Saturday, September 4, 2010

Updates from the Past Two Days

So on Friday, we concluded our visits to all of the YAV sites. Whew! Then in the afternoon, we explored West Belfast, South Belfast, and City Centre. Words can not quite capture all that we saw. Many interfaces (places where Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods meet up) are blocked by extremely high walls and/or gates. Pictures can not quite provide the right perspective either.

Basic phrases to try to capture what I have seen of West Belfast include: war zone walls, murals full of hatred and intimidation, memorials put up by both sides emphasizing the brutality of the other without admitting any wrongdoing, segregation, 40% of the housing is government funded – while estates are nowhere near what are referred to as “the projects” in the U.S., some are often controlled by paramilitary groups, druglords, or those two groups are one and the same.

City Centre and South Belfast stand in stark contrast. South Belfast contains Queens and upper class housing, while City Centre is a place of tourism and the shopping industry.

Saturday morning, Doug and Elaine took us to St. George's Market in City Centre, and they proceeded to set us loose on the city. (For lunch at St George's, I had an excellent crepe containing ham, cheese, onions, and pesto. Delicious!) So, we began exploring City Centre by the seat of our pants. We wandered without a map and succeeded in seeing the Botanical gardens, the Ulster History Museum, Queens Uni, Victoria Square, and more. We topped off the day with a guilty pleasure – MEXICAN FOOD!!! Boojum had been recommended to us, and sure enough, it was surprisingly close to Chipotle. Yesssss. :D

Just a few observations from the past 24 hours:

---I have been asked twice if I am Canadian or American.

---East Belfast is... apparently, an interesting section of the city where our group of Americans stick out. This afternoon when coming out from City Centre, the bus driver asked us if we were sure we wanted to get off the bus. (Implying that we didn't really want to.) Ha, we are tough YAVs; heck yes, this is our neighborhood. ;) But in all seriousness, I have yet to feel unsafe in the area in which we are living. Yes, there are a surprising number of empty and rough looking store fronts, and perhaps its not the most neutral zone of the city, but this is going to be home for the next year. I'm excited to start working at EBM and begin forming relationships with people residing in the area. This is not an area where American tourists come to visit, but that is not why we are here.

I have my first Sunday at East Belfast Mission tomorrow. Hooray!

Also, today was the first day of rain we have experienced. Surprisingly, not too bad. While it was gray all day, the rain was not constant, which makes a huge difference! Pictures to hopefully be put up tomorrow of some of our adventures so far.

In grace and peace!

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