Life in Belfast, part 4
Belfast, N. Ireland
I have returned to the island after several lovely weeks home in Nashville. I popped down to Texas for a couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year’s to be with my parents and siblings. A refreshing time to be sure. On Jan 24, I left Nashville and flew to London, where I met my dad as he journeyed home after three weeks working in a hospital in Kampala, Uganda. We explored parts of London for three days together, enjoying the pubs, Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Camden Town, Buckingham Palace, and other places. Of particular delight was attending Evensong at Westminster Abbey on Saturday. After a delightful weekend of lots of walking and many good conversations, I flew back here to Belfast on Sunday night, where my friend Pádraig lifted me from the airport once again. “Good man,” as they say here.
This semester will look a bit different than last. I do not have weekly classes this time round, but rather have three week-long intensives (‘Social Research for Transformation’ – which I just finished – ‘Conflict Resolution Skills,’ and ‘Conflict Resolution Lessons from Comparative Peace Processes’) and one two-day intensive (‘South Africa: Ethics of Truth and Reconciliation’). I am quite excited about the ‘Conflict Resolution Skills’ module, as it takes place back at Corrymeela and is conducted by Dialogue for Peaceful Change which conducts workshops and trains facilitators and mediators. The first part of the week will explore the nature of violence and conflict, and in the second half, we will be trained as mediators. At the pre-module meeting, we would learned that we would in fact be certified mediators at the end, receiving a unique number that classifies us as mediators in the international database. I was most pleased to learn this, and will hope to do some work in mediation with the Nashville Conflict Resolution Center when I return to the States this summer.
I am extremely busy at this point, juggling several projects simultaneously. I am doing preparatory reading for the ‘Conflict Resolution Skills’ module, which begins next Monday the 11th, and then will have an essay to write after that. I am also trying to do reading on reconciliation and forgiveness for my essay for last semester’s module ‘Dynamics of Reconciliation’. Additionally, I am trying to put together a panel reviewing my book (which should hopefully be out by May) for the Christian Scholars’ Conference in June in Nashville, while also trying to attain funding and receive permission from Riverbend prison to hold a ‘Life Histories’ workshop there in October. Alistair and Wilhelm are hoping to be in the States in October, and I am trying to fly them down to Nashville to hold their ‘storytelling’ workshop at Riverbend, wherein myself and another good friend will shadow facilitate so that we might learn the process and continue such workshops in the future. Furthermore, I am in communication with Cascade (the publisher) around book stuff: endorsements, cover image, title, content editing, etc. I also have meetings this week to plan speaking engagements around the book that are scheduled for the end of February and possibly March. And I can’t forget that I have a 4,000 word dissertation proposal due at the end of the month as well as draft syllabus due for a class I may teach at Lipscomb University in the fall. So yes, I feel a bit swamped at the moment.
The flag ‘protests’ (different people would call them different things) continue. Before I came back, the news said it was the worst violence in Belfast since the peace accord in 1998. Just today, my classmate Raggi and I were walking from St. George’s Market back toward City Hall, when we noticed the numerous ‘crimestopper’ armored vehicles lining the streets. Then we saw a massive Union Jack emerge from Royal Avenue, north of City Hall, with many more junior flags trailing closely. The procession marched up to the gates of City Hall where they unwound a banner stating “We will not be the generation that fails Ulster!”
For those unaware, in early December, the city council voted to cease flying the Union Jack year round and instead to raise it only select days during the year. Ostensibly, this was done in recognition of the divided nature of society, with one people claiming a British identity and loyal to the UK and another claiming an Irish identity and wanting to unite the North with the South (granted, there is a decent size demographic that identifies neither as exclusively ‘Irish’ nor ‘British’ but rather as ‘Northern Irish’).
Many loyalists are furious that the flag of their nation was removed from City Hall. To illustrate how exclusive the claim to the land is for some, as we stood watching the protest, a man pushing a stroller turned and asked if I was from the U.S. After I said ‘yes,’ he asked, ‘how would you feel if Mexico told the U.S. to stop flying the American flag in Washington?’ This was a fascinating insight into the mindset for some loyalists. It demonstrated how foreign the Nationalist claim is (that Northern Ireland should be part of the Republic) as well as how removed some PUL (Protestant/Unionists/Loyalists) feel from the decision making. It would, at least in this man’s mind, be as if Mexico made the decisions for the people of the U.S. Most interesting.
I am hoping to visit these weekly protests and speak to bystanders about what’s going on, feigning complete ignorance as a tourist and trying to gain some insight into their perceptions of current events and identity. My understanding had been that the city council had voted on the flag issue and the legislation was passed in some democratic fashion. But according to one lady today, “It was all done illegally.” We all have our narratives, don’t we?
Aye, so that’s my life at the moment. Busy and busier. Do forgive me if I grow even more lax with this blog. Lots going on.