I visited Northern Ireland about a year ago. I would never have gone there if it wasn’t for my friend Donna. She was working on a show that got brought to Derry and she didn’t having time to come and visit me in London. So I hopped on a budget airplane and flew to a land without taxis at the airport.
I did little to no research before I traveled. After visiting Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris and Edinburgh I became a cocky traveler that year. It’s only Northern Ireland, I thought, completely forgetting history – you know the IRA, Bloody Sunday and all that.
Before traveling all I knew about Derry was that it was one of the places Amelia Earheart had flown from/ to/ landed or something. I purchased Euros but it turned out that Northern Ireland was actually part of the United Kingdom; it’s Ireland, where Dublin is, that’s on the Euro. After I finally flagged down a cab I realized I was in over my head.
Derry or LondonDerry, as Ryan Air called it, but don’t you use that word in front of the locals, has a population of less than 300,000 people. The river Foyle divides both the city and the Protestants from the Catholics. The reason you can’t call it LondonDerry is because that refers to the fact that London owns the town. This I gleaned from the historic walking wall tour of the city which also taught me about the cities LONG history of strife. Derry is the place where thirteen men were killed during a protest in an neighborhood called the Bogside; this was the Bogside Massacre aka Bloody Sunday- as in that song by U2.
Saturday night, after two days walking around with my friend Donna, having been told that women cannot walk alone at night (we might get raped), and after seeing a burned car (from either a car-bombing or kids joking around – we never found out the cause) we decided to take it easy. The plan was to hangout with our friend Darren, eat fish and chips, drink and watch television.
A few doors down couple of girls were sitting on their cement patio. Darren asked them where the nearest liquor store and chip shop was. After hearing our accents the girls invited us over to drink with them. They later told us that they invited us over because we were tourists and because I had a nice smile. (Thank you orthodontics!)
Never ones to refuse a party we got our booze and greasy food and returned to the girls. Now, if you look at the photo above you might not think that they were girls. Their skin was bad, their hair was over styled, they wore layers of make-up and chain smoked. I showed this photo to my mother and asked her to guess the girl’s age. My mom guessed late 30s. Anne was actually 21.
Over the next few hours we got to know the three girls: Anne -21, Laura – 19 and Forgotten- 20 (I can’t remember her name for the life of me). We watched them drink pints of Red Bull and Vodka. We listened to their stories about their boyfriends who were in and out of court for getting into fights all the time. We asked them about the difference between the Catholics and Protestants – they were Catholic. We learned about their lives: one had a baby, and two of them had just been laid off from their call centre jobs. We talked about the cultural differences between Northern Ireland and Canada.
I often had to translate for Donna and Darren as my ear had become accustomed to a Northern Accent during my 10 months studying in the UK. At one point Anne asked us if we had crisps in Canada.
“Yeah, but we call them chips, potato chips.” Darren said.
“Oh! I love on ’em! I could eat ’em all day long.” Anne said.
After several minutes of debate about how in Canada we would say “I love them” and not “I love on them” we realized what she was actually saying: I live on them.
Later that night when the girls were drunk they convinced us to go to a night club. They got dressed up and applied a layer of fake tan which turned them orange. Later Anne was crying. Her boyfriend had broken up with her (for the umpteenth time) via text message.
We lost the girls in the club as they went off to hang out with people their own age; people who wanted to spend their Saturday night’s getting shitfaced, sick to their stomachs and brawling in the streets. We stood in the corners of the dance floor people watching and walked home before the bars shut down.
A year later I am still thinking about these girls. I wonder what their lives are like now. Do they have boyfriends? If so do they treat them well? Do they have jobs? Did any of them get pregnant? Are they happy?
We only spent one night together but I love on them.