Alright, I am going to come right out and make a confession here. I made it through the third grade epidemic without getting lice but I didn’t make it through age 22. That’s right, since I last wrote, a major event has been the unwelcome acquisition of nits. As I write this, I realize that a lot of my friends hate kids, always thought it was annoying that I loved them, and they are probably getting the last laugh right now at the thought of me paying the price for hanging around grubby primary schoolers all the time. (They’re gone now, by the way. The lice, not the kids.)
Other inconveniences include the arson of our church minibus, which, along with a few other cars in the neighborhood, got torched down to a piece of charred scrap metal last weekend. When the church copy machine broke the same morning, I honestly felt like we’d been left with just our four walls! Since there is no way we can afford to buy new stuff, I’ve started to devote my energy to researching and applying for grants for just about everything, because we are totally broke.
But Belfast is, bit by bit, becoming home. I have thankfully been hanging out with Mark and Steve a bit (the male half of the Woodvale Four from Deputation) and they are the kind of friends where, even though it’s been two years, it’s like nothing has changed. There aren’t many people who make me laugh as much as they do, and it’s really nice to have people you don’t have to start from scratch with. I also started my course at Union Theological College, which is AMAZING and it really makes me happy to still be in school in some way.
The old people at Crumlin Road continue to impress me. They all call me “That Big Girl” until they learn my name (I am seriously considered a giant here), and the language barrier apparently is still a problem: “I overheard Laura talking with Jean and Marjorie yesterday and it literally sounded like Chinese. But they just kept nodding their heads like they understood her!” --Direct quote from an elder in the church. I think I should have gone to some kind of manners school that teaches you how to speak properly, because even my own family tends to struggle to understand me, which would indicate that I have created my own strange little dialect. Other harassment includes abuse such as “Hey Star Spangled Banner, what’s up with Americans coming over here and eating all our cheese?” (This kind of thing is usually said within ear shot, but not directly to me, so as to up the humor ante, which usually I think is quite clever of those wee old men).
There are a few funny stories that stand out to me from the past weeks:
1. I am doing a literacy program at a primary school and working with a homework club as well (Mathilde, who runs the program, says that most of the kids are just plopped in front of a TV everyday, and their imaginations and communication skills are really stunted—one kid knew the word for machine gun, but not butterfly!). Today I was handing out fruit for snack time and telling the kids, “You better eat these apples, you don’t want to get scurvy. You know what scurvy is? Pirates get it when they’ve been at sea and don’t eat any Vitamin C. You’ll start talking like one. Eat the apples.” So this one kid absolutely refused to take an apple and kept saying, “No thanks! I want to talk like a pirate! ARRGHH!” And then all the boys started squinting one eye and walking around talking like Blackbeard. So much for my nutrition lesson.
2. Again, don’t judge me for this, but I hate coming home to an empty house, and since Peter and I live in a terraced house that’s three stories, I always hear noises from the neighbors and think they’re coming from upstairs. I wish I could say this next part is a joke, but it’s not. I was so scared one night that I grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen and tromped around the entire house, peeking in every corner and ready to clobber anyone who would dare come into my place uninvited. This is why I don’t watch scary movies- my imagination is already active enough. Anyway, even though it’s always the girl who opens the closet who gets killed in scary movies, I’m not blonde and I’m not running through sprinklers in my underwear so I figure I’m ok. And I’d rather go find the robbers than let them come find me. Thinking I may have a future in home security. Just me and my knife, going into business.
3. Let’s talk about Olive, an old lady from around the corner who always yells at me for living in such a ghetto house (sample conversation: Me: Morning, Olive! How are you? Olive: Get those windows clean!). I think she likes me because I am willing to commiserate with her (“I know Olive, the place sucks. TELL me about it!”) Northern Irish people love when people will bitch with them, so I humor her! Anyway I am getting a serious history of the neighborhood from this woman, most of which I don’t want to hear, like how the club on the next block is owned by the UVF (big paramilitary in North Belfast), how some guy got both his arms broken in the alley I walk through to the grocery store (ten years ago, but you’d think it was last week the way she talks about it), and every minor flaw in the pastors in the area. I can only imagine what this woman says about me to my neighbors. If you come to visit, Olive is a must-meet.
(Side note for Dad: I did some research and Belfast has one of the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world. So don’t worry, really I’m much better off now…)
4. My bike. A hand-me-down from Alison, this bike is older than Belfast itself and the tires require pumping if I’ve ridden it for more than twenty minutes. It’s missing its kickstand, has a makeshift left pedal from when the old one fell off, and let’s just say it’s not NOT rusty. True story: Malia and I saw a homeless guy riding his bike downtown and it’s an understatement to say it was much nicer than mine. Rock bottom, or a great conversation starter? On the up side, when kids laugh at me and want to try to ride it, it’s the easiest thing in the world to make friends with them (“We thought all Americans had pools and three-car garages! What the hell is she doing with scrap metal!?”)
5. I tried to type out the story of how our neighbor Mark exploded a raw egg into Peter’s car after squeezing it “all morning” trying to break it, but it just makes no sense in real life, let alone written down. Moral of the story: my neighbors apparently spend entire mornings trying to break eggs in unconventional ways, but don’t succeed until the egg’s trajectory is aimed at a car interior. Such is life for your average strapping male citizen of North Belfast, and one of the reasons we need social workers STAT!
Life is interesting.