"But you know, I can't complain."
It was my second visit with a woman from the Friendship Circle who hasn't been well over the past two months. With the cold winter setting in so early and the nasty flu season in the UK, many of the pensioners in East Belfast have been struggling health-wise this winter.
As this woman is 89, her health has been faltering; between her eyesight, heart problems, and swollen feet, she has been confined to her house over the past while. During my first visit before Christmas, she was rather low in spirits, but on this visit last week, the spirit in her voice was back. She was telling stories about how as a child her family had a chicken that would chase her around and peck at her heels. Her mother didn't believe her until she saw it happen one day; they had chicken for dinner. (But she wouldn't eat any of it!)
But through some stories of her life and the narrative of her illness, including worrying about the continued loss of her eyesight, she kept repeating, "But you know, I can't complain."
The Friendship Circle, and really East Belfast, is full of these women who have seen their share of sorrow, personal loss, economic turmoil, health failings, and for some, even the second world war. But they remain strong in their faith and are quick to remember and put others who are also suffering before themselves. It's truly humbling.
Every day brings a new adventure and opens up my eyes a wee bit more.
Last night, following Dance Nation (I got to dance with the older class - OW! I am getting old!), I met up with a flatmate to head into the city to catch the 3 pound showing of Black Swan. We got to the cinema though, and the showing was sold out.
The guy YAVs had invited us over to their flat in North Belfast; they had an Australian traveler staying there through 'couch surfing'.
(Couch surfing is an online society that you can join. In exchange of letting travelers stay at your house, you can use the site to find people to stay with all over the world. No worries, you leave reviews for both the travelers and the hospitality on the site!)
Well, we headed out towards the guys' flat to celebrate Australia Day - on Australian time - with an Australian (and them too). Happy Australia Day!!
On the way out to their place, my flatmate mentioned that there had been a bomb scare in North Belfast earlier that day... Sure enough, our bus had to detour around the cordoned off section but dropped us where we needed to be. Scarily enough, the police lines were next to the guys' neighborhood.
When we got to the house, one of the guys was at church; turns out his church, Fortwilliam and McCrory Presbyterian, was letting some displaced people stay there over night. Included in that group were some Irish Travelers, comparable to gypsies or roma but not actually from the same ethnic group. Funniest story that he had from the evening was that the Irish travelers were requesting for the police to find them a tv to watch a show that was on: my big fat gypsy wedding.
In honor of them, we watched it as a group that night. Main highlights of the show:
- Irish travelers like to throw over the top weddings. So, the bride's wedding dress was cotton candy pink and weighed over 20 stone, comparable to 280 pounds. Cotton candy explosion complete with mechanical butterflies that flew around the dress. Classy.
- another group of travelers who had applied for building permits on some land were getting kicked off of it.
Stereotypes abound for the Irish travelers, but poignantly enough, there were many non-travelers out protesting the bailiffs throwing these families off of the undeveloped land.
Through the tackiness and commercialized product of it all, the show raised many questions about the prejudices that are too often just another part of life.
For all of the advances that have been made in this peace process, how can some people still think taking human lives is a viable way of making your voice heard?
If you'd like to read more about the bomb threat: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-12289914
The best comment that I heard in response to the bomb threat came from a staff person at EBM whose gut wrenching comment was, 'I thought those police evacuations were a thing of the past.'
Before yesterday, I had no idea what an Irish traveler was, had never watched 'my big fat gypsy wedding,' and hadn't really realized the sheer hassle involved when a bomb threat is made.
Every day brings a new adventure and opens up my eyes just a wee bit more.
the winter blues
It's been sunny here. I would say that since we have been here in September, on average, it has only rained 1.5 out of 7 days.
But unfortunately, that still doesn't mean that the winter blues haven't stayed away.
The past few weeks I have been feeling rather down. Stuff just hasn't felt right at work, and I have been feeling downright grumpy. It is probably not serious enough for a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder, but it's definitely the winter blues.
Coupling with that is the fact that it's the tough year: the transition out of undergraduate life. No winter break retreat to the parents' house for free laundry and home cooking; no Sinfonicron production to brighten the gloomy days of winter; no exciting start of classes with a fresh new schedule; no sunken gardens to meet in for a game of muddy ultimate frisbee; no longer surrounded by several thousand college kids willing to discuss Dickens and developmental psychology and the horribleness of parallel fifths.
The problem with Belfast in winter is that the sun rises no earlier than 8:30 and sets no later than 5:00.
Mathematically speaking, 2/3 of the 'day' the sky is dark.
It's a battle every morning with the alarm clock; my university roommates can attest that I was already addicted to my snooze button. One also has to mentally steel oneself from eating dinner before 5:30 and going to bed at 9:00.
One of the best lines that I remember from orientation is a former YAV saying that sometimes, just getting out of bed means that you have already won for the day.
So far, I have always made it out of bed: win.
Some lights that shine through the darkness: the wonderful people of EBM who are always there to provide support and some laughs. Training for the Belfast City Marathon! (Some of us YAVs and maybe even Doug Baker! will be WALKING it.) Walking around the city and even along the coast up to Bangor this past weekend have helped to bring in some fresh air to the cobwebby brain cells. Plus, all of the wonderful letters, cards, facebook messages, and prayers that are emanating from all over the U.S. have helped to bring smiles, and a few tears, to my face. Thank you all for your support during this year!
The winter blues will soon enough turn into the green of spring, provided Punxsutawney Phil comes through. And until then, I am continuing to take daily life in stride and remembering to enjoy the little things.
In grace and peace.