June 17th – June 23rd

This week has been an amazing, busy one. While the majority of our waking time is spent working with our community partners, this entry will focus more on the extra curriculars of this week. This week in particular was one of incredible hospitality, new experiences, and wonderful people to share new memories with.

Tuesday June 18th,

While Tommy and I usually head out to play soccer with some kids from my center, this Tuesday was a sporting adventure of a whole different kind. Tommy’s work, Families Beyond the Conflict, was participating in a lawn bowling tournament, and Tommy, Win, Arpita and I headed out to participate in this sport. Lawn bowling somewhat similar to botchyball, but you roll the ball instead of bounce it. There is a “jack” that teams take turns trying to rolling their balls towards this target. The bowl’s weight is off-center, so one tries to curve their ball closest to the jack. Note: Arpita and I never figured out which way the ball was supposed to curve.

Sharon, director of FBC, came in with some ambitious plans. She wanted us to compete and not only win one, but two trophies. We were competing for both the trophy, and the “Duffers” trophy—for the winners of the losers). After a few rounds of playing with these intense competitors, we got over the learning curve, and had some success. Before we knew it, the girls team was heading into the Duffers final match, while the boys were on track for the championship.

Despite valiant effort, the girls’ team was the runners up in the Duffers match (but to our delight, we still got a trophy). After our match, we learned that the boys were tied with the league favorites, and they were going into overtime.

Despite some confusion over placement of the balls, Tommy has an incredible shot, right on the jack. We held our breaths as the other team came close to out doing Tommy’s roll but we soon exhaled the sweet air of victory. We had indeed accomplished what we came to Belfast to do: to get Sharon those two trophies.

That's right, TWO trophies. Tommy hasn't taken his medal off since.

That’s right, TWO trophies. Tommy hasn’t taken his medal off since.

Wednesday, June 19th.

As everyone gets more and more comfortable with the city, we’ve had a lot of opportunity to go out and explore Belfast in our free time. While our college-aged minds are prone to seek adventure, one of my favorite times of the week is when our whole Duke crew gets together for a home cooked meal. Wednesday was one of these days, and we got to take an hour or so to just hang out as a team, making plans, talking about our crazy work lives, and joke around as friends.
After dinner, a few of us met up with Katie again, and went to a place downtown to attend the open mic night. I had the opportunity of playing a few songs I’d written while in Belfast, and I was grateful for the wonderful support of my Duke students in being there. Though I enjoyed playing, I’d have to say the highlight of the night was listening to these two rappers who went right after me. Whether these two teenage boys intended to or not, they sure made us laugh as they rhymed about their mad street cred.

Friday, June 21st

We had one of the busiest and most exhausting weekends. On Friday, we went up to Lisburn to participate in Cultural night, hosted by Resurgam, where Michael and Arpita work. We stopped on the way to see a march, as it is parade season, and saw our first Northern Ireland march. After standing in the rain to see this event, we headed up to a local pub, and were overwhelmed by the hospitality we received. We were able to listen to some Scotch-Irish music (our favorite song was probably the one about the Lambbag drum). The group found good humor in the amount of singing, dancing, and joking that went on throughout the night, and made some new friends with Michael and Arpita’s coworkers.

The Lambbag Drum. You'd be amazed at how hard they hit it!

The Lambbag Drum. You’d be amazed at how hard they hit it!

Saturday, June 22nd

Saturday afternoon was a bit more mellow, as our twenty-year old bodies aren’t used to working 9 to 5s, so we spent most of the day catching up on sleep. In the evening, Michael went up to help host a boxing event in Lisburn, and the rest of us went over to dinner at our hostel manager, Ruth’s house. Again, this weekend was one of superb hospitality. We spent the evening with her family, hearing stories of the madness of running a hostel, and got to hear about her husband, Jim’s experience in the military. It turned into a pretty late night, as we were enjoying our time there, and by the end of the night, we all felt very close to our gracious host Ruth. We’ll certainly have to return the favor, hosting Ruth for a night of good fun!

Sunday, June 23rd,

On Sunday, Kate Laverty, the director of the Center for Health and Well-Being, arranged her Shared History a trip to Dublin. As Lynne and Aarti work there, we were invited to tag along. We visited the Kilmainham gaol, which was incredibly interesting. We learned that during the Potato famine, some people would deliberately commit crimes to go to jail, just so they could be guaranteed one meal a day. They braved disease, overcrowding and imprisonment, because that was a better option than starving on the streets.
After the tour, we were given some free time to explore. Most of the group went o tour the Guinness factory, while a few of us explored the city on our own. Dane and I got the chance to tour the Viking museum of Dublin, which I absolutely loved as I’m a history major/buff. We also got to eat in the famous Temple Bar.
While the sites and the adventure of going to Dublin were extremely exciting, the best part was spending time with the Shared History Group. They were so kind and engaging, quick to make a joke and tell a story.

This week has been full of wonderful encounters with the locals. I’m incredibly grateful for the people of Belfast welcoming us into the community.

Week 4: Keegan Cotton

June 10th – Monday:

As we near the half-way mark of our voyage, each of our routines have finally sunken in and, speaking personally, a sense of familiarity is beginning to develop in a once completely foreign country. I find myself no longer needing to ask locals to repeat a sentence once or twice because I couldn’t understand their accents. I no longer need to ask for directions when trying to find a certain pub or the right bus stop or train station. It’s not home, by any means, but I feel like I don’t stick out as a dirty American tourist anymore.

Similarly, the Belfast and Furious crew aren’t a ragtag group of strangers anymore, but rather a closeknit group of friends. We keep our doors open when we’re home to promote interaction and make an effort to have the group spend a night out together at least once a week. We’ve gotten yelled at a good number of times by neighboring Farset-goers for laughing or singing too loudly.

Haters gone hate.

June 11th  – Tuesday:

Tonight was our night of choice to go out together as a group because we’re Duke students, so every day of the week can be part of the weekend if you want it to be*. The night began a bit earlier than usual because the Movie House on Dublin Road has discounted rates on Tuesdays! The majority of the crew went to see the Great Gatsby in 2D (Mistake, I know. I tried to tell them you got to see it in 3D.), but Win and I chose to forgo the rewatch in favor of a new film, After Earth. Although the movie only cost £3, I probably would have enjoyed paying £3 to watch a blank screen for 100 minutes. But hey, Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It is arguably one of the greatest songs of all time so I’m always down to support the Smith family.

After the movie, we hit up one of our favorite pubs in the area, Lavery’s. Lavery’s is distinguished by its top floor billiards hall and its absurdly priced Red Bull/Vodkas – a tragedy if there ever was one. After a couple of pints and meeting up with our new friend, Katie from Notre Dame, that Erin met at WAVE, we headed across the street to the M Club for some good, clean fun. We threw our shoes in a circle and danced the night away. Good times were had by all, and everyone managed to recover in time to make it to work the next morning.

*For all Duke administrators, this is a joke. All Duke students are diligent adults who pursue academic achievement with the same fervor that a cheetah pursuing its prey on the African savannah possesses.

June 14th – Friday:

After a long week of work, we were ready for the weekend, but first, as is tradition, we had our weekly guest speaker dinner. This week’s guest was Jonny Byrne, a professor at a local university. He gave us a Powerpoint presentation on the history of the PSNI and the mixed feelings surrounding the organisation in modern day Northern Ireland. This sparked several questions from the group, which Mr. Byrne happily answered while we dined on our delicious Michael Zhang pasta dinner (EDIT: Clarification – The pasta dinner was made by Michael Zhang, not from Michael Zhang). We were all still a little drained from another classic night at El Divino’s the previous night so we called it a night after the dinner.

June 15th – Saturday:

The majority of the crew hit the city early in the day to watch the different protests and parades that were going on in Belfast in response to the upcoming G8 summit, but not me. No, I promised my mom I wouldn’t go near the protests because she didn’t want me getting hurt. For all of you reading this blog, the protests were not too interesting apparently, but if my mom asks you, tell her they were on par with the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony or the JT/Janet Jackson Superbowl Half-time Show so I look like a great son for resisting the allure of said protests to faithfully obey his parents’ wishes. Instead of going out for the day, I stayed in and watched 21 Jump Street and Zombieland on Netflix (PM @keegs_mcgeegs for my in-depth reviews of both films), which quite honestly is a feat in itself with the amount of wi-fi that Farset allows our feeble American computers to squeeze out. Unfortunately, everyone was pretty wiped from the day in the city, so we spent another night in at Farset, but I’m never one to argue with a full night’s rest.

June 16th – Sunday:

We had a visit from Kate Laverty during today’s reflection session. She gave us the run-down on next Sunday’s day trip to Dublin and exchanged euros for pounds with us so we can be free to dine and shop in Dublin without fear of currency exchange charges (fiscal responsibility, y’all). We then hit up Culturlann on the Falls for a Ceili dance night. Turns out the major demographic that participates in Sunday night Ceili dances at the Falls are in the 65+ range, so we made friends with some Belfastian senior citizens (geriatric friendships, y’all). Someone let it slip that I spent 9 years of my adolescent life competing in the wonderful world of Irish Step Dancing, and thus I was pleasantly forced to give a solo performance for our new friends. It’s been a good while since I had to bust out the ol’ Michael Flatley moves, but somehow I managed to do it to it and the crowd loved my treble reel (implicit muscle memory, y’all). Everyone had a blast and we headed back to Farset with an invite to next week’s Ceili extravaganza on Friday night. Will we attend the Ceili extravaganza? Will we spend all of our Tuesday nights at the M Club? Is Baku the capital city of Azerbaijan? Was Max Keeble’s Big Move the most underrated film of 2001?

All of this and more will be answered in next week’s edition of THE BELFAST AND FURIOUS.

Week 3: Curtis Oh

June 4th– Tuesday


Our seamless journey faced a bump in the road for the first time when our fearless leader, Robin, announced her departure. On the grey evening of a rainy Tuesday, we gathered at the Duke of York—a cozy pub well known for its lively folk music scene—but it was nevertheless hard to escape the sinking feeling of losing our dear leader. Still, we knew we were in good hands. As Robin passed on the baton to the greatest site coordinator in the history of mankind, Dane “Crazy Eyes” Emmerling, a sense of hope filled our hearts. We held our pints up one last time as a toast to Robin, thanking her for all she’s done for the community, the program, and us. “Sláinte!”


June 7th– Friday


Another hard day at work came to an end, and just as we were about to transition into weekend mode we were delivered some unexpected (?) news. A group dinner was in plan for us, but this time we would be accompanied by a guest speaker. His name was Tom Hartley—former Lord Mayor of Belfast—and came to offer his views as a politician, Republican, and peace advocate. Whether it was the lingering hangover from a conventionally humorous Thursday night at El Divino or just an end of the week exhaustion, I think I speak for my group when I say it was harder than usual to devote our full attention for the entire 2-hour span. Especially hard to keep up with were the challenging questions he would raise, many of which have boggled us one too many times before in the classrooms at Duke.


“How do we define progress?” “What is America’s current economic situation?” “Is technology positive to society?”


Nevertheless, the dinner was delicious and we were left with some food for thought to cap off the night.


June 8th Saturday


At last, summer arrived in Northern Ireland. After being warned that the upper 60 degrees weather only occurs for a few days a year, we immediately set course for the infamous Helen’s Bay near Bangor. It was only 11pm, but the train station was already full of eager teenagers, all ready to release their inner summer after a year of waiting. What we saw when we arrived left us mesmerized. The beauty of the clear-blue ocean was over shadowed by the frantic high school rendition of a rager occurring at all surfaces of the bay. If only the members were a little older, one may have mistaken it for one of Duke’s own football tailgates. Then again, what would we know about a tailgate, right? Despite the debauchery occurring around us the weather, humor, and scenery kept us in high spirits. The following Monday I was not surprised to read the headlining article on a local news paper: “More than 12 tons of rubbish collected at Helen’s Bay this weekend”

Week 2: Arpita Varghese

Sunday 26th: Tours and Reflection

Sunday being Sunday started rather late for most of us. At 1.30 PM we met with Robin and Dane for a walking tour of West Belfast. The first part of the trip was led by Joe from Coista who talked to us as we walked through streets dotted with memorials and murals. We passed a school building which still bore the bullet marks, various murals with Bobby Sands and Marian Price and multiple slogans framing the cause of the PUL as a civil rights movement. Joe handed us over to Plum from EPIC with whom Win and Curtis are working. Plum took us around the Shankill and he pointed out that there were gates to this area which were open only during the day as a safety measure. As in the previous half of the tour, we saw multiple murals and memorials in addition to the Peace Walls which were hard to miss. Plum talked to us about how there’s been a great deal of talk about taking the walls down. While he looks forward to the day when the walls will be down, he added that before doing so, there were a lot of other issues that needed to be dealt with – ranging from whether the safety of those currently living close to the walls can be guaranteed to what plans can be made for the empty plots close to the walls. Plum then took us to the Northern Ireland Club where Tommy and Keegan got to join in on some Irish dancing!

Sunday nights are also Reflection nights for the group. We ordered some pizza and settled down for some reflecting with the entire group including Robin and Dane. We talked about our highs and lows for the week and also about how we can start thinking about the issues we see here in Northern Ireland in relation some issues that we have faced back in the US or in Duke particularly. This led to an interesting comparison which drew out a few more complexities reminding us why it is not all that easy to just “get over it”.

Monday 27th: Omagh, Sheep and Pancakes

Today was a bank holiday so we all had a day off and went to Omagh. It was a two hour long bus ride and we left Farset at about 6.30 AM. Our first stop was the ‘Folk Museum at Omagh’ which had an indoor and an outdo or section. The indoor section was like any other museum – important, interesting objects/lookalikes displayed with long descriptions beneath them. The outdoor section however, was a completely different story. Spread across almost 50 sites of interest, the outdoor section comprised of houses, ships, shops, pubs and schools and other structures that we could walk into, explore, talk to the housekeeper, the sailor or the shopkeeper.  For instance, one of the first sites housed a blacksmith’s shop where we “met the blacksmith from a few centuries ago. Another highlight was going aboard a ship that would sail across to the ‘New World’. The outdoors museum was focused on exhibiting how people lived in the time preceding the Potato Famine, the following emigration to the New World and how people settled down there. I found the outdoor museum to be unique in that this was one of the few I left a museum actually remembering a fair amount of the things I’d just been introduced to.

While waiting for the bus, Lynne finally caught sight of sheep – something she’d looking forward to for months! From here, we left for a more central part of Omagh to visit the site of the 1998 bombing. The Omagh bombing is of special relevance for multiple reasons. About 29 people were killed in the bombing which took place in 1998 – the same year the Peace Process was underway.  The memorial for the Omagh bombing is also interesting because it is very different from the many murals and memorials that we had seen in Belfast. The memorials that we had seen in Belfast were very sectarian and they were, in most cases, remembering those who had played an active part in The Troubles. However, those killed in Omagh were identified only as civilians. The memorial (shown below), comprised of 29 reflectors which will be able to reflect and converge light rays to a glass pillar lighting up a heart that was etched within the pillar.


Back in Belfast, a few of us headed to the market to try the Dutch Pancakes that Tommy had been talking about for the entire weekend. And so ended our long weekend.

Tuesday 28th: Back to Work

We are all back at work at our respective workplaces. Michael and I finally figured out the best way to get to Lisburne and we made it there by 9.00 AM. However, we ended up waiting at the Train Station for another 20 minutes for the taxi to Laganview Enterprise Center (which is where our office is). Following our ritual of tea and Viennese Biscuits (they’re delicious), we set out on the United Irish Men Tour with Philip, one of our supervisors. We met the rest of the group at the first site which was in Down County. Sharon, our other supervisor, happens to be from Down County and it was easy to see what she meant when she said that it was a beautiful country side. This tour was a historical tour on the United Irish Men but more importantly, the tour was special because the group attending it comprised of ex-prisoners from the Loyalist side and from three groups within the IRA. The first site we went to was the site of the Battle of Seinfeld. The history surrounding the United Irish Men is very interesting because in the late 1700s this group was formed within a Presbytarian Church, not to merely further their own cause but to fight for the cause of all who weren’t treated equally – this included Presbyterians who were treated as second class citizens and Catholics who were treated as third class citizens. The Battle of Seinfeld saw the rebel United Irish Men attacking the Government forces when the latter were trapped within an area surround by hills where the United Irish Men were positioned. What’s further interesting is that the Government forces comprised mainly of Catholics who were drafted into them. We then walked to the mass graves there and then further into Ballymurinch? where we saw the Presbytarian Church which was the birthplace of the revolutionary ideas that formed the United Irish Men. Francis Hutcherson, from this area, was a philosopher and a pioneer in this thinking who inspired many to think of liberty and rights which then led to the formation of revolutionary groups who challenged the status quo – be it against slavery, or voting or economic rights.

Later in the day, Aarti and I headed to the Waterfront Hall to watch a dance show led by Pasha Kovalev and Katya of Strictly Come Dancing fame. Both Aarti and I have been Pasha’s fans since the time he appeared on So You Think You Can Dance about 10 years back. We had a great night and I even had the chance to go up on stage and dance alongside Pasha and Katya (it’s not exaggeration when I say that this was a dream come true for me)


Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th:

Wednesday and Thursday were regular work days for the most of us. On our way back from Lisburn, Michael and I ran into a couple from America who were on their way to Belfast – we felt very proud when we were able to help them with directions in Belfast. For dinner that night, Lynne, Michael and I made baked potatoes and broccoli for the group and it turned out to be good! (Thanks Lynne).  Thursday evening after work, Michael and I got the chance to attend a meeting which was attended by ex-combatants from multiple backgrounds – it was a space to share histories; to recognise the various ways in which incidents had been used to spread a particular sectarian message.

Friday 31st: Derry – LondonDerry

We all took a day off from work on Friday to spend the day at Derry-Londonderry. It was yet another early day and most of us slept during the train ride. Derry-Londonderry, in addition to being this year’s City of Culture is also known for being the city with the most intact wall in Europe. The city, on either sides of the River Foyle, can be said to have two parts connected by the Peace Bridge: Waterside (predominantly Protestant) and Cityside (predominantly Catholic). The Peace Bridge connecting both the sides was constructed as an example of architectural reconciliation and human rights.

Upon reaching Derry-Londonderry we walked across the Peace Bridge and took a taxi up to the Pat Finucane Center where we heard from Paul O’Connor and Sarah about the various activities that the organization was leading. One of their main goals is to help families who have lost loved ones in the conflict by guiding them through the investigations conducted by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET). It was very interesting to listen to them because it brought to the forefront the question of “how do we deal with the past” yet again. After this, we met with Cathy Nelis who runs an organization focused on mental health. With a low employment rate and post-conflict issues still being present, Cathy’s work seemed to be of utmost relevance. We also got to talk to Jon McCourt back at the Pat Finucane Center later that day about how he became a community worker and how he got introduced to the peace and reconciliation process. I found that it was really interesting that an illness took him away from the midst of the conflict and that it was this distance which enabled him to gain a different perspective. Later that day, we also visited the VOID Art Gallery which had just inaugurated a photo exhibition based on the conflicts in Derry-Londonderry. One of my favorite photographers was Sean Hillen whose exhibits were photomontages with thought-provoking messages. The image below is a photomontage by Hillen titled “4 ideas for a New Town” and it juxtaposes London with Bogside (Derry/Londonderry).


Saturday 1st:

Saturday started off well with an Ulster Fry Breakfast after which we set out on a Wall Tour. The wall was effectively built in earlier times to keep the lower classes of the time, the Catholics, from entering the wealthier Protestant side of town. I thought that Robin’s analogy of this wall being similar to the Wall of the North built to keep the wildlings from entering (Game of Thrones) was a very apt analogy!

We then went on a Bogside tour where we saw numerous murals depicting the cause of the PUL. It was interesting to note that the cause of the PUL was yet again framed along the lines of civil rights. One of the memorials that we passed was one commemorating the Hunger Strike lead by Bobby Sands. The Hunger Strikers were imprisoned in the Maze, in the H-block. The block derives its name from its structure which was shaped as an ‘H’. I was struck by how young most of the Hunger Strikers were when they decided that they would partake in the strike which they knew had a great chance of ending only with their deaths (most were in their early 20s). We then visited the Free Derry Museum which was mostly based on what has come to be known as the ‘Bloody Sunday’.


Week One! (Aarti’s Version)

First post of the trip! There has been so much going on, I’m sure I’m going to miss something, but here’s a snippet of what we have been up to in Belfast.

Tuesday, May 21

We landed in Belfast, late Tuesday morning and our first destination was to Farset International the hostel/homestay where we will be living for the next eight weeks. We had a little bit of time to start unpacking before we went on a bus tour of parts of Belfast. Even in our sleepy state, the massive walls and graphic murals crisscrossing the city were impossible to miss. Some of the walls even have multiple layers starting with the brick base and then three different chain sections on top of it. Each one added to prevent the different communities from throwing rocks and other things over the fence at the other side. The murals are a big part of the community as well, with artists from all over the world being asked to come and help paint them. They all have different focuses too. Some are more obviously detailing what community they are representative of, while others are a lot more focused on social changes like suicide prevention or cross community building. After the tour we made our way over to Fáilte (Welcome) for dinner, which was delicious! Despite Robin’s statement that it was a short walk away, it seemed to take quite a while. We soon learned to take Robin’s definition of time a lot more loosely. We also realized that while Belfast isn’t huge, figuring out how to get around was going to take quite a while.

Wednesday, May 22

So, Wednesday was more of an orientation day to get us more informed about the culture and the issues we would be working with in our community placements. Jake Siacais was the first presenter and taught us a bit of Irish history and language, I was shocked to find that apparently parts of the Irish language are believed to come from Hindi! After Jake, an ex-prisoner came to speak to us about his experiences growing up and during the Troubles. Listening to him talk was a very different perspective because so much of the work we have done has been from the victim’s side of the story, and here was a man telling us that he was the perpetrator and how he became involved and how he felt at that time and how he feels about it now. It was definitely a unique experience to hear about how his whole perspective on life changed while he was in jail and to hear how that fueled him to get involved in some very important cross community work on building communication. Karen, our Belfast coordinator, and two other PhD students at Queen’s University came to speak to us about their research, which ranged from the Irish diaspora with the Gaelic Athletic Association, to St. Patrick’s Day, to the July 11th Bonfires. Finally Gordan Gillespie gave us more history about the Troubles themselves. It was a long day with a lot of information, but definitely helpful for getting some information about getting around Belfast and working with our community partners.

For dinner we went into City Center and walked downtown Belfast for a bit, which is a stark contrast to West Belfast, where we have been staying. City Center is definitely a lot more commercial, which makes sense; however, all of us were really taken aback by how early stores close in Belfast, everything just seems to shut down at five! Before dinner at Robinson’s, Robin also took us to one of her favorite pubs, which has been there since the 1600s!

Thursday, May 23

We met our community partners Thursday morning, and after a few housekeeping measures everyone went off to work! Lynne and I are working at the Centre for Health and WellBeing, Erin is at WAVE, Tommy is with Families Beyond Conflict, Arpita and Michael are at the Prisoners Support Program in Lisburn, Win and Curtis are at Epic, and Keegan is at Healing Through Remembering. Over the eight weeks, Lynne and I will work on preparing a research project to look at the effectiveness of the alternative treatment therapies on the patients, and then putting on an event to share the research with members of the group. We will also have a chance to try a few of the therapies so we can be more knowledgeable about the services offered at the center, I’m really looking forward to that! It was a more relaxed night in, the group stayed home and made dinner of spaghetti, salad, and rolls. Kyle, our new friend who lives on our hall, also joined us for dinner and was helping the boys out with some more tips about clubs and pubs to visit. It wasn’t my turn to cook, but I have no idea how in the world I’m going to be able to cook for nine people!

Friday, May 24

Friday was our first official work day, and Lynne and I had the opportunity to have acupuncture done. I had never had acupuncture before, so having needles stuck in my ear was a definitely a bit weird at first. After work, Lynne and I were also able to explore a Thrift Shop near the center, which had some very interesting, finds for some pretty great prices! At night we went to Lavery’s for dinner, then walked around the Queen’s area for a bit before going to The Parlour, a popular college hangout.

Saturday, May 25

We spent Saturday morning at St. George’s Market, which had a lot of food stations and trinkets, where we picked up food for our hike up Cave Hill. The weather was actually perfect for the hike, which took a few hours. On the way up, we stopped to climb into a cave, and ALL of us actually made it in! The top of Cave Hill had a fantastic view of Belfast and even some other surrounding towns. After the hike we all went to the Duke of York (where Snow Patrol had their first gig!), and were lucky enough to learn some traditional Irish folk songs like Wild Rover.

Well, that’s all I have for now! But, here’s some pictures from the top of Cave Hill!


the girls…


and the boys