It was a not-so-blustery day last month when, while walking with a classmate through the Queen’s campus, I turned to him and said “You know? I really like it here!” I think I really surprised him because I normally fill his ear with my grumbling about destroyed umbrellas, gale force winds and sudden random downpours that we have the privilege of experiencing on a regular basis in Belfast. I was referring to how my Mitchell experience has given me the chance to read everything I’ve been wanting to study, to engage in deep thinking and debate about concepts of interest to me, to pursue the extracurricular activities I didn’t have time for in undergraduate studies, to get to know my fantastic friends and colleagues, and to learn about this fascinating place, especially in the midst of the political developments now underway.
My thoughts on the political situation in Northern Ireland have changed quite a bit from the perspective I described in my previous journal. In the last two months, I have seen an entirely different side of politics that makes my November reflection sound quite naïve and uninformed! I’ve attended community forums (where I was undoubtedly the only resident present under the age of 50!), political roundtables, and local conferences that have opened my eyes to the intricate web reflective of the dilemma in which the parties find themselves as Northern Ireland approaches another set of “landmark” elections in March.
As part of my internship with a think tank called Democratic Dialogue, I helped to put together an assessment of the level of democracy in Northern Ireland. For my research on that project, I examined the intimate workings of the social, political and legal developments in the region and have come to re-consider my initial impressions.
Though I’m not studying local politics, I have found myself having long talks with community figures involved in the political process. Over pheasant stuffed with black pudding (my first real taste of Northern Ireland), I chatted with a founding member of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition about her concerns with flagging constructive civic engagement among the public. Over crumpets (my next culinary milestone), I talked to the spokesperson for Sinn Féin about her party’s role in shaping human rights legislation. Over Scotch broth (translation: delicious vegetable soup), I learned about the ongoing violence against civil society groups from the leader of a local community association.
Through all my conversations, I have taken away observations and insights on which I will continue to reflect as I try to make sense of the current situation and the prospects for the future. As Belfast has now truly become “home,” I feel highly invested in the political processes due to take place this coming spring.
And I feel equally invested in the gastronomic discoveries I have made during this holiday season. I am vigorously taking note of some of the most wonderful and delicious treats Northern Ireland has to offer! Of course, I would be remiss to neglect mentioning the fine cooking talents of my fellow Scholars who outdid themselves for our Thanksgiving celebration (extraordinaire!) in Dublin in November. Particular highlights included an unforgettable birthday cake and some mouth-watering apple pie qua crumble.
Last month, my church in Belfast held a Baking Night where I learned how to make potato bread, Irish soda bread, and mince pies! One bite of any of the three was enough to keep me in Belfast indefinitely! At home during the holidays, I frantically went searching for sweet mince, soda bread flour and bread sauce to make our Pennsylvania Christmas a wee bit more British and Irish.
I will carry those recipes along my travels for years to come – just as my experiences in Northern Ireland thus far have become a part of my life that I will treasure always.