Even before leaving the U.S., I was told that the people in Northern Ireland were welcoming and friendly. Arriving here 10 days ago, I was excited to meet lots of people, but still hesistant that as an American I would be a laughable foreigner. Obviously there are moments when my visitor-status is completely clear to me (and everyone else!), but most of the people I've come into contact with have been tolerant and understanding -- able to tell me kindly that the word I heard as "rats" was actually the word "riots."
Food is perhaps the most universal way that people express gratitude, love, and a whole plethora of warm fellow-feelings. Since I am offered tea and biscuits at least three times a day, I can only assume that Northern Irish people have a lot of love to give. On Friday, when Mike and I arrived at work at the Credit Union of Lisburn PSP (Prisoners Support Project), Sharon greeted us with blueberry muffins and told us to ease into our short work day.
That's another thing -- the pace is so refreshingly different here. The people I'm working with clearly care about their work, but they don't rush from meeting to meeting. They also aren't persnickety -- Joanne, my officemate says. At first, I was concerned that I don't possess skills that are relevant and useful to my placement with the Lisburn PSP and LaganView Enterprise Centre. Then I found out they wanted me to write a sort of evaluation report on the community centre where I'm working and my first thought was, I have no idea how to do that. I don't have any experience with business or consulting! But this week I learned that I can and if I actively develop my newfound skill, I will be able to contribute in a meaningful way to this program.
But back to FOOD. Mmmm. Today I was hanging out with Ruth, the manager of Farset International (the hostel where we're living), and we were figuring out how to upload photos to her Facebook. Having just returned from the gym, I realized that I only had canned beans to quiet the rumbling sounds my tummy was making. Without missing a beat, Ruth insisted that I have some of the stew she made from scratch yesterday. Her offer was music to my ears. After devouring the whole bowl, I felt full (hehe) and so grateful for a home-cooked meal.
Our wonderful long weekend included a group trip to Derry and the Continental/International Market in Belfast and now another week is about to begin. Will write again soon!