It seems fitting to write this blog post about the people who turn ordinary days into ones filled with adventure and endless laughter. I know that it might seem clichéd to say I feel I’ve known my friends in Derry/Londonderry much longer than a few months, but when you are woken by a woman in an elephant suit offering homemade breakfast in West Belfast, it seems to be an appropriate statement.
My classmates and I are studying Peace and Conflict Studies through the INCORE program at the University of Ulster Magee. It’s not a stretch to say that our friendship is that of children on the playground: “Hiya, do you want to be my friend?”
We have spent many nights laughing until 4 or 5 a.m., then reconvening the next day to rehash stories from the night before over soup in the canteen, followed by an all-day session in the library.
This weekend we all ventured to Belfast for Christmas dinner, a night out, and a tour of Crumlin Road Gaol and the Peace Walls. Sporting reindeer antlers and Santa hats, we had an incredible Christmas dinner prepared by our classmate Paddy, and then we headed out into the cold. The recurring question of the evening was: “Excuse me, miss, do you realize you have antlers on your head?” Why yes, I do. Singing “Fairytale of New York” in a circle of reindeer antlers and ugly jumpers will stick with me as one of my favorite memories from my time on island of Ireland.
Of course we are graduate students interested in the Northern Ireland conflict, and therefore do venture out to learn as much as we can. Clare, a West Belfast native, took us out to tour the Peace walls, public art and murals that make Belfast famous. We finished our afternoon with a tour of Crumlin Road Gaol, recently reopened for tours after renovations. Crumlin Road Gaol was closed in 1996, and has a tunnel leading to the court for the transport of prisoners. Perhaps the most important lesson I have taken away from the last few months is how real the situation still is in Northern Ireland.
I spend many afternoons doing volunteer work with ex-combatants, learning from their experiences of the Troubles, and I even work out alongside a few at my sports club. The Belfast Christmas Market was closed briefly the other day due to riots over the limited removal of the UK flag at City Hall. These are the occasions that spark debate and conversation, and further my own education outside my academic program. These events mark my ordinary days.
We ventured back to Derry/Londonderry on the bus last night, exhausted by, but content with, our Christmas weekend with our urban family.