A lot has happened in the past few days.
Originally, I thought I would give you my impressions sequentially, but I am not sure such a recitation would be helpful.
I am going through culture shock on a daily basis. Starting with Americans and Irish are separated by a common language. Our accents are very, very different. I had experience with some accents in the Republic of Ireland, but the Belfast accent is harder for me to understand. Belfast residents speak fast to each other, the vowels are swallowed differently, and the word structures are different than the ones we use in the States. Some use "All right" as a hello. Something done right of your own initiative gets the reaction/lable, "fair play". The trunk of a car is the "boot". Lumber comes in "four by two" or "six by two" dimensions. And a ton of other small things are said differently.
The people are courteous and friendly and love a good laugh. Drivers will blink their headlights to let someone coming toward them turn across their path. Yah, they actually slow down or even stop to let the other person turn. Everyone wants to know how we are "getting on here" and what we think.
Some of the people are peace makers. Some in little ways, and some in large ways.
To understand what has gone on here let me divide the recent history in three parts. Pre Good Friday Accords, Post Good Friday Accords, and Recent Years, like the last three years, maybe.
The Pre Good Friday Accords generally have been called "The Troubles". This was a time of assassinations, attacks using automatic weapons and mortars, kidnappings and tortures. All sides were victimized and all sides committed violence. This is the part the American media covered fairly heavily. How did it start up? Some say the Catholics saw the peaceful protests in the American civil rights struggle, they tried to copy those protests, and for a variety of reasons, probably including the length and depth of the prior conflict, the violence escalated rather than resolved.
Various politicians take credit for the Good Friday Accords, but the regular people tell me the regular people became tired of civil war and didn't want another generation of children to be raised in such horrendous conditions. Also, the clergy transmitted this grass roots ground swell from the people to the politicians. The clergy and other peacemakers took real risks to press for non-violence.
After the Good Friday Accords were signed the level of violence decreased bit by bit. But certain features have stubbornly remained. The people live in different areas with people of their own economic means and religion. We think of the conflict as religious but there is a whole social class component.
Then comes the most recent period, which again is filled with contrasts. There are huge walls that chop up and separate these neighborhoods. People cross through gates, but the gates often close at night. Some people choose to live in intentionally mixed religion areas, but this has just created another group that is shunned by the polar opposite groups.
In the last 2 or 3 years, people are walking on the street. Kids can walk home from school without being picked up by their parents. Kids can play outside and do not spend all of their time indoors. There are young people who didn't directly experience "The Troubles" during the period of their lives which they can remember.
On the other hand, people stay or in their own areas and if they go to a neutral or mixed area, they walk on the side of the street which is "correct" for Protestants or Catholics, depending on which they are. Teenagers text one another to get together at preplanned locations for "recreational rioting" which involve taunting, serious stone throwing, and more.
I guess one of the strangest things is what the government calls "The Peace Wall". Our little group saw it in multiple locations. It is high and impenetrable. Last night my Volunteer In Mission group signed the wall with magic markers and left our messages of peace. I can't believe our media in America ignores this wall and doesn't have the time to help ensure hatred on both sides decreases to the point such a wall isn't needed.