Life in Belfast, part 2
Belfast, N. Ireland
At the moment, being in Belfast is difficult. I currently have open Google Chrome tabs on facebook, Twitter, BBC, CNN, NY Times, Electronic Intifada, and many other news networks getting live updates on the current crisis in Israel and Gaza. Though I know I would be absolutely helpless if I was there on the ground, I can’t help but wish to be there, offering presence with beloved friends during this time of extreme fear and escalated violence. An Israeli invasion of Gaza appears imminent. Helplessness is discomforting.
Setting my anxiety aside, Belfast is lovely right now. The weather continues to cool, and the rain comes more often, though less frequently than expected. At City Hall, the wooden shelters of Belfast’s Christmas Market are up, and the market opens for business tomorrow and runs through December 20. Some of my fondest memories of living in Vienna for a semester is 2008 were of the Viennese Wiehnachtmarkt (Christmas Market) in front of the Rathaus. The smell of hot cider wafting through the air, candles lit all around, people clothed in colorful scarves and coats bustling about sharing food, drink, and greetings… ‘Twas a wonderful time. I love Europe at this time of year. I am most excited to explore Belfast’s market tonight with my two Polish housemates Martha and Pawel and anyone else from my program who fancies a wee march through the simple stands.
My typical schedule is much the same as described in Life in Belfast, part 1. On Tuesdays and Thursday, I attend class (“Dynamics of Reconciliation” and “Reconciliation in Northern Ireland” respectively). Occasionally, we have special events, like the seminar recently with David on crucifixion and lynching, or Thursday’s incredible experience, which I’ll describe now. After class, we watched the powerful film Five Minutes of Heaven, starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt. The film tells a story, inspired by the life of Alistair Little and Joe Griffin, of a Loyalist paramilitary teenager (Little) who shoots a Catholic man in the man’s home, unaware that the man’s little brother (Griffin) witnessed the whole thing. Consequently, Joe’s life was completely wrecked, and Alistair spent nearly 13 years in Maze prison. The film shows the struggle for both men as a television show contacts them 30 years after in order to have a televised “moment of reconciliation.” I won’t tell you what happens cause the film is well worth watching. After class, we sat in a circle and spoke with Alistair, who had watched the film with us. Quite an experience to be sure.
Next week, several of my classmates and I travel north to the coast at Ballycastle, where we will spend one week at the Corrymeela Community center studying “Conflict Transformation.” This module will be taught by the good folks from the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation down in Wicklow, Ireland. Our facilitators are Wilhem Verwoerd from South Africa, whose grandfather is known as the “architect of apartheid” – and Alistair Little. Both have been very involved in conflict transformation programs around the world, working significantly in Israel and Palestine as well. This particular module will focus on the role of storytelling in conflict transformation, something I am most interested in. This class is one of the major reasons I decided to do this program. My excitement is nearly overwhelming.
I have done some occasional speaking recently, answering some questions on Israel and Palestine with my friend Richard Irvine for a class at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown, presenting a brief history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for my “Dynamics of Reconciliation” class, and sharing two personal stories/reflections on interactions with Israeli soldiers for Fitzroy Presbyterian’s Remembrance Day event “War and Peace” last Sunday.
So for now, life goes well here in Northern (the North of) Ireland. With the “Conflict Transformation” module next week, the opening of the Christmas markets, a school Thanksgiving meal (which I’m in charge of organizing…), and an overnight retreat at the Rostrevor Benedictine monastery in two weeks, I am very much enjoying this phase of Belfast life. I fly home in less than four weeks and am most eager to be back in Nashville for a spell. I have missed my Tennessee home most ardently and cannot wait to sit with my family in the warmth of our homes and sip tea and hot chocolate while telling good stories. Never a dull moment at family gatherings.
I hope to post at least one more “Life in Belfast” post before Christmas break.