shows us (B, a fellow BVSer and yours truly) at the Glenariff park.

How accurate would a post of Northern Irish photos be without sheep?

This is a picture of the view from the house we stayed in during our BVS Retreat last weekend. 

A few weekends ago I went to visit a fellow BVSer in Coleraine.  On Saturday we went to Portrush for an art exhibition.  We got a bit lost so we turned around at this viewpoint.  It was hard to complain about being lost when it meant you got to take a picture of this view (even if it was freezing out).

So, you can now consider yourself enlightened into the life of Katie in Northern Ireland by the equivalent of 4,000 words.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pancake Tuesday

Yesterday was Pancake Tuesday.  Not Fat Tuesday -- Pancake Tuesday.  Apparently, Pancake Tuesday is a last hurrah before Lent begins (in the manner of Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras).  

I got offered pancakes numerous times by different people.  C, one of the women at the office, brought in pancakes for everyone for the tea break.  I commented that I wasn't aware that pancakes had that much sugar in them (in comparison to cookies, cakes or any of the other teatime snacks).  The response I was given was, "It depends on how much sugar you add.  My mommy always adds a lot."  

Pancake Tuesday is a common enough tradition to transcend to EastEnders (a popular TV show/nighttime soap).  I was bullied into watching the show yesterday with one of my housemates (I am not a fan) and one of the families on the show had pancakes for dinner in honor of Pancake Tuesday.  

I regret to report that I did not take full advantage of this tradition.  I only had one pancake.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Water -- Friend or Foe?

Recently many of my walks to and from work have involved rain.  Luckily, it has mostly been small showers that quickly disappear -- often I would even classify it as a light mist.  Sometimes I am not quite as lucky and arrive at my destination soaked -- I prefer to get soaked on the way home because it is much easier to jump into warm, dry clothes.  I can then dry my hair (if necessary) and heat up some water for a cup of tea as is traditional, or go with my personal alternative -- hot chocolate.  Then it is time to boil more water to fill up the hot water bottle.  As soon as my hot water bottle is ready I run it up the stairs and stick it in my bed under the covers so my bed will be nice and toasty when it is my bedtime.  There have been a few days when the hot water bottle has not made it up to the bed right away -- it stays downstairs with me to warm me up immediately. 

This morning's walk to work did not involve rain or hot water bottles, but it did involve water. It rained most of the evening yesterday and through the night.  The evidence was clearly visible in the puddles of water lining the streets and sidewalks.  I reached one of the numerous intersections on my way to work and saw that the crosswalk light just changed from green (walk freely and safely) to black/nothing (the equivalent of a yellow light -- don't start now).  I decided I should just hurry and cross.  This plan was going well until I was two steps from the curb on the other side and lost my shoe.  It took me a step to realize I had lost it.  Unfortunately, the step took me right into a puddle of water.  I went ahead and jumped onto the curb to wait for the car to pass.  I did not want to get sprayed by the passing car as it drove through the puddle (this has happened before -- by a bus).  After the car had passed, I grabbed my shoe.  I arrived at work shortly after with a wet sock, a squeaky shoe and a cold foot.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Living amidst the walls

Forewarning:  I wrote this blog while listening to the latest This American Life and chatting to a friend.  Expect grammar and spelling errors.  Expect some nonsensical words and phrases. Expect to be wowed, or not.  Better yet, read it without expectations.   

Derry/Londonderry is a city rife with history.  Today I learned a bit more of that history; I was given a tour of the walls by R1.  The walls were created in the early 1600s.  There have a unique shape; they are not the normal circular design of most walled cities.  Circular defensive walls always have a blind spot -- Derry's walls do not because of their unique shape.  There were originally only 4 gates into the city, but now more have been added.  (I walk through one of the gates to enter the walls each morning on my way to work and walk out the gates to exit each evening.)

As a part of my walled city tour, R. took me into St. Columb's Cathedral which was a beautiful cathedral built in the early 1600s.  It is the oldest standing building in the city.  It was interesting to go into the church and see how entwined the unionist politics are even within the church walls. (Unionism is the political ideology that supports the maintenance of ties between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.  Basically, unionists want to stay a part of the UK. Unionism is commonly associated with Northern Ireland Protestants.)  St. Columb's Cathedral had numerous flags hanging it that were relics from old UK colonies and wars.  There were stone etchings, wall plaques, and stained glass windows dedicated to foregone saints who were proclaimed to have given their lives dutifully for their country while serving the Queen in India and other far off provinces.  Some were heroes from the siege of Derry.  All of the plaques could easily be classified as being 'unionist'; neutrality was not the vision.  The tight web of militarism, colonialism and religion was evident throughout.  The lobby of the church included an area to buy magnets with the Queen of England or hat pins with Londonderry written on them.  There weren't any hat pins with Derry available for purchase.  (At this point I should mention that R. told me about a few of the initiatives church leaders are taking to try to work with across boundaries -- joint activities amongst Catholic and Protestant churches, etc.  Also, I should mention the architecture of the cathedral was beautiful and we also got a special treat since the organist was there.  He was practicing a few Christmas hymns.)

I have been reading several books full of personal stories and experiences from the Border (between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland).  Each of these stories shares an individual's experience of living on the border.  There are stories from individuals who lived their entire lives on one side of the Border and from individuals who lived different parts of their life on the different sides of the Border.  The Border was created in 1920 with the Government of Ireland Act.  Some people had farmland that was split by the Border; some even had houses split by the Border.  One of the stories tells of a man who always slept with his head in on one side and his feet in another.  The personal stories are full of pain.  The common denominator in all the stories and all sides of the conflict was the pain.  Another theme was the idea that the greatest border is not the physical one but the psychological and emotional borders that have been erected by the people within Northern Ireland.  The walls they have erected in their hearts and minds.  Sometimes these walls have visible manifestations -- such as the peace walls in Belfast, but more often the walls are invisible.  The invisible wall existing between Protestants and Catholics in Derry/Londonderry (which manifests itself through a segregation between the two groups -- different communities, different schools, different pubs, different churches, etc.), the invisible wall between the Croats and Bosniaks in Mostar, the developed world and the developing world.  

Even though I may not believe in borders and think they only create division and strife, I have to respect that others may believe in them (believe=support).  I have to respect that for some people the presence of a border or a wall is what makes them feel secure and safe.  It doesn't matter whether their fear is founded or unfounded, what matters is that it is how they feel.   

I have only been here a few weeks and I have come to realized that even if I stayed here for the next twenty years I would still be learning.  I know I still have a lot to learn about the walls that exist here -- the history, the politics, why the Border is necessary for some to feel safe and why its destruction is necessary for others to feel safe -- okay, basically I need to learn everything. However, like so many before me, I am going to still express an opinion on something I know so little about and expect people to listen to it.

So, how do we recognize and respect other people's experiences and beliefs without feeling threatened?  I know we all have prejudice within us and stereotypes -- perhaps it is towards country hicks, city slickers, Mexicans, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, or any of the other numerous groups that can be classified as the Other (that which is different from myself/yourself).  How do we acknowledge and embrace the difference each other to become a new, more inclusive community?  I think along with the importance of community initiatives there must be change within individuals.  

In the end I must ask myself:  What walls have I put up?  What is the Other to me?  Am I willing to break down those walls even if it is a painful and slow process?  Hopefully, I will succeed in identifying my 'walls' and working to tear them down even if it is only stone by stone.  I'm sure it will be a lifelong process. 

Here's to a future generation that exists without walls, borders, or dividers.  I don't imagine it to be utopia, but I do imagine it to be a better place.  After all, how can we conquer the really important questions like how to save Britney Spears from her continuing self-destruction if we can't first save ourselves? Or can white really be worn after Labor Day?    

Friday, November 28, 2008

My newest lesson...

It is always best to sit next to the elderly man organizing the event when you go to a pub to participate in Quiz Night and don't know any of the answers because it centers around Irish and British history.  He has all of the answers and will kindly help you cheat out of pity for your silly Americanness.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Thankfully, I have written another post.  I'm sure you are all wondering why this post isn't a completion of my most recent post covering some of the similarities between my former home and current one (Belgrade and Derry) as advertised, but you should probably just be thankful to be getting any type of post.  In honor of the upcoming great American holiday, which can said to be uniquely ours, I have switched topics.

I realize Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, but I must admit it has been a struggle to remember. Last Thursday I woke up and thought I, "Today is Thanksgiving and I basically missed it.  I completely forgot that I needed to be full of gratitude today."  Last year Thanksgiving Day was a prominent event that remained front and center in my mind.  I went to J and J's apartment (where I eventually lived) for a huge Thanksgiving feast with pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, faux cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, turkey, stuffing, pecan pie and lots of other goodies.  It seemed easy to remember and easy to celebrate.  Perhaps, it was because I had only recently left the U.S.  Maybe it was because I was surrounded by a handful of other people hailing from the U.S.  Who knows? All I really know is this year is a different story.  

People started asking  me last week about Thanksgiving, but it has only added to my confusion. The questions were always put in the past tense -- "Did you celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend?" or "What did you do for Thanksgiving?"  Yesterday I went over to a friend's house for dinner and she said, "Oh, yes.  This can be your Thanksgiving dinner.  It is today (Monday) isn't?  Or is it tomorrow (Tuesday)?"  Today at the office I got asked if Thanksgiving was tomorrow (Wednesday).  Needless to say, this has left me quite confused.  I just cannot keep track of whether Thanksgiving is coming or going.  

Anyway, I actually have plans to celebrate Thanksgiving here.  This Sunday I will be traveling to Belfast to participate in the BVS Thanksgiving -- Northern Irish style.  I'm not exactly sure what that means at this point, but I am looking forward to finding out.