30 August 2011

Week Two in Belfast

My second full week in Belfast was full of adventure! My work at Quakers was rewarding with opportunities to acquaint myself with the children. We had our last week of the summer program, which meant our last couple of outings into the city of Belfast and beyond. I am awed by the many opportunities I had to go out with the kids to see something new.

On Monday I spent my day with 4-15 year olds, as the teens were grouped with the elementary aged children. We went to the small town of Killyleagh, which had an outstanding playpark right off of the Strangford Lough (lake). The children & youth loved the park; it had an obstacle course, zip line, and the traditional climbing, swinging, and sliding infrastructure. After our playground time, we walked to the lakeshore to catch small crabs. Don't worry they were too small to pinch or bite! I spent my time playing “photographer” while being secretly too scared to catch crabs myself. :)

I had my first full day with the teens on Tuesday. Along with the teen-worker, Rory, we went to the cinema to see The Inbetweeners. Now, The Inbetweeners, is a film I may recommend to party-movie, perverted humor, and toilet humor fans. The film is based from a UK t.v. series of four underdog, nerdy, sexually ambitious teens and their many adventures. The film is about the lads' holiday before starting at university; you get the idea. After the film, we went to the Belfast Castle. I was completely surprised and excited to go, and the teens thought I was a hyperactive-freak! I had to explain that I had never visited a castle before, because the US never had a monarchy. The Belfast Castle is relatively young and was built in the late 19th century. The castle has a cat theme, with a legend about a lucky cat. If the white cat continues to roam the castle boundaries, then all those who visit will be lucky. So, the castle gardens holds 9 cats within the landscaping. I enjoyed seeing the castle and being graced with a lucky visit.

Wednesday was another great day with the elementary-aged kids, 4-11 years old. We went to Carnfunnock, another small town park area. Carnfunnock had an interesting sundial garden and lakeshore, but we were really there for the hedge maze. Our group leader, Phil, hid 10 marbles throughout the maze, and our group had the challenge of finding all the marbles. After our marble-maze hunt, we walked around to the “haunted hospital,” an abandoned hospital campus, which actually did give me the spooks! Phil told some great ghost stories to enhance the grim-and-ghoul aura.

I was lucky enough to also visit Castle Ward on Thursday with the afterschoolers, 4-11 years old. Castle Ward, is actually not a castle, but a very unique mansion. Castle Ward was home to theViscount of Bangor, and his wife; however, the Wards were not happily married. In fact, they were so unhappily married, that they had separate halves of the house. Interestingly enough, the lord chose a Classical décor for the front half of the house, and the lady chose Gothic architecture for her lay of the house. I was amazed to see the stark difference in architecture and décor. One can actually see the front Classical facade, and then run the the back of the mansion to see the Gothic facade. The interior, of course, also runs with this theme. The children from Quakers loved the house and stayed interested, asking lots of questions to our tour guide. It was amazing. After work, my roommates and I went to the John Hewitt, a famous and popular traditional pub in Belfast. The John Hewitt hosts artists almost every night of the week, so we enjoyed hearing the very start of the Blues Festival.

Friday was a simple day of baby care in the morning, and a deep cleaning of our work cottage in the afternoon. As mentioned above, Belfast hosted the Blues Festival last weekend, so my roommates, Courtney and Lena, along with myself went to two bars to enjoy the artists.

Our fellow BVS friend from Derry/Londonderry, Becca, came to visit again on Saturday. We went to a wine bar hosting a blues band for dinner, then went to a nightclub called Lavery's that night. I think we found the nightclub to be a little “too much fun” for us! The place was completely packed, and there's no good way to have a conversation or get to know people while trying to dance to blaring club music. We also fought the crowd to find a cab when the place closed. There's nothing like seeing Belfast's inebriated population all crawling around the street waving down taxis or just aimlessly wandering through the street! So, I think we're looking for something a bit tamer for next time!

Sunday was a great day, because we went to the cultural festival/Mela. The mela is a Belfast summer tradition with thousands of participants. There were 2 music stages, hosting dancers, stilt performance, Chinese lion dancers, and other cool acts. A world food market, and a global craft village were also present. The mela was hosted in the Botanic Gardens in South Belfast. The gardens were beautiful and enjoyable to explore.

Needless to say, I have been keeping busy! I'm enjoying each and every adventure I have, whether it's a quick grocery-stop at TESCO, on a long bus ride with children on our way to a cool site, or rockin' out at the Blues Festival. Wonder, discovery, gratitude, fortune, grace, excitement, and beauty are all collective words I would choose to use to describe my time thus far. Blessings on my journey!

23 August 2011

My First Week in Belfast

Well, I'm excited to report that I've survived my first full week in Belfast! Overall, I'm doing great! I finished my first full week of work in childcare at Quaker Cottage and even managed to have a fantastic social life outside of Quakers.

During my working hours, I was with school aged children (4-12 years old) for 3 days, and babies (0-3 yrs) Wed and Thurs. The summer program here at Quaker Cottage encourages the children to get out to explore the city, while taking advantage of the rare glimpses of sunshine. Some of our outings at work have included going to a park with castle/fortress ruins in Hillsborough (about 15 minutes away), going to the Ulster Museum, which specializes in natural history, biology, and social history-including the Troubles, the Ulster Folk and Transportation Museum, which was more of a historical village set in the late 19th century, and Streamvale Farm-- an interactive child-friendly farm with petting stations, feeding stations, and more. So, I've been able to get out and about just by going to work! The children are a handful, but lovely at the same time. It's been great getting to know them all. My co-workers/supervisors are spectacular with the kids and have much knowledge about the N. Ireland conflict. I pick their brains on a regular basis; it's really great. And now I'm learning how to drive the minibuses so that we can start picking up the families that come to Quaker Cottage. While I have experience driving large vehicles through Manchester College outings, driving these minibuses are still a bit unnerving. I'm learning to drive on the left side of the road, and driving on smaller roads. It will take a while to feel comfortable driving these buses.

My living situation is good too. On Sunday, I switched to a larger room at our house. One of my roommates, Courtney, is also a BVS'er and arrived with me to Quaker Cottage at the same time. I've already gotten to know her from our BVS orientation in Maryland. She's a Notre Dame alumna that has degrees in psychology and philosophy, with an emphasis in peace studies/peace psychology. My other two roommates are German, Lena and Alex. Alex is will be leaving soon; volunteers come and go here at Quakers,and it's simply her time to move on. I just switched over to her room, which is larger and more enjoyable. :) Lena arrived only a few days before Courtney and I, so she is brand new as well. My roommates are all quite kind and we're getting along well. We all went out for a pint on Monday night, and Tuesday we all went to a 3 pound cinema to see The Guard.

My weekend was eventful and fun! Courtney and I went out for Thirsty Thursday. We learned that Thursday nights are student nights, which means the majority of pub-goers are 19 years old! We also went to Ollie's, one of the best nightclubs in Belfast, on Friday night, where we really got to mingle and dance. Saturday, Courtney and I met up with our other BVS comrade, Becca, and the pilot friend we made on our flight from London to Belfast last weekend. He also brought his friend, who's also a pilot. We walked and shopped around, then the five of us came back to our cottage to enjoy the view, and talk over a few beers. Today, Courtney, Lena, her friend from Germany, and myself went to the famous St. George's Market. St. George's Market is Belfast's award-winning market established in the late 19th century. St. George's has tons of vendors selling jewelery, artwork, crafts, books, garments, produce, catered food, and much more. The market is open each weekend Friday – Sunday. It was amazing. We saw our co-worker, Phil who has a juggling/circus equipment booth, which I found to be all the rage! Courtney and I had a go at juggling, and I think I've found my new Sunday afternoon pastime...learning to juggle with Phil at St. George's market. :)

I'm delighted and grateful for such an eventful week. I keep being surprised with realizing where I am...living in a beautiful cottage, having a job of showing love and patience to troubled children, taking regular adventures off the mountain to sustain my social life, and so much more. I'm so very lucky, and so very much looking forward to more!

Thanks for reading! Please message me your mailing address if you are interested in receiving postcards! I have a goal to send at least 5 postcards to friends and family per month!

In love, peace, and grace,

18 August 2011

New BVSers at Quaker Cottage

Samantha Carwile wrote last weekend after her arrival at Quaker Cottage:

Greetings from Belfast, N. Ireland! Thanks to St. Christopher (the saint of good travels) and all of your thoughts and prayers, I have traveled safely to Bonn, Germany for my BVS European orientation, which coincided with the BVS retreat. Also, last night I flew into Belfast from Germany. So THANK YOU for all of your thoughts and prayers! I am finally here!

Right now I am sitting in my new cottage house in Belfast! I arrived late last night. And I flew with fellow BVS'ers that live in/near Belfast, plus Courtney...who is also starting BVS with me at Quaker Cottage. It was fun to travel with friends this time instead of trying to figure everything on my own like when I flew to Germany. I have met my other room mates, they are German and were nice enough to pick us up from the bus station last night and made sure we were warmly welcomed into the house. I won't meet the other staff at Quakers until Monday when work will begin.

As mentioned before, I have been in Germany for BVS European orientation,which is basically talking about the N. Irish conflict as well as some logistics of BVS in Europe like health care, travel, technology differences, etc. My orientation also coincided with the BVS European retreat which happens each summer...so I had the opportunity to meet all of the BVS'ers in Europe.

My week in Germany was amazing! It was great making new friends...fellow BVS'ers in Europe. I hope to visit some of them during vacation/holidays if I can gather up the funds. The village where our retreat was held was very small, but it was near the city of Bonn, which was about the same size as Anderson. Bonn is also the birthplace of Beethoven, so they have a neat city-center with his birth house and monument. We had a free day on Wednesday where a few of us went to Cologne, which is a beautiful city, and much larger than Bonn. We toured a beautiful cathedral that barely survived WWII. We did a bit of shopping, got ice cream, and found some amazing Roman ruins. We actually stumbled upon an ancient Jewish bath house (mikveh), which existed before the times of Jesus! There was also an Emperor's palace where a wedding was taking place. It is just incredible to see such amazing history all around you. We wrapped up our time in Cologne by getting an authentic micro-beer in a German bar. Kolsh is the well-known German beer that we tried.

Back at the retreat near Bonn, we spent our nights sharing stories and building relationships. We would have a beer or share a bottle of wine amongst the group every night just talking and connecting with one another.And our meals were delicious and bountiful! Overall, I feel very grateful for having the chance to have my BVS European "orientation" during the Germany retreat. I feel fortunate mostly for the relationships I built with fellow BVS'ers. I have been welcomed and feel that I have an incredible support network of volunteer colleagues.

In about an hour I will be exploring the city of Belfast for the first time. Our room mates will be taking us grocery shopping. Then Courtney (the other newbie BVS'er with me) and I plan to be dropped off at the city center for adventures. So, I am off for my first exploration of Belfast and hopefully, the firstI rish Guinness of my life! Cheers!

- Sam Carwile

15 August 2011

Retreat in Bonn

Here's the current crowd of BVS volunteers in Europe, retreating near Bonn, Germany, last week. (Missing was Joe from L'Arche Kilkenny.)