Some things I’ve learnt in Northern Ireland:

  1. How an “unbiased account is a biased one”***
  2. How you’ll struggle to find plaques in inner city Belfast that commemorate those involved in The Troubles. How commemoration itself can be a threat to peace but how one should keep one eye (but not both) on the past. How it is impossible to memorialize conflict where Hero Consensus has not been reached.
  3. How to defend yourself with three pencils. Go for the jugular. One side of the neck. Three in a row. Also, when punching, use the palm not the fist.
  4. How to use travel to faraway places to find lost puzzle pieces of your own history. I saw Mandela’s picture on the wall of an IRA bar. I saw it next to a picture of MLK and a sign to End Racism Now. I saw it next to the words Free Palestine. I saw it while I spoke to a woman about her work in Sinn Fein. I dared to ask about Brexit and what it would mean for Northern Ireland. I was given the reply that there was only ever One Ireland. I look around at this place with its delicate, beautiful peace and marvel at how little I know about anything.
  5. How to exercise resilience by having a party. One night, we entered a bar through a cage. Frivolity protected from its own location. The cage is no longer in use but stands there as a reminder. We saw why there was a need for reminders. We saw the sites where being at the wrong place at the wrong time meant that was that for you.
  6. How to begin to think about post-conflict zones. How I am the product of one of the more complex ones. How you can never separate yourself from the conflict that spawned you. How you will learn this over and over again and still need to learn this.
  7. How people create peace where there is none. “If you want peace, don’t talk to your friends, talk to your enemies,” said Desmond Tutu. I’m wondering how we do that in this contemporary, this now. How defensiveness, retaliation and binary politics only lead one way. How there’s no workaround to this concept. How we don’t want to learn this as a species. How we refuse to hear this truth. What are we doing? What are we doing? What are we doing?
  8. How music is a story that is passed down from one to another. You learn it through listening to the others playing the most difficult of pieces. Within the difficult piece, the simpler one is embedded, and that’s how it goes, that’s how you learn.
  9. How travelling and listening seem like kindred arts to me. How to learn the simpler through the difficult. How to keep passing stories, all the stories, not just the one that is the Main Line. How to keep things that should be complex, complex. How to keep passing stories and listening to the ones being told to you. How to defend yourself with pencils without drawing blood. How to listen, how to listen, how to listen.


***Man in a Belfast Theatre Pub.

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