A Galway Thing

“It shook me to the core,” she said, her voice shaking, “that what happened to hear could easily have been me.” Jenny, an organizer for Galway Pro-Choice, spoke of the story of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian-Irish dentist who died in Galway after having been refused an abortion. The sun was setting over Galway Bay and a group had started to gather, holding small candles and standing in a semi-circle.

About twenty minutes earlier, I was running on the treadmill when my phone pinged: “Hey! This is a really Galway thing, come check it out.” I hopped off the treadmill and headed straight home. As a filmmaker, you don’t wait for stories. You charge your camera and chase them.

People of all ages were trickling in, carrying “REPEAL” signs and candles and babies. I powered up my camera and noticed two other Canon-carriers within the group. The three of us made generous eye contact, speaking a silent, urgent language: I’ll move out of your shot, let’s convene after to talk footage, this feels important.

The gathering was short, straightforward, sincere. Savita’s friends and fellow organizers led a march along the main cobblestone street, ending up outside a church. We marched quietly, speaking when answering questions from passers-by about what we marched for. Whom we marched for. I filmed as much as I could.

Along Quay Street, the main medieval street brimming with fish and chips and fiddle players, organizers had placed small candles with short, handwritten prayers. After a moment of silence, the celebrated Irish poet Elaine Feeney read her poem, a self-proclaimed political poem, called “Rise.” She dedicated it to all the women gathered there, gathered anywhere:

“Rise up your hand and answer my question/rise up your hand and question my question/question their question, question their answers/rise up and laugh, throw your head back.”

After the formal program ended, I wove my way over to the other filmmakers. Maya, from Greece, is an Erasmus exchange student doing a film on the abortion debate from an international perspective. Hanan, from Somalia, was grabbing the last footage for her film profile of Galway Pro-Choice. And Azza, from the USA, wasn’t quite sure what she was doing yet. Hanan folded up her tripod and we headed to a cafe, sipping hot chocolate and telling our stories about how we got here — to Galway, to film, to the REPEAL campaign. We laughed how these three foreigners cared so much about Irish politics, finding ourselves in this ancient coastal city. We drank till the cocoa went cold and the cafe closed. Can’t wait to see your footage, where it takes you, and to see you again soon, we said. We meant it.

They say Galway is the place where ambition goes to dies, the graveyard of ambition, the place you never leave. They say it like it’s a good thing, though, and the American in me is forced to question my question about ambition. American culture privileges work over play, chaos over calm, productivity over inner peace. I was taught to prepare for today by doing tomorrow’s homework, that faster is better, and that extra time is like leftovers; it must always be repurposed.

Maybe Galway is the place where ambition goes to die. But for me, Galway is the place where anticipation is born.

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