Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

No turnips were carved, and we didn't have too many trick or treaters stop by. (Trick or treaters here receive either candy or... a quid!) However, the holiday was commemorated by both illegal fireworks set off around the city and legal fireworks which were set off from a barge on the River Lagan.
Courtesy of Daylights Savings Time (which happens for N.I. a week earlier than in the States), it is now getting dark around 5 p.m. It's bizarre.
So around 5, a small group of us headed down to the Titanic Quarter to catch the end of the family celebrations going on and see the fireworks display which began at 5:45. [Yes, it was dark that early.] After a short walk, we were rewarded with an excellent 20 minute bombardment of colors and booms. Plus, it was good fun to see all of the various costumes. (Side note: Doug said that N.I. does not really do Halloween. We beg to differ. Halloween was originally a Celtic tradition. America ultimately commercialized it, and not all of the traditions have crossed back over the Atlantic. But, N.I. did still put on quite a show for Halloween!)
It was a balmy 10 degrees Celsius, which is actually warmer than most St. Louis Halloweens that I remember as a child...
The Norn Iron YAV contingent is off to Donegal tomorrow for a retreat. Upon my return on Thursday, I will hopefully have some in-depth reflections to share in blog form.
Hope your Halloween was safe and not too spooky!
In grace and peace.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Somewhere on the culture shock graph...

During our YAV orientation, culture shock was heavily addressed. However, for those of us in Northern Ireland, we are perhaps experiencing a different range of culture shock as our brother and sister YAVs in other places of the world..
In terms of the general culture shock iceberg, this is more or less what it looks like:
The iceberg parts that are above the water and underwater can be equally hard to deal with in Norther Ireland. Everyday presents new challenges, particularly in communicating with the people around me. While English is the official language of Northern Ireland, accents and vocabulary vary widely enough from my American English that the mini translator in my brain needs to be switched on for the conversation. (For the days with an early start time, it often takes a little while, or two cups of tea, for my brain to be awake enough to carry on an intelligent conversation with a Belfast native.) Since church ministry centers on working and communicating with people, adjusting to working in a church is even more difficult when in a foreign country.
In terms of overall culture shock adaption, on this scale:
most of my days involve moments of just sitting on the x-axis, having moments of positive well-being, and also moments of negative well-being.
As a YAV-alum suggested, the graph when translated to real life is not linear. And sometimes it feels like each day I go through the entire cycle of the graph.
Every day can be simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.

It's been awhile since I have passed on general observations from my daily life:
- I have gotten my personalized Tesco's (comparatively a Bloom for VA folk or Schnucks for St Louis folk) points card in the mail. The grocery card is a step towards being a resident of a certain area.
- Days are already beginning to shorten. The sun rose after 8 a.m. today and set before 6 p.m. And its not even winter. I have discovered that I have a hard time motivating myself to get out of bed when it is dark.
- There is the South and there is the North. Refer to Ireland only in such terms as "the South" or "the North." The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are not labels referred to in daily conversation.
- Most people when trying to be impartial do not take the time to say Derry/Londonderry. The newsfolk generally refer to it as Stroke City. (Stroke being the term for what we might call a slash mark.)
- Halloween/ All Saints Day originated in the Celtic Calendar; the early Celtic Church basically fit Christianity into the Celtic practices.
- after walking in the rain, your trousers will be wet. if you say pants, you are referring to your underwear.
- I use a lot of colloquial phrases in my daily language. You don't realize this until you are in a different culture, and after you say something, you have to figure out if your accent got in the way or your word choice was poor. It's usually the latter.
- Before pumpkins (and gourds in general) began to be imported to Ireland, carving turnips was the closest alternative. In case you are interested:

In the next post, I will cover more macro- observations of my time here, particularly focusing on The Troubles and its effects on daily life. While this is not a society in open conflict, Belfast is definitely not a peaceful city. There are constant reminders of this in daily life, and I have been purposeful in taking the time to digest what I have seen and heard. Otherwise this part of the culture shock - the hurting of this society that is beneath the surface that I am very much witnessing - would slowly build up and cause me to sink. Again, bear with me as I strive to find the words to clearly and accurately portray my thoughts.
Until then, let me leave you with a quote on a lighter note.
Context: in response to NPR's refusal to cover the Rally to Restore Sanity (how I wish I were in the U.S.!!!), John Stewart's response was this:
‎"NPR you just brought a tote bag full of david sedaris books to a knife fight"

In peace and grace. :)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Siberian Swans

Apparently the Siberian swans have migrated three weeks early to Belfast, signaling that it will be a harsh winter. I suppose they are the UK version of the groundhog.

It's been awhile since my last update; many apologies. But as I am settling in more, my days are quite full. Work is continuing to go really well. As I get to know East Belfast Mission, both the congregation and mission side, I am liking the people more and more. As I think I have mentioned before, this year is turning into my sabbatical year. During these two months, I have been encouraged to explore my faith, to be able to expound on and support my beliefs, all the while being nurtured and positively challenged to grow.
The best way to explain it is to give you a list of some of the books that I have read so far/ am currently reading:
- The Divine Conspiracy (Dallas Willard)
- eat this bread (sara miles)
- The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
- A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini)
- Grace, Order, Openness, and Diversity (Ian Bradley)
And those are just a selection from the ever growing list of books that I am being lent. It's delightful. :)

Some highlights from the past week and a half include:
- this week's mum's and tot's meeting: it was picture day! So the children were dressed to the nines and utterly adorable. Each week the kids continue to open up to me just a little bit more. This week one of the younger girls was quite fascinated with me. She would look at me across the room, smile, and run towards me - and I would scoop her up into my arms. It was adorable. A group picture was taken, so I will hopefully get a copy of it.
- I have continued to lead Friendship Circle; what a wonderful life I am leading here. This past Wednesday, we had a mini-hymn sing. I spoke for a short while about the tradition and meaning of music during worship. We then sang through the church calendar - began with an Advent hymn, continued with a Christmas hymn, and continued all the way through to a Thanksgiving hymn. I think everyone had a great time. (Plus, a new set of tea cups had just been purchased for the group; set quite a positive tone for the meeting!)
- We climbed Cave Hill this past Saturday, which was FANTASTIC.
Here are a few pictures:

We have our first retreat coming up in a week and a half; the Norn YAV contingent will be heading to Donegal to spend some time decompressing as a group away from Belfast. (I am very excited!)

I made chicken curry [onions, green peppers, tomatoes, chicken, rice, and tikka marsala curry sauce purchased from the local grocer] for the first time tonight, and it turned out fantastically. :) I will be eating leftovers for a few days, but I am not at all sad about this.

Much love from Northern Ireland! In peace and grace.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Indian Summer

It's an unusual season in Belfast. Apparently, winter generally sets in at the beginning of October. Well, we are 11 days into October, and it's still sunny, warm, and feels like a Belfast summer.
Supposedly this means it's going to be a harsh winter.
But for now, I am just soaking up as much Vitamin D as possible. :)

This past week was absolutely wonderful; probably one of the best weeks in Northern Ireland so far.
It started off with my delivery of Healthy Food for All meals to residents of EBM's shelter (Hosford House) and then to ex-residents of Hosford House. The driver who I go with is a middle aged Belfast man (with a pony tail!) who thankfully lived in Australia for 10 years - thus I can understand what he is saying most of the time. It's quite an interesting ride as I get to chat with a "local" about such topics as the political situation at hand, driving in Belfast, etc.
p.s. I am so glad I don't have to drive in Belfast... I am ready to return to the land of the automatics. (One of the ministers at EBM actually drives an automatic, but it has the potential to be driven like a manual. Lol.)
Anyway, after the great delivery on Monday, my Tuesday was even better.
After staff prayers, I was taken out for coffee to McKees ( which is a country store East of Belfast in County Down. The pastor emeritus of EBm (as I like to refer to him haha) and I had a wonderful conversation, which was topped off by him lending me more books to read!!! :)
This is truly turning into my sabbatical year.
Wednesday was highlighted by a wonderful Kids GAP (mums & tots) morning, great lunch with some of the EBM staff in the cafe, and getting to lead Friendship Circle. Friendship Circle is generally one of the highlights of my week, but it was an extra treat as I got the opportunity to speak to them about myself, the YAV program, and what I am doing here.
Thursday was highlighted by another eventful Scripture Union at a local primary school and then dinner with a member of EBM's congregation.
Friday I helped out with a drop-in at a local secondary school (lunch time, we provide a place for the students to hang out. theoretically it's a time to talk about God, but as this was the first session of the year, about 130 girls came by during the 25 minute period... so it was more chaos than conversation). Then it was Friday Fusion! I had a team of p1-p3 children (about 4 to 6 year olds), and we traveled around to different stations to collect points. It was quite fantastic - blind taste tasting, memory of objects on a table, dropping a dried pea into a water bottle (mine went in the first time I tried!!! skillz.), and then some various running games in the gym area.
Team Tigers (roar!) won in the running games section!
Haha, the kids in my group were such a joy to work with; what a fun Friday Fusion. (And it was a more moderate number in attendance - we had about 60 kids there.)
Saturday was highlighted by the group of YAVs getting together to play football during the afternoon. It was most excellent!!! (Thank you W&M IM sports for giving me basic soccer skills that I never developed as a child.)
Anyway, the week was topped off with a FANTASTIC Sunday!
I got to open Sunday School with about 10 minutes of music. That was awesome. No other way to put it. :)
Then, met up with my form 1 through form 3 small group again. (Since there is not a secondary group meeting at this point, and there is a group of girls age 11-13 who are quite active, I have been starting to organize various fellowship times.) While only three of the girls could make it, we had a wonderful devotional time and then picked up some lunch. Truly quality over quantity. And the evening was topped off by playing keyboard for the evening service.

What I am still struggling with the most: the slight, slight, slight difference in music. Which is larger than one might expect. (It would be easier if the music was totally different - then I wouldn't be expected to know any of it.)
The PC(USA) blue hymnal is organized beautifully: hymns are grouped according to time in the church calendar/theme, and it has a great index for scripture themes.
The hymnal that EBM uses is simply in alphabetical order.
I was asked to pick out two additional hymns last night for the service... I spent half the time just opening to a random page in the hopes that I would recognize the hymn/the lyrics would fit with the theme, haha.
Basically, I was put out of my comfort zone - pick music from this book that you have never really sung out of before. I have never had a problem in the past picking out hymns - with the blue hymnal, give me five minutes, and I can give you a long list of appropriate hymns from which to choose two hymns from.
It is definitely a challenge!

Anyway, the sun is up. Another week has begun. Much love to all.
In grace and peace. :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

My diary

Diary = calendar

So this is what you have been waiting for, right? Drum roll please. Here is my basic weekly schedule/list of responsibilities as it stands now:

- alternating weeks, morning meetings with YAVs + Doug
- Healthy Food for All food delivery program to Hosford House (shelter run by EBM) and ex-residents of Hosford House living independently around East Belfast

- EBM staff prayers
- Healthy Food for All organization/paperwork (confirming the amount of meals to be delivered that afternoon)
- Dance Nation! (hip hop dance lessons for ages 8-18)

- Kids GAP (Kids, Guardians, and Parents = aka Mums and Tots)
- Friendship Circle
- evening bible study

- Scripture Union

- Friday Fusion (p1-p6)

day off!

- morning worship
- alternating Sundays, informal fellowship group with form 1 - form 3 youth
- evening worship

The beginning of the week is rather packed while it mellows out towards the end. The free time currently allows me to connect with various members of the congregation and also employees of EBM, which has been most excellent. :)
The schedule may continue to fluctuate as the year continues. I'll keep you posted.
In grace and peace.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Stand up for the Ulstermen.

Well, I have been in Northern Ireland for over a month now. (From a fractional perspective, it's hard to believe that 1/11th of this year has already passed.)
Reflecting on the past month, some things have been great; other things have been hard. It's been easy, hard, enjoyable, and difficult transitioning into work at East Belfast Mission. The congregation and fellow EBM employees are wonderful, but it's been a month of carving out my own niche in the organization. And at the end of the day, it's not like there is a finished product that I can point to and say, yes, that is what my labors of today produced.
Also, it's an interesting transition into the real world:
What, I don't have assigned reading and papers to churn out? My time is my own when I go home from work??? After 18 years of education, this is an interesting development.

But some of my highlights of this past week include:

For Friendship Circle (fellowship group of older women), we went to the Ulster History Museum as it was a week of Celebration of Aging. (Might have had a different title; don't quote me on that.) We attended a short drama which was a monologue of a young man who was a 16 year old riveter on the Titanic. It was interesting hearing the women's reactions to it as many of them had brothers and fathers who worked in the shipyards. (Several of them worked in the ropeworks and linen mills.) We then did a jewelry making session: origami butterfly pins out of pieces of plastic bags!

For Scripture Union on Thursday afternoon, the students were positively mental. Even worse than the first week. Kids getting kicked out left and right. I am getting to know the kids a little bit more though; it's fun interacting with them. They have no hesitations about telling me that I pronounce things funny...

Friday night, I was invited to go to the Ulster vs Glasgow Rugby match. It was awesome! Ulster won by just a few points. I attended a W&M women's rugby match this past year, so I knew the basics about scoring and rules. The game definitely moves faster though on a professional level. And Glasgow had brought a pipe and drum band with them, so there was entertainment at halftime. The game had a certain Friday Night Football feel - crisp Fall air (ok, it was more cold than crisp), rowdy fans, and halftime entertainment. Since we had arrived pretty early to the match, we secured front row spaces in the standing section. Consequently, myself and another girl I was with made it onto BBC tv! The other girl I was with taped the match, so when we got back to her place, we found the segment and I took a picture of it. (Picture soon to follow.)
The main chant for Ulster Rugby is "Stand up for the Ulsterman," whose tune just keeps repeating itself. (If interested, here is rough home footage: It gives you a good feel for the game. :)

A little lighter post this time. :)
In grace and peace.