Jessica: Last night in Belfast

June 4, 2011

It feels like yesterday that we all checked into this place, and now we are moving out tomorrow. And I bet Dublin will go by so fast, and suddenly I will be home in Minnesota and broke! Yay!

Yesterday we went to another community organization called Intercomm in Northern Belfast. This group was started by two guys from both sides of the Troubles who had been in prison, knowing they had to do something about the post cease fire. Turns out both communities have had the same problems and work together now to try to break down barriers. 

The thing that strikes me the most is how violent it is and it’s not a big deal. It was a regular thing to have bombs go off, to know people who went to prison for no reason, to work with someone who had killed someone you knew. There was a punishment called the Six Pack where they would shoot your knees, ankles and your elbows. For some boys it became a badge of honor. I’m not sure how they were still functioning human beings after that but apparently it was hot. 

Another tactic was having women, instructed by paramilitaries, seduce men to homes where they were ambushed and killed. It’s incredible how stark the contrast can be from one area to the next—one row of houses were great and kept up, the next row was pretty deserted. There were like four inhabited homes and the rest were abandoned, boarded up. It was eerie. Add the Eminem music blaring from a van neaby and you get the picture. 

Today I met my friend Missy’s friends Lorcan and Conor, they drove home the point most of all. They spoke very seriously and casually about the violence here. Lorcan, a very Catholic name, would never get hired in certain areas. He can tell what religion all of his classmates are without knowing their names—it’s become part if their culture to identify that part of you immediately. 

To some, your religion is more of an ethnicity. You are born into it; it doesn’t matter if you practice it. They’d be quiet in the pub because they could tell the guys next to us were Protestant, and they got very anxious when they found out another crowd of guys were English. It’s just insane how REAL and pervasive this is in their lives. Lorcan lied about where he lived to someone because he was in a more Protestant pub. 

Here, kids will chase after you until you get to a certain invisible, but very real, line in the road or city. Based on things so subtle that give away your identity. 

It will be intereting to see the point of view of those in the Republic the next few days.

Also my body feels somewhat broken from walking probably 20 miles today. Seriously.


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