Thursday, July 2, 2009

Farewell, ye streets of sorrow...

The trials of hostel life, the hazards of meeting other travellers. We've been helping Shannon and Damien out a bit at the hostel, just some minor cleaning and whatnot, keeping an eye on the other guests, doing some cooking and what have you, and both of us are getting a feel for what is required to run such an establishment. We had a group of German university students travelling with their teachers for the last few nights, and the students spoke not a lick of English. They never seemed to settle down, always talking, playing cards, playing pool. It was rather strange, as they seemed to be unable to just settle down.

Speaking of pool, the table here is odd. No stripes and solids, only half red and half yellow, with a cue ball and an 8 ball. The thing is that the balls are a lot smaller in size, the cue sticks a lot shorter, so it completely threw off my game. Then again, I was also playing sober, which could've had a greater effect than I desired. Needless to say, I lost horribly and blamed it on being a different game than what I play back home.

We also met this girl last night at the hostel, a girl from San Jose, CA, who was surprised that I knew where her town was. We were all shocked at the vapidness of this girl who has managed to travel abroad to Europe completely on her own. She thought Chicago was close to New York (and I suppose to her credit, its closer to New York than California) and she didn't know that Washington, D.C. was its own district separate from its neighboring states. I've met travellers and locals alike here in Derry that have a better grasp on North American geography than most Americans, and that's just a sad thing for us. This, of course, spawned a lengthy discussion on the education systems of Australia, Canada and the US, comparisons, foibles and regrets.

I'm still greatly enjoying Derry, and I think Zoe is as well. Its nice to still be abroad but not travelling, not constantly gypsy-ing our way around foreign lands. Nice to stop, to build friends abroad, to rest and keep our sanity. Zoe is camped out on the couch at the moment working on a story, and I'm taking a break from the creative process after finally finishing the first draft of Sophie's story.

I briefly mentioned the political situation of Derry in an earlier post, but I don't feel versed enough in it to do more than mention its existence, so I went and found the Wiki entry for it ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derry ). Not quite the same as getting the story from a man who grew up during The Troubles (our friend Ruairi - pronounced "Rory"), but at least gives some details. We went to the Tower Museum the other day, which has the full story of Derry from prehistory through to the modern day, and I found that it was a little biased towards the Protestant side of the story. As a contrast, the Museum of Free Derry is biased towards the Catholic end of the conflict, though with enough of a sympathetic ear to the Protestant to be very informative. Ruairi is keen to point out that when the Irish in Derry speak of the English, a word containing more venom than one could truly understand, they don't speak of English people as a whole, or Protestant descendents of the English. They speak of the Government and the Armed Forces that perpetrated crimes against humanity, crimes which are still being committed.

I find myself sympathizing more with the Irish in the Bogside than with anyone else. Not that I support the violence committed by the IRA, just that I can understand why they felt the need. A people oppressed and persecuted for hundreds of years, treated as lesser, as inferior, just because of their religion. English Protestants who rallied the Scottish Presbyterians to support them against the Catholics, then turned around and betrayed them as well (actions that led to the Siege of Derry in 1649). Even now, Derry is a segregated city, with the majority of the City Proper (including the area of the Bogside referred to as Free Derry) on the west side of the River Foyle populated by Catholics and the east side of the River Foyle by the Protestants. A small section of Derry, known as the West Bank, just outside of the City Walls, is gated off, with lampposts painted in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack, and the 500 Protestants that live within this section claim to still be under siege (referring again to the Siege of Derry in 1649).

And yet while Belfast is still sectioned and separated by the Peace walls and tensions still run high, here in Derry there is an feeling of peace settling in the city. The history, however recent, doesn't stain or taint the air of the city, but encourages its inhabitants to be more conscientous of each other. I'm not sure if any of the above makes sense, but check out the Wiki entry for a few more details in a more sensible presentation. Needless to say, I'm enjoying my time in the city and I feel more of a connection here than any place in the States with the exception of Chicago.

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