June 2009 Reflection

As the giants and elves of Block 12 bustled about the kitchen of our dorm flat yesterday morning, trying to clean out our things before a moving deadline at noon, Brigitta paused from packing tea boxes to suddenly channeling the old Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: “The only thing constant in our entire life is change itself,” she reminded us as she tossed another container of Hungarian tea across the room into a cardboard box. We all shrugged and nodded in response, continuing to scurry about. It is true: “Block 12 Dangerous/Giants & Elves” is no more, and our (okay, my) dream of débuting our band and cutting a record together has died—or at least been deferred, though a few days ago we did have a last ‘hurrah’ together, belting karaoke out our kitchen windows all night to the rest of the student village.

Many chapters have come to a close since I last wrote, but new passages are also in the writing. In addition to the disbanding of the Giants & Elves, classes have ended for my Peace & Conflict Studies (PCS) program, and I finally ceded the Battle of the Book Fines to the unflinching campus librarians. I attended my final French class and enjoyed a last supper with some classmates from the course. I will miss the classmates from all my courses dearly, but some of the sting from that loss is removed from the fact that our PCS course will reunite for a final night on the town this Friday.

I guess it is not so much that these phases of my life end, so much as they transform. With the end of classes, I am entering the thesis-writing phase of my master’s program at an exciting time, given the recent raids in Northern Ireland of residential brothels where Chinese women were allegedly trafficked. For my research, I hope to make contact with the individuals heading up efforts to combat such criminal networks, in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. On the language front, I continue to study French on my own, and I have the good fortune of having moved into the same dorm flat as one of my French instructors! Happy days. Also, I was inspired to begin learning Italian by an Easter trip to Rome with Vicki, where she introduced me to the wonder that is profiteroles and where we attended the St. Peter’s Easter mass given by the Pope. And what began as a temperate interest in attending the local Derry jazz festival has transformed into a craving for more fantastic jazz festivals that attract international talent, so I plan to catch the Copenhagen jazz festival in July.

The morphing of spring into summer here has opened up a host of new excursions in the outdoors. In April, my campus was transformed into a pink and white wonderland by the cherry blossom season. Eriko and I celebrated by partaking in the Japanese tradition of hanami—or cherry blossom watching—by enjoying a picnic under the blush cherry tree grove at our local fire department. The firefighters were quite surprised, as they pulled up in their large truck, to find us sitting in their yard nibbling on cookies and Japanese sweets! Eriko and I also discovered that for just a fiver and a half-hour bus ride, we can get away to Buncrana, a charming seaside town. We took a nature path along the shore there that offered breathtaking views of the ocean and the gorse-covered hills (the bright yellow bush with the remarkable aroma of coconut that coats most of the Irish countryside in springtime).

A few weeks later, Vicki and Ryan had the brilliant idea of taking a road trip north, and we three took in loads of gorse while spending a few days exploring County Donegal, particularly Glenveagh National Park. Ryan drove the rental car, while Vicki and I stayed on newborn lamb alert and shrieked with delight each time we saw one. Nowadays, I most enjoy the extra daylight hours afforded by summer; it seems that the weather here is finally catering to my nocturnal habits. I love the fact that the citizens of Derry have soaked up the warm weather we’ve been having these past few weeks, and until quite late. I went for a run the other night at 10pm, and both light and people were still to be found!

My experience as a Mitchell Scholar in Northern Ireland began with a taxi encounter, and it seems appropriate that it ends with one, as well. Yesterday, I took a day trip to Belfast, where I watched a video at Tyler’s place of his skydiving adventures and looked at photos from our final scholars’ trip to the spectacular Parknasnilla Resort in County Kerry, before we officially ended our ‘Mitchell year’ with an impressive (though bittersweet) gathering at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Dublin. Just before seeing Tyler, I said goodbye to Chris and Kacey, who have now returned to the States, and made off with a suitcaseful of goodies they could not take back to the U.S. with them, including Brit, a British begonia (I’m a sucker for orphaned plants). I proved myself an unfit mother, however, when I accidentally abandoned Brit on the top shelf of the sauces aisle of Belfast’s Asia Market, an enormous wholesale warehouse where I had come in search of sauce for making okonomiyaki, or Japanese pizza, on Friday nights with Eriko. After walking a mile towards the Europa bus station to try to catch a bus home in time to watch the final episode of “Britain’s Got Talent” (my friends and I succumbed to the low, delightful pleasure of judging the talent of others via instant cell phone voting), I realized my mistake and dashed back towards Asia Market, hauling my pancake mix, sausage, pasta, and chocolate-filled suitcase along behind me. All ended well, for I recovered poor Brit and caught the next bus back to Derry.
And now to my taxi experience: when I arrived back in Derry, I decided to catch a cab back to the dorms, just to be sure I would not miss the dramatic conclusion to the talent show. I hopped into the cab of a trusty company that normally serves the dorms, Derry Taxis. In the short drive, the friendly driver and I marveled at the unbelievable sunshine and tropical weather we have experienced for the past several days here in Derry, and he commented that he appreciates the laid-back nature of Derry people, especially in comparison to the bustle-hustle attitudes of people in larger cities, such as Belfast and Dublin, or in larger countries, such as America. He explained the philosophy of Derry Taxis: the point is not simply to get you from Point A to Point B, but to enjoy the journey, as well. This is why the Derry drivers ‘slag’ (joke around with/make fun of) the students they transport, he explained. As the driver spun us around the final roundabout before catching the road for my dorms, he looked at me. “We’ve only got one life, you know? You only get ONE BITE of that cherry,” he said holding up his pointer finger for emphasis, “and if you don’t enjoy it…you’re finished!”

When Mary Lou asked us to decide on our specific return dates to the States, I realized that I am loving the experience of living in Europe far too much to cut it short of a full year. I had not planned to stay in Ireland so long, but my year in Northern Ireland—with all of its spur-of-the-moment trips throughout Europe (thanks to Vicki’s fine leadership), last-minute marathons, new languages, unexpected gorse and cherry blossoms, novel culinary delights (namely brown bread, homemade apple tarts, and the famous Ulster Fry), completely new field of Peace and Conflict Studies, wandering jogs, and spontaneous friendships across generational and cultural divides—has made me appreciate the idea of embracing something unexpected. And sometimes, something that was not in my ‘plans’ may actually generate the most joy and personal growth in life. Perhaps this is the reason why, when my taxi driver pulled up to Block 7 of the student village where I now live, I stayed in the cab chatting with him for a good while, though it made me late for my date with Simon Cowell. If people like my taxi driver yesterday have taught me anything, it is that sometimes, you just shouldn’t miss an opportunity for some good craic simply because something else was on the agenda.

I am so thankful to be able to remain in Ireland until September, and I hope to revel in my final three months here to the fullest—the incredible opportunity provided by Trina, Mary Lou, and the U.S.-Ireland Alliance has opened me to people, places, and ideas that have deeply impacted how I see the world and my place in it, beyond the blithe concept of ‘craic.’ I am sure this transformative process will continue, even after I am finally kicked off of this gorgeous, endearing island.

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