Thursday, April 26, 2007

Posting Bail, or, An Atypical Tuesday

Why being a youthworker is the weirdest job I may ever have:

Remember Scott? Three days ago, life was good for Scott. He and his girlfriend Paula had been broken up for a while, but when they showed up to YF on Sunday night, SURPRISE!! They were engaged! To answer your questions: Yes, they are 14 years old. No, it’s not that strange around here to get engaged before you hit puberty. Yes, Paula had already lost her £15 ring. Oh. Man.

Scott: “I was going to wait, but it just slipped out.”
Marlo: “Wait for what? Being legal?

But Paula wasn’t with Scott yesterday, and when I asked about her, I discovered the love was gone. Yes, Scott broke off the engagement after Paula had done some seriously despicable things to Gareth (Gareth is a whole different story. Age 25 chronologically, about 13 mentally, morbidly obese, and in the habit of buying Scott and Jamie phones in exchange for being friends with him). It’s actually a tragedy, but I was so relieved that Scott had defended Gareth against his “fiancée” I could have cried. Instead, I changed the subject to the old classic “Were you in school at all today?” Yes, he was, but got booted from every class. New subject: what’s the craic with you tonight?

Turns out, Scott had a hot date with the PSNI. The cops wanted to get a statement from him concerning Paula’s charges of ATTEMPTED MURDER. A lot had happened since Sunday youth group, obviously. Between Scott and Jamie, the story has unfolded like this:
A younger girl says some unattractive things about Paula's deceased grandmother. Paula attacks her with a razor blade, stabbing her in the forehead and trying to slit her throat. The police take Paula away. Scott refuses to make a statement to "the feckin' peelers." Jamie, on the other hand, thinks Paula getting locked up would be okay and makes a complete statement.

So what are you supposed to do when one of your kids is looking at 16 years in the clink? Seriously. Michelle Pfeiffer and Coolio make this crap look so easy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sports and Darwin

if he looks pissed, it's cause he's plotting how to kill me.

Two sports that kids love: basketball and fighting.

Exhibit A: Fighting.

I got punched in the face by a 7 year old yesterday. I think my nose is broken.
Carson, bless his wee heart, has learned to throw a punch. This, theoretically, is wonderful, because after months of trying to teach him to throw a baseball, kick a football, and catch a Frisbee, I was losing hope. The kid just has no athletic talent, and that’s coming from someone who can barely run a mile without wanting to throw up and kick someone in the face. I worried about him growing up in a city full of scrappy footballers as the only kid who can quote Family Guy and Simpsons episodes by heart (I’m proud, but I don’t know how much weight “Eat my shorts” will carry when some punk is elbowing you in the eye socket before he charges past you to score).
My worrying was unfounded. The kid can fight, and I’m a bit excited for him to be able to throw his weight around. I don’t consider myself a pacifist by any means, but I’ve never really been down with kids fighting. Of course, that was before I moved to Belfast and immersed myself in a way of life that revolves heavily around violence. Even in playtime, no kid plays nice.

As we spent time in a North Belfast park during Dep ’04, Malia and I saw two kids in what appeared to be a full-on boxing match. Thinking she was about to witness a death and not wanting the hassle, Malia tried to break them up. They paused only long enough to observe,
“You’re not from here, are you? This is how it is here.” Then they went back to kickboxing. What they really said was, “This is how you have to be to survive around here.” It was a lesson impossible to forget, and one that has been driven home dozens of times over the last eight months. And now, my splitting headache has pulled me straight into the muck of a culture full of playground Darwinians. Send ice.

Exhibit B: Basketball.
Dogpile. Basketball turns into martial law around here.
Marlo and I, in a burst of neighborly goodwill, started playing pickup basketball with the kids across the street (yes, the same ones who have been brainwashed to think we’re lesbians). We’d gotten fairly used to the kids banging on our mailslot and yelling into the house “YA COMIN’ OUT?” We hope it means “out to play” rather than “out of the closet,” and are generally willing to play a few games of HORSE. Last week, however, Marlo answered the knock only to discover about a dozen kids standing eagerly on our front sidewalk, ready to play. “Laura, I, uh… think they told their friends,” she called into the house.
What we thought was a friendly game of two on two (using the “No Ball Games” sign as our makeshift hoop) has turned into the Glenbank Afterschools Program. This is a classic example of “You don’t even have to build it, they’ll still come,” and we love it.
Jessica :)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

husband hunting, or the lack thereof

I got my first boyfriend the summer after 5th grade, when my crush Jason called me up and asked me if he could come over and visit me (this came after a long year of teasing from my end on 'when he was going to sneak out and come see me,' undoubtedly inspired by Mariah Carey's 'Always Be My Baby' music video). I said yes, but when he asked how to get to my house, I suddenly panicked and said, "If you really like me you'll figure it out" and promptly hung up on him. We worked through this setback, but that situation set par for the course of the next 12 years of my love life: awkward, at times hilarious, and fairly random.

But never has it been under such scrutiny as it has the past eight months. My marital status has been the topic du jour for women over 70 since the day I landed in Belfast. Rare is the week when Olive, Sylvia, Mae, or some other woman who apparently has a vested interest in my getting married forgets to pester me, “AWK LOVE. Have you found yourself a man here yet?” And then I have to explain the American concept of dating (no comprende is the general response. Either you have a boyfriend or you don’t, missy) and my intense fear of marriage before 30. They just don't care if I'm dating sporadically, if I met someone travelling, or if I want to become a nun. They won’t rest until I settle down, before their very eyes, with a nice Belfast boy, whether or not I want to be in Belfast, and whether or not I want to settle down. It’s pretty funny, because no one in my own family really gives a flying rat’s ass if I have a boyfriend or not. My grandparents always talked about the careers they thought I should go into rather than where I should locate Mr. Right, and I love them for it. But having a gaggle of old women who couldn’t be more concerned about my marital status is pretty cute for the time being.

Then Marlo landed and set the rumor mill alight. Apparently, the concept of dating is as foreign as the concept of roommates in North Belfast: if you're living together, you're TOGETHER.

This is the exact conversation we had last week with our neighbour Mark:

Mark: My friend here wants to know if you’re lesbians.
Me: Exqueeze me?
Friend: No I didn’t. I’m not even getting embarrassed because I never said that.
Mark: He wants to know if you’re lesbians.
Marlo: (gasping for air)
Mark: So are you?
Me: Sorry to disappoint. We’re not.
This entire exchange was, horrifyingly, conducted in front of his four kids. The next day, Luke, the five year old, asked me if Marlo was going to see my boobs after I went to work. Genius! Discuss grownup issues in front of your kids who have minds like sponges!

Then the husband hunt really kicked into full throttle on Saturday. The story needs a proper setup, so here's what happened:
We were wandering around Botanic Gardens in south Belfast when suddenly we heard rap blaring from behind some bushes. Naturally, we gravitated toward it, being white girls who wish they were black. We ran smack into one of the most extensive African weddings mankind has ever seen. It was a sight for sore eyes (sore eyes being ones that have only seen skinny ghetto white guys for the last 8 months). There were three cornrowed guys standing by a Benz with The Game blasting out of it (we think it was The Game, anyway) drinking what looked like Miller Lite and daaaancing. With rhythm. We had no choice but to pop a squat on a park bench and turned our attention to the wedding pictures that were being taken a few yards away. I don't want to be too graphic when describing the pictures, nor do I want to be catty, but I will say the following:
Bridesmaids: Pantylines O'Plenty, socks with strappy heels, and tiaras.
The park bench right across from us: old ladies speaking a mix of Dirty South (weird, since they weren't American) and some native Nigerian dialect. Legit.
The guys in the wedding: HOT.
Everyone seemed really happy, so we were happy too.
So this is where the story kicks into gear: standing near the wedding limo was a middle aged dude who was all too happy to pose for cheesy pictures involving thumbs-up and car hoods. He also decided he wanted to come over and make best friends with us. Or, as good of friends as you can possibly make when your intro line is:
"It's your time soon." After getting our instinctive laughter under control, we politely told him that "our time" was a bit further in the distance than "soon," thank God. He proceeded to introduce himself as the pastor of a church in Scotland who came to Belfast frequently to do weddings. And without any provocation or encouragement on our part, he boldly announced that he was going to "pray for husbands for us." He also invited us to come and visit him in Scotland and come to his church, where "the boys won't leave you. They'll marry you." Quote of the year. Finally, they all drove away after the pictures were over, rap blaring, horns honking, and our hearts on the windshield. It was the most amazing day ever.

Moral of this common thread is that apparently, being single isn't an option in Belfast. You're either meant to be 'going steady' with some crazy lady's nephew, shacking up with another chick, or engaged to an African prince.

Friday, April 06, 2007

happy heart

Marlo is here! I am so happy for so many reasons, but mostly I am just really content because I have one of my best friends in the world all to myself for the next few months. Her Belfast experience thus far has been
rock climbing (unsuccessful attempts that will soon be repeated)

running up Cavehill only to lounge in the blazing sun, which got here just when she did

Cooking like grownups almost every night. Look! Mar made meatloaf!

drinking wine on the roof while discussing Afghani history, nicotine addictions in six year olds, how to save the world, where the tall Irishmen are, travel plans and how lucky we are

Another important development is that I am unassimilating to Norn Irish social situations, meaning we try to be funny at parties and are now greeted with blank stares. SWEET! So happy that I have a life-pondering, food-loving, beer-drinking, belly-laughing, joyful-hearted and sarcastic friend to share Belfast with for a few months... life is good.