Heading to Belfast
Woke up this morning to another amazing view but had to leave to head to Belfast. Since we missed out on the rope bridge the other day, we checked if it was open today. It was!! We were all so pumped to cross the bridge. We got there and had to walk about a mile to the bridge, we all got very nervous and the walk seemed like an eternity. Finally, we reached the bridge. It was very windy, the worker only let four of us on at a time. It honestly felt like you were going to get blown over, it was such a rush. All of our hearts were pumping but thankfully we all made it, everyone went across except Paul. There were amazing views all around us, I think I captured enough photos for about twenty people.
After the bridge, we continued our journey to Belfast about another hour and a half. When we got to Belfast we stopped for a quick bite to eat. We were joined by another tour guide who we would tour the Belfast Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. I think the guide scared most of us because he told us that even now it was not safe for the people living there to really travel in the other neighborhoods. This freaked a lot of us out because there is still some violence and a lot of segregation between communities. We saw many murals and memorials for both sides of the conflict. He told us about all the peace walls, some were added after the violence ended. These walls keep the communities separated. We all got out of the bus and signed one of the peace walls, which is a ritual for many tourists. Our guide told us Bill Clinton even signed the wall.
After our bus tour we went to the Ardoyne Youth Providers building. This is a group of people that have come up with activities to unite the youth in the neighborhood. They have come up with many ideas to have the kids try and ignore the troubles. It is important for the youth to become educated on the conflict but we have learned that they should not be the ones dwelling on it.
We ended the night with learning where not to go in Belfast. We enjoyed dinner and people went to bed early.
This morning we all were able to get bus passes on a hop-on, hop-off bus. We had from around 10:30 to 4:00 to explore the city. Everybody did something different. Most people went to the titanic museum and said it was very cool but were disappointed because they didn't get to see anything that was actually inside the Titanic, but they all still enjoyed it. Other people walked around and did some souvenir shopping. My group and I found a local market that we loved. Everybody did their own thing and enjoyed the city.
Today around 4, we went and listened to a speaker named Paul Arthur. He focused on "the unofficial" - meaning the people involved, excluding those in power, would be best in coming up with ideas to gain peace. This man was a big advocate for getting people to talk to each other from both sides, to finally understand each other. It worked well for Paul Arthur as he found great success with it. We found him very interesting because he was Catholic but had a lot of respect and even worked with the Protestant community. He was respected at all levels from both sides. We enjoyed his talk and it related to a lot of what we have learned about so far.
We ended the night with a group meal at Scalini restaurant. It was a beautiful Italian restaurant, we all got three course meals. It is basically three meals though the portion sizes are so large. We have had a few sicknesses on the trip but we have all managed to keep going everyday.
Today we had a lot of speakers scheduled. We talked to three different people. Our first was Bill Rolston, he focused on the rights to truth and the politics of memory. He also talked about how the past is an issue but how do we change it. This was more of a discussion on what have we learned so far and how we can apply it to thinking of ideas on our own to build peace in Ireland and elsewhere.
Our second speaker was Sean Pettis. He talked about facing our history and shaping our future. He talked to us about their education system. This was very interesting because it is very different from America. They go from primary school ages 4-11 to secondary school where they go from 11-16 and some go until they're 18. Then they choose to go on to a university if they want to. Sean focused more on how many schools are still segregated by religion (90% of schools are segregated). Some are Catholic and some are Protestant. Integrating schools is a large step that Ireland is trying to take to gain peace.
Our third speaker was a women named Cliodhna, she is part of the Northern Ireland council for integrated education. She focused on why integrated schools are so great for the kids and why there should be more in Northern Ireland. In an integrated school there are certain requirements to be considered integrated. She said your school needed 40% Catholic, 40% Protestant, and 20% other. This is very difficult for schools to reach and that is why schools are so segregated. Schools are a large problem still within Northern Ireland but they have slowly gained progress.
Last night we had the night off. Most people stayed in to read. Some of the guys even streamed to football games. We are enjoying our time in Belfast so far, especially our accommodations.