Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Northern Exposure

The beautiful Queen's University

 I changed countries again. Technically. Sort of. (Although, to be honest, I am still quite confused about this whole thing, because I recently read that the United Kingdom is its own country, but simultaneously made up of four countries. So how does that work?) 

Regardless, I'm in Northern Ireland now. I arrived in Belfast on Monday afternoon and was slightly disappointed that my bus from Dublin was waived through the border and I didn't get another passport stamp to add to my collection.

Belfast feels surprisingly similar to Dublin, but smaller and with UK chain grocery stores instead of Irish ones. I'm staying with a family in Northern Belfast I found online who just started renting out their spare bedroom. Tricia is kind of the perfect person to be living with if you want a recap of Belfast recent history--she works downtown with young people who experienced trauma as a result of The Troubles and is a really interesting person to talk to. Before we picked up her 7 year-old daughter Gaby at school, Tricia described her as "high-spirited" which might have been an understatement. Some of the first things out of Gaby's mouth when I met her were: "Don't worry Nell, I'll put on my American accent when we get to the house", "Hey Mom, remember that time I was a little kid and used the word 'hate' because I didn't realize it was such a strong word?" and "Nell, can I sleep with you in your bed tonight?" Needless to say, it did not take long to get acquainted. Gaby has officially adopted me into the family as her big sister (a title she rescinded for a few minutes when I tried to help her mom get her into bed last night). When she gets home from school, she asks me to help her pick out "American clothes" to wear and act out The Secret Garden while she gets dressed. I adore her.

I'll be living with Tricia and Gaby for ten days before moving to the apartment of a friend of a friend, a Mitchell scholar who is conveniently going to the U.S. on a visit and leaving an empty Belfast apartment behind. All in all, I'll be up north until May 21st.

With such a wonderful place to stay at Tricia & Gaby's, it's kind of amazing that I ever leave the house. My bedroom is just about the cutest room I've ever seen.


It is made much better by the fact that it is labeled with a sign saying "wowwowwowwow top secreet top secreet spare bebroom".

I have been venturing out the last two days, trying to get oriented in another new city before I start scheduling interviews. I've been wandering around beautiful old buildings, looking at the city's many murals, and spent some time yesterday afternoon watching a labor protest. It is an interesting, lovely city and I'm here at the perfect time for several upcoming arts festivals.

City Hall

 The historic Linen Hall Library

But it's also a divided city and the divisions are so ingrained that it actually would be easy to spend time in downtown Belfast without thinking about them. They are how the city operates, the elephant in the room that is so painful and so deep, it's hard to say if it's actually being ignored, or so pervasive that it needs no mention. It's a city that is, in part, divided by names. I think I came to the right place. 

As Gaby informed me yesterday, "you're Belfast-American now."

At least for a few weeks.

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