Monday, 25 February 2013

The Team

Day 4
          It has been so much fun to watch these eight young women sink into deeper relationships with each other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group that gets along so well and enjoys each other’s company so much. Yesterday we met at Benedict’s after their hike, and the energy and laughter present as they shared stories about their morning was truly infectious. After a huge “carvery” meal, we headed back to Farset for a bit of a rest and a three hour long meeting to check in, do some intentional reflection on what we have experienced so far, and make some plans for the week ahead. Then, there was even a bit of energy left to watch a movie together in the dining room.
          The Corrymeela Bus arrived right on time at 9:30 this morning, and before I knew it we were here, greeted by old friends (Richard, Yvonne, Martha, Paul, Kelsey, Mark, Desi, Shane, William ...) and new (Steph, Matthew, Tiff, and many we haven’t officially met yet). It felt slightly surreal to be back, as if no time had passed at all. The first thing Paul, the Centre Director told me was an unbelievable story – that they had recently interviewed a potential long term volunteer from Brazil who said that he had first heard about Corrymeela from a blog written by a woman named Martha. Really?? So he’s one of the 13,767? What a funny, mysterious and delightfully small world we live in.
          Before long we had a session with Yvonne on sectarianism. Yvonne, who worked in the 90s as a Corrymeela Schools Worker, has done much research on sectarianism, and has developed resources and tools to work with children and youth about the subject. Sadly, Yvonne had to leave us today to be with her family and her gravely ill mother in Belfast. We were left in the capable hands of Steph and Matthew, long term volunteers, married to each other, originally from England but most recently from teaching in the Philipines.
They put the group through some of the Adventure Learning activities, activities for which Corrymeela is well known. These are cooperative games and tests which are used as a starting point for conversations afterwards about decision making, leadership and group dynamics. Our group was familiar with many of the activities, and aced most of them, as they have any of the ones I have offered them. Even Steph and Matthew were quite impressed at how they worked together to perform the tasks. Below are two of the activities – the first one – jumping from one stump to another, never leaving more than two stumps between two people, and never having their feet touch the ground. The second one is a a race on skies, and the third a rope game where they have to form a square with the rope while blindfolded. The other picture is the group at the end of their hike yesterday.
After another evening session with Steph and Matthew on Corrymeela’s work in the schools, we tried to order taxis to go to O’Connor’s, one of the 19 bars in the town of Ballycastle (“it has more bars per capita than any other town in Northern Ireland” said Steph) for a pint ...  it would seem that the taxis aren’t running tonight. “It’s a sign” said I ... “or a mission” said Alana. .... whichever, we never did get a taxi, so it’s early to bed to get ready for a day trip to Derry tomorrow. Perhaps we’ll find a cab tomorrow night.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

she was fine when she left here ...

Day 2
          The first two days of our trip have consisted of various activities that I would call “teambuilding” activities, and getting to know the city of Belfast. Although we have spent many hours together on Thursday evenings over the fall and winter, now we are actually living together, in a different country. We still have much to learn about each other, about Belfast, and about Northern Ireland.
          Some slept, some didn’t, the first night. We met for breakfast in the dining room at Farset International, one of the more interesting places of accommodation I’ve experienced. It’s a cross between a hostel and a hotel. Very reasonable rates, clean rooms, common spaces to gather, and an eclectic array of groups and individuals that come through the place on a daily basis, both for accommodation and meeting space. The Saint Mary’s group is still here, having just finished their week in the Belfast schools with Bernardo’s. Although many of the students have traveled to Dublin or London for the weekend, Bridget, the SMU trip leader, Judy, a Saint Mary’s professor travelling with the SMU group, and Rick, an educator from Florida who does work with Peaceful Schools International, are still here and are part of many of the morning and evening conversations.
Ruth, the director of Farset, is warm, welcoming, loud, and pretend grumpy all in one. “If she yells at you, that means she likes you” says Bridget. She makes it very clear, for the umpteenth time, that folks are not to stuff their pockets with breakfast foods (cheese, bread, fruit) for lunch. “You have to eat everything here. That’s the rule. No packed lunches.” But she has brought in fresh fruit for the Canadians, and made us croissants for breakfast. And she is always available for advice on where to eat and what to do.
We had planned to visit an East Belfast community group today, but because there is a parade of remembrance planned for soldiers killed during The Troubles today, I consult with the community representative and we decide to postpone the visit until next Thursday. It might be too difficult getting to East Belfast as the parade and our visit were around the same time. We decide to go to City Centre for some orientation and shopping, and then take the city Hop On Hop Off bus tour.
After a quick stop at Carroll’s, the Cadillac of both tacky and quality Irish souvenirs shops, and the Belfast Welcome Centre, we agreed to split up for an hour and a half. Most of the group wanted to get to Primark, a discount clothing store. It’s something I have never really understood – this obsession with getting to Primark. I do know that the young adults I knew at Corrymeela were always keen to get to Primark on their trips to the city (and for those of you in the know – is it pronounced Pree-mark, or Pry-mark?) ... an hour and a half later, 6 happy campers with very big bags full of bargain finds. When I asked some later in the afternoon what the attraction was, it was explained that it’s a unique combination of being a huge department store with a wide size range and very low prices. When we had the fashion show afterwards back at Farset, they were so happy at their finds I didn’t have the heart to insert any real social analysis about where the clothes were made ... although I couldn’t help making a light comment about it.
And, I can’t claim to be above all the shopping stuff – I made my way to my favourite shop The Wicker Man, and despite my pledge not to buy any more Celtic jewellery (I bought plenty the last two times I was here) I did seem to have a moment of weakness ... enough said. The only one who really seemed to resist well was Caitlyn, who, along with me, is not in the picture below. Alayna went for a beautiful Irish knit sweater at Carroll’s, which was actually on sale. She too was very happy at her purchase.
Caitlyn and Alayna had their own adventure while the rest were at Primark. I won’t describe it as well as they can, but they found an inflatable “room” on a side street (“kind of like a bouncy castle ...”) which was a participatory arts and culture workshop. They were welcomed in, spent time in conversation with others, and doing some hands on art activities.
We spent the next couple of hours on the city tour bus. We had a wonderful guide who made the scripted speech his own, inserting tidbits and jokes. We all thought he sounded quite seasoned and were surprised when he came to the upper level of the bus at one point and we realized he was in his early twenties. When we went to the Titanic Quarter, he observed that most folks from Belfast point out that the Titanic was “fine when she left here ... if you want to know what happened ask the English Captain, or the Scottish navigator, or even the Canadian iceberg.” Alana also got quite a kick out of his commentary about the hockey arena – the fact that after they built it they had to import the team players from Canada, the U.S. and Russia.
The tour took us all over the city and it’s outskirts, Stormont, the Parliament buildings, the Peace Walls, and the university area just to name a few. It was a great activity to get the political, cultural, and geographical lay of the land. Today, the group is doing a hike to Belfast Castle while I went to the market with Judy, and am now writing this in my favourite cafe. We will meet at Benedict’s for a late lunch, and head back to Farset for an extended check in and planning session for the week ahead, and for our three days at Corrymeela. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The journey begins ... again!

It occurred to me that I might document our student trip in The Corrymeela Diaries, a blog I wrote from June-September 2011 while I was a volunteer with The Corrymeela Communiy in Northern Ireland. I haven’t written in it since my return. In the first month after my last entry, the blog had in total about 2,000 hits. To date, it’s up to 13,000. I have no idea who is still reading it ... it’s kind of like I have released it into the blog-sphere and it has a life of its own. But I know there are a lot of folks interested in how and what we are doing for the next 10 days, and this is the best way I know how to keep them up to date.
As I began to collect my thoughts about where to start, I realized that my return to Northern Ireland is exactly 17 months to the day from when I left on September 21, 2011. As the plane rose above the George Best City airport in Belfast that day, I wondered how long it would be before my return. I knew in my heart it was never a question of “if”, but “when.”
I actually returned to Belfast much sooner than I thought I would, exactly a year ago, when I accompanied the Saint Mary’s university trip as a guest, hoping to explore how I might plan a similar yet distinct Dalhousie student trip. So, after months of planning, fundraising, educating ourselves and team building, here we are. The first picture is (from left) Sam, me, Ariane, Sarah, Alana, Alayna, Avery, and Emma at the Halifax airport Thursday evening. The second picture, our day 1 dinner last night at Robinsons in Belfast, includes Caitlyn (at the end of the table), who traveled to Belfast a week early to attend a family wedding.
The official name of our group is the Dalhousie Northern Ireland Dialogue for Peace Study Trip ... which is of course an incredibly long name to say each time we introduce ourselves. Even the acronym DaNIDiPS, which I used in organizing my mounds of paper around this trip, hardly fit on a little filing sticky. But long though it is, it does accurately explain what we are about. Each word is important.
We are here to explore theories and practices of peacemaking in Northern Ireland, particularly as they relate to high school youth. In preparation for the trip, we have researched basic conflict resolution theory, facilitated workshops on peace and conflict with high school youth in Halifax, and done some research on the contexts of peace and conflict in Nova Scotia, Canada and Northern Ireland.
During our time here we will meet with folks working for peace both in Belfast and in Corrymeela. We will travel to Corrymeela on Monday morning to spend three days learning about their long history of peacemaking. When we return to Belfast on Wednesday, we’ll get ready for two days of facilitating workshops in a Belfast high school, facilitated by Bernardo’s Children’s Charities.
And, no doubt there will be a Guinness or two in the evenings ... stay tuned for details of our adventure!