Thursday, March 26, 2009

Adventure of every shape and size

The days here have been continuously diverse and overflowing with people and experiences.
Here are some snippets.
I went to the Giant's causeway; the main tourist draw on the coast. To summarize; crazy rock formations the locals blame giants for. In the photo I am laying on the giants boot. The other attraction is a rope bridge to a little Island that the fisherman used to cast their nets. Its amazing what tourists will pay money to do, walk across a sturdy, 50 ft bridge. So I did it and took a photo.
I worked with two groups this last week vastly different and equally exhausting.

The first were two schools from Belfast, one catholic and one protestant. The purpose was cross community connections. We did team building exercises, and group discussions, where they explored stereo types and were able to ask questions of each other. It was fascinating to here what they assumed about each other and their thoughts on the current political things. Most worked hard to be politically correct but eventually were more honest. We ate meals with them, played games and had a talent show. Only on the last day did they begin to mix on their own. It was eye opening to hear things like how they felt the peace walls were necessary to stay happy, or how terrified to see the other sides flag. As the token American, I spent many meals and walks explaining how very few, if any Americans live like MTV shows, to the hopeful young girls.
The second group was women and children refugees from Zimbabwe, Sudan, Somalia, kamaroon and the Irish women and children that also live in the government housing with them. The women come here to have a break from life and create connections with each other. So the task for myself and the 4 other volunteers was entertaining and keeping the 40 kids alive. These kids are not used to having supervision, rules or someone paying attention to them. I thought often of my friend Danielle, in Portland, who lives and works with refugees and I have decided I will nominate her for saint hood. It has been a long time since I have been that exhausted. From 8am to 12:30am, Friday- Sunday we herded chaos with games, cookies, music and whatever else we could think of. It was of course rewarding as well to love on these kids and their moms. There were interactions throughout that made every hair pulling ( literally and figuratively ) moment worth it. I was able to rock beautiful black babies while listening to their moms sing their native dancing, and calling songs, and the Irish women sing their folk melodies in turn.
Another time, I was sitting with the two most difficult little boys who refused to tell me their names, and only knew profanity and how to hit each other but by the end I was able to coax them into making mother day's cards.
I am continuing to spend time with the volunteers. It has been great getting to know them and do fun activities together; like mock speed dating, going to karaoke, doing dishes or cooking meals. We all went on a day outing and besides a windy viewing spot ( photo above) we went to a farm where lambs were being born!!! It was amazing to see all the day/ hour old lambs.

The people and life stories here are plentiful, which as you all know, is just my cup of tea.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

So a bit late, but a happy St Patrick's day to you all from Ireland!!

I must have brushed against some Irish luck because I got St Patrick's day off, which means I was able to take a trip to Derry, the second largest N Ireland town with 2 other volunteers.

The recent tension in the country made us pause, especially since there was talk of a missing 300lb bomb in Derry, some small riots, and the fact that "bloody Sunday" (yes, the U2 song was written about it) happened in Derry. It is a mainly Catholic town and the center of many of the "civil rights" movements of the troubles. But after contacting a local Derry resident who didn't feel there was any real threat and memorizing the names of streets to avoid we decided we had to go. When will I be in Ireland for St Patricks day again; it was an event not to miss!!

I did ask myself, if I were to get into trouble, and my family was contacted, would it be a "what was she thinking?!" type moment for them? I decided you would all understand that rumors and "what if fears" should not be the basis for missing out on an adventure.

I am oh so glad I went. My earlier comment about St Patricks Day not really being celebrated here was incorrect, as my information came from Protestant Irish. The Catholic Irish DO celebrate St Patrick's day in a MAJOR way. They are all out of school and every woman man and child in Derry were dressed from hairspray to toenails in Orange, Green and White. THey had leprachaun costumes and St Patrick ( think green pope) get ups. We went to a parade, saw some Irish dancing, and watched the masses as we did the tourist ventures.

There were signs of strife in the graffitti on some walls and paint smeared on churches. That was the extent of the conflict that we saw.

The city itself again has a facinating history and story, but too much to write here. It was surreal to go to museums dedicated to a conflict that was still taking place.

We had a fabulous time visiting the pubs that night, where we spent several hours elbowing for space ( let alone a pint) in a throng of celebrating Irish. Chatting didn't work as loud music, hundreds of people in a space made for 25 and thick accents made the conversations short with lots of shrugging and nodding.

We rode the train back to Ballycastle early the next morning grinning in our green tiaras, as a St Patrick's day in Ireland was truly had.

Several have asked when I return to the states, it will be the 11th of April. I can't believe my time here is almost up! I know every day has been fully lived, and yet it seems too incomplete to be nearing the end.

Thank you for all the emails and comments, It makes my day to hear snipets of life at home and know you are checking in on me!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


To tell you a little about the place I am staying;it is called Corrymeela and is the largest faith based center for reconcilation in Nothern Ireland. There are some paid staff, although the programs are organized and run by volunteers. There is a set of year long term volunteers ( LTV) who recieve training and then coordinate and run most of the activites for the groups that come to Corrymeela.The volunteers staff the kitchen, housekeeping, matienence, reception in addition to the facilitating the programs.

The LTV's are from all over the world, Sri Lanka,USA, India, Turkey, N ireland, Germany, El Salvador, England to name some. Then there are mid term ( germany, switzerland, and me!). The short term are people who live near and help on the weekend, or those that come for only a couple of weeks.

There really in no classification for the groups that come to Corrymeela. Every age group comes, some come with their own leaders, other groups ask for a program to be organized for them. Some are huge ( 100+) and long term, others are only a couple of hours and a few people. Diversity is definently the theme.

In the last week and a half, I have done everything from wash dishes, clean bed rooms, make tea, start coal fires ( that was an adventure and I still have soot in my hair!) , and participate in ice breaker games and tourist outings. I will begin to be with the groups more in the next couple of weeks as well, which I am excited about.

My favorite thing to do is watch the storms roll in towards the cliffs across the ocean, and then be swept back out ot sea when they are spent. The weather has been everything from blustery, sunny, hail, raining, all in one day, or cycling through these several times a day. It snowed my first day, which is rare, but it was on the ground for most of the day.
You can see Scotland across the ocean too!
I have taken day trips on a rusty bicycle or on foot to the surrounding sights when I have time off. The near by town is darling, with great pubs and fish and chips.
Everyday I am learning somthing new about what this place does and is, as well as the people and the country it is in. So life is good!

Now I have been to Northern Ireland

A night in a pub and a tragedy have cemented my Northern Ireland experience. Thankfully they are not related.

In case the news hasn't reached the US, for the first time in 10 years two British soldiers were shot and killed here in Ireland. The group taking responsibility are an extremist group off shoot of the IRA. It happened on Friday in a county about 20 mins from here. On Sunday a police officer was shot 10mins from there, by another extremist off shoot, of the IRA. The original IRA involved in the troubles whom now runs 1/2 the government, has been VERY against these shootings.

If you are interested look up the town name where the shooting occurred, it is a town the government built and put both Catholics and Protestants in together ( government housing makes up 60% of the homes). It has no history, no roots creating a very fascinating dynamic.

Some small riots have broken out, but most of the country and leaders are united in seeking peace. It does make the reality of the work and this place more real. I have had really enlightening conversations with the LTV's who are from countries that have unrest and conflict as well, like El Salvador and Sri Lanka about the similarities and their experiences.

On the more positive end I had the greatest night in a pub! 3 of the volunteers and I went to a local pub ( one of the 5 oldest in Ireland). The Guinness here is incredible, it is smooth and tasty. We talked up the bartender who showed us how to Irish dance and much later sang us some Irish ballads, with the Irish group that was playing. They were a collection of locals who had a pint, joined in with their instruments and then moved on, it created a constant flow of people and Irish music. I ended up talking to the owner for quite some time. The bar had been in his family since the 1600's! I asked him what has changed since he took over, he said he had to allow women in the bar! and having beer on tap. He showed me a beer he bottled in 60's when they use to bottle the beer from the barrel at his bar. It was great to hear his stories and opinions of Obama ( every one wants to talk about Obama here!!!!!).

Being here while the conflict is occurring makes all that I have learned so relevant, and meeting locals and being in a real pub was a taste of Ireland at its heart; good resiliant people.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

When the expectations are low...

Its not one of those top ten must see cities everyone is dying to travel to. Actually I think its one of those places people specifically avoid traveling to.

I had a ride and it was on the way to Corrymeela, and thus I decided to spend the night there and see the "tourist attractions".

The pride and joy of the city that millions are being poured into to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of is....... the Titanic. It was built in Belfast, and one of the great accomplishments of the city. If one gingerly mentions the fact that its most famous for sinking, the response is "it was floating when it left here". Oh what resilient people, they have to take pride where they can get it I guess.

The political murals is the other large tourist attraction. These date way back and are all over Ireland, but the ones in Belfast are the most famous. I was lucky enough to be shown the murals by the christian renewal centre's director and his wife, who were raised in Belfast. It was fascinating to hear the history of how 5 years ago it wouldn't of been safe for him to drive down some streets, and share how the town was divided, and the shame in the hatred displayed in the murals.
He showed me the "peace line", which is a humongous wall that runs along the divide. It has lasted longer than the Berlin wall. They still shut and lock the gates at night, both sides agreed it is still necessary.

I spent the night in a hostel, walked the hostel mascot dog in the botanical garden, ( I'm sure summer does wonders for the landscape), wandered around the university district and finally had a cup of GOOD coffee!!

I saw the oldest pub ( the third main tourist attraction) on my walk to the bus station the next morning and the newly renovated city hall, with a huge Ferris wheel set up for the titanic celebration ( 2012).

As it was my first city to conquer alone I was surprised to find it wasn't at all threatening and quite enjoyable to wonder around in silence without an agenda.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

When life isnt limited by punctuation and grammer

Being succinct has never been my strong suit, so I have been avoiding writing about my experiences, as how do I sum up, yet relate all I am learning, seeing, doing; I have therefore been procrastinating writing anything thus compounding the problem ( kinda like this sentence).

Ahem-the list of the events of last two weeks:

A group of 20somethings came to CRC for a weekend of connection. Connecting with God and each other. I was able to pray and be a part of their services, spending time getting to know them. It was neat to be able to see what was similar in their lives and interactions to the US ( the boys constantly jump on, jostle and joke with each other, and make a drum out of anything - makes me miss my brothers-, same worship songs, worries and questions) and what was different ( how they pray, their slang, everyone lives at home until they marry)

I climbed one of their Mourne mountains- Slieve Martin. It was all that you hope for from a rugged Irish countryside. I could see the ocean on two sides, I forget i'm on a island, even though there are many palm trees ( no really!).

Spent the week reading, praying,walking, being alone and with the lovely 65/70 somethings getting beaten badly at scrabble, cleaning and praying.

28 men recovering from drug addiction came for the weekend for seminar of sorts. I mostly served tea, smiled, washed dishes, set tables and smiled some more. Of course I was dieing to know their lives stories, but I only heard second hand. There were several intense moments I witnessed, such as a leader of the IRA, realizing the speaker used to be a high ranking orange man, and both wanting forgiveness from each other, crying, embracing; both huge tattooed, worn hard men. Everyone was in tears. The other was listening to them all sing praise songs. a melody of male voices who embody what it means to be saved, and in such celebration of it... I really haven't wrapped my mind around watching that... it seemed too intimate to just be in the same room.

My last couple of days I spent walking and cleaning. I walked to the memorial for the man that burned the white house down, it looks exactly like the Washington memorial in DC. The guy was born in Rostrover. I thought it was quite funny; its very well maintained.

So those are my list of run on sentences of the happenings; although it doesn't capture my own experience in the slightest.

Then there was Belfast...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Onward I go-

Much to my surprise 2 1/2 weeks has passed and my time at Chirstian Renewal Centre is over.
I Highly recommend anyone who has a spare 2 weeks to 3 months come and volunteer here, the serenity and graciousness of the people, place, and the scenery will renew all souls. and they need help!!! they are 6 of the most vivacious 70 years olds I have ever met, but they are always looking for help.
I spent the weekend serving and cleaning up after a group of 28 recovering drug addicts from a group home down south. It was an honor, and eye opening experience. More on that later.
I am off to belfast, spending the night and then on to Ballycastle to Correymeela.
LOve to you all !