Northern Ireland

18 Nov

Before I even arrived in Northern Ireland, I was extremely nervous to go there. From everything I had heard regarding the violence and the conflict, it really made me second guess going on this trip. At the same time, I had to remember that living in the South, you only really get one perspective and in order to understand a culture, you must get both sides to fully understand. When we first got to Belfast, the city reminded me a lot of London. There were beautiful buildings and a lot of the same stores that I saw in London. I automatically could see the differences between Dublin and Belfast. In Dublin, everything seems to be much more focused on Irish history and more of a celebration as opposed to looking at the violence. Right in front of the City Hall in Belfast, I saw statues of men standing there with guns. This made me feel a bit nervous, but at the same time I had to remember that different people celebrate events in history in different ways. Being from the United States, you have to be sensitive to that because just like in Ireland, we have to had a history that has seen days of violence.

 As my time continued in Belfast, I was able to see many of the beautiful things it had to offer. For instance, I was both a little frightened but also interested in the idea of murals. This is not something that I am used to seeing, both in Dublin and in my own home, so seeing it intrigued me. It was interesting and empowering to see how people were able to express themselves in such a powerful and public way. This also effected me from another angle because my family is originally from Palestine. Just like in Ireland, there has been religious and political conflicts between Palestine and Israel. Being from the United States, sometimes you feel like no one in the world really truly cares about this conflict. Although it might not be from the most positive light, it was nice to see that other people identified with it. It is said that the Catholics in Northern Ireland feel the same suppression as the Palestinians do. Whether this is true or not, I would hope that one day there could be a similar result to what happened in Ireland between Israel and Palestine. Regardless of whether its right or not, its nice to know that other people in the world care about the issue and express themselves accordingly. Also, many of the pictures we were shown in class we got to see in person. We got to see the mural of Bobby Sands which was so beautiful and amazing to actually see it in person. 

One night before going out I decided to go a local grocery store. When I got up to the check out line, two men were standing behind the counter. They asked me where I was from and I told them New York. I then asked them where they were from and they both said Belfast. Then, one of the men said I am Catholic and I am Irish. The other man said I am protestant and I am British. They were almost joking with each other but I engaged in it asking them when they identify themselves this way. They told me because that is the side they had always been on as children. This just showed me that these two young men had grown up in the same place, but totally identified themselves in different ways. It showed me how important it is to never generalize people and to really understand where they are coming from. 

By the time we entered Derry, I was feeling much more comfortable being in Northern Ireland. Our first full day there, we took a tour of the area and got to see more of the murals. One event happened to me that really put me in touch with the issues in the North. Our tour guide took us to a small area overlooking a neighborhood. There we looked over a mural of this beautiful little girl in her school uniform. Resting next to her picture was a machine gun that was split in half. Our tour guide then began to tell us the same story that was told to us during Irish Life and Cultures Class. This little girl was walking to school one morning while the troubles were going on. On her way to school, she saw one of the rubber bullets on the ground and picked it up. One of the British soldiers took this as a threat, and shot her in the head. She was killed instantly. Our guide then began to talk about his own daughter. He told us about how any father would die for his daughter if that meant keeping her alive. He then pointed to me and said “my daughter has the same hair color as you and she is a professor in Belfast. I would die for her any day and even though she is a grown woman, I would still do anything for her.” I started to cry just remembering my own father and how that must feel knowing there is nothing you could do to bring your daughter back. This was the first time I really felt in touch with the things going on in the North.

Overall, my experience was a real eye opener. It really shows the kind of relationship you grow when you live in a city for just a couple of months. I felt an attachment to Dublin, and was very happy to come back even though I really enjoyed my time in Derry and Belfast. I wish to return some day and show my own family this amazing part of Ireland.  

-Leila Zuaiter

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