“I wouldn’t leave Belfast for the life of me, but I don’t understand why the fuck anyone would want to come here!”
This blunt exclamation met us as we introduced ourselves in a souvenir shop along the Shankill. Nick and I have had the wonderful fortune of working with a man named Plum, who is known throughout the area as “a legend” (we actually witnessed him being called this while walking down the street). Traveling with Plum is like being VIP. Everyone knows him, and everyone loves him. So, when we meet new people, we automatically receive warmth and welcome.
Though this loud bellow may appear to contrast the friendly attitude we have become accustomed to, it had us laughing heartily as we departed the shop. Sure, the woman was telling what appears to be a negative truth, but her loyalty to the Shankill was undeniable. And that is why we come here.
Before arriving in Belfast, I knew that we would have trouble identifying the positive outcomes of our work this summer. I am still aware of the fact that this will probably be the case when we leave. At the same time, however, I know that being here has already taught me so much about conflict, resolution, and hope. Despite her poor opinion of home, the tiny old Northern Irish woman once again revealed to us the collision of pride and despair that seems to run rampant throughout Belfast. She’s proud to be a part of the Shankill, but she knows that living in Belfast is a constant struggle as Catholics and Protestants carefully navigate around one another, separated by literal and figurative walls.
Though we might not individually be able to fix all of the problems of Belfast, I like to think that we are continuing a dialogue that brings this labyrinthine city closer to peace.