How a Trip to a Small Town in Iowa Changed my Outlook on Travel

Standard

jtvisser:

The benefits of travel even if you never leave your home state :) appreciate what you have in front of you <3

Originally posted on Adulthood... if I must.:

I had a very unusual blogging experience this week. On Monday afternoon, I realized I was getting hundreds of hits on a post I wrote two and a half years ago about a trip Doug and I took to Lansing, Iowa. I was getting many angry comments from people in Lansing who thought I was insulting their city. (The day did, however, end with a very nice email from the mayor inviting me to come back and give their town another try.)

I was so confused by these responses, mostly because Doug and I loved our trip to Lansing. We went back a year later to take our best friends who were visiting from Florida (they loved it too). We’ve recommended Lansing to all our friends in Iowa City. We plan to go back several times over the next few years. We talk about it all the time.

As I…

View original 1,071 more words

A weekend in Northern Ireland!

Standard
027

On the edge of the Giant’s Causeway in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

This past weekend a bunch of us hopped in a bus and went to Belfast, Northern Ireland. We spent the weekend walking around the city and listening to lectures on the tensions between Northern Ireland  and Ireland. We also took a day trip to the Giant’s Causeway. The site is basalt columns resulting from an ancient volcanic eruption. There is a legend about how the causeway came to be. According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant  Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the channel so that the two giants could meet. 

017

The Giants Causeway.

group

Near the top of the Giants Causeway.

We also visited the Titanic Museum and Queen’s University.

titanic

View of the outside of the Titanic Museum.

035

Queen’s University.

One of the other really interesting things about Belfast is the Murals. They are often seen as symbols depicting the region’s past and present political and religious divisions. Almost all Northern Ireland murals promote either republican or loyalist beliefs. They also commemorate people who have lost their lives in paramilitary or military attacks. Despite the peace agreement that has been reached between Ireland and Northern Ireland, murals show how political tensions are still high.

mural1

Masked figures depict Ulster Volunteer Force Members who are still willing to use violence if needed.

mural2

The three crosses in this mural represent three UVF leaders killed during the troubles.

Libya Constitutional Assembly Elections!

Standard

This past week was a big accomplishment in one Arab Spring State.The Libyan High National Election Commission (HNEC) requested the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to support it as the implementing partner in conducting Out-of-Country Voting (OCV) for the 2014 Constitutional Drafting Assembly Election. The operation was authorized by the HNEC in thirteen countries: Canada, Egypt, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Malaysia, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. The HNEC and IOM coordinated with the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and with the selected host countries in preparing the OCV process.

The election was open to all Libyan nationals over the age of 18 possessing a National Number. The voter registration for the OCV for the CDAElection was conducted online and each prospective voter needed to apply for registration on the website.

Polling for CDA took place in Dublin on Saturday, Sunday & Monday (15,16 & 17th of February 2014) from 8.00 am till 6.00 pm. Polling stations were located around Dublin and vote counting took place at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) offices on February 20.

The significance of these elections is immense. Not only are the Libyans voting in a democratic election, but Libyans living in Ireland also got the right to vote in elections in their home country for the first time. The Libyans wanted to make sure that everything was done correctly and without fraud, which is where I got to participate. 

elections1

Michael (far left) and Edward (facilitator and IOM official) discuss the election results.

Election observers are an essential element of democratic, transparent and credible elections. Through assessing the electoral process, they promote and protect the citizens’ right to free and fair elections. The main role of observers is to ensure that elections are carried out in accordance with the Libyan laws and international standards for democratic elections. The presence of observers contributes to enhance credibility and legitimacy of elections, increase public confidence in the process and the HNEC.

Observers are involved in observing the electoral process, including candidate nomination, voter registration, campaigning, polling, counting, tallying, complaints and appeals, announcement of preliminary and final election results.

elections7

One of my responsibilities was to make sure the tag numbers securing the ballot box matched the documented numbers. This was one of the first steps in counting the votes.

Observers have an important role to play in ensuring integrity of elections. Their key function is to provide credible and unbiased information on the process to domestic and international audiences. In addition to Libya’s laws, observers’ activities are regulated by the Code of Conduct, which sets a number of binding rules and responsibilities. So basically, I had to remain very VERY impartial.

elections5

Edward gives instructions.

The registration process was rather complex, but Michael took care of most of it. IOM was extremely grateful to have someone from the Irish government show so much interest, so they did not ask many questions when a 21 year old American intern showed up. It was a great learning opportunity and exciting to be part of such an important election!

 

The Arab Spring comes to Dublin.

Standard

7th December 2010: TUNISIA: Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable peddler, sets himself ablaze in the town of Sidi Bouzid after his cart is confiscated by a policewoman who slapped him and spat in his face. The Arab Spring is born. The Arab world is turned upside-down.

bouazizi2

Many Arab Spring demonstrations have resulted in violent actions from authorities, as well as from pro-government militias and counter-demonstrators. In return for the hostility from authorities, many protesters have answered with violence. This has created a never ending circle of aggression in most areas. Demonstrators in the Arab world often operate under the slogan “Ash-sah’b yurid isqat an-nizam.” (“The people want to bring down the regime”).

These are the type of events the developed western world likes to ignore. However, during this past month, I had the privilege of assisting with an endeavor Michael has been passionate about for a long time. During Ireland’s recent Constitutional Convention, Michael was part of a team to bring elected representatives from four different Arab Spring states to Ireland. The purpose of this event, “Reconstituting Constitutions, 2014,” was to provide an arena where representatives from Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were able to create a dialogue between their parliaments, Ireland included.

During the planning stage, I spent a lot of time trying to keep the most recent news updates in the hands of those planning the event. This turned out to be very interesting in the last few days leading up to the event. There were reports that came out claiming that six Egyptians, including two Egyptian Diplomats, had been abducted in Libya. No one on the Irish side new exactly how the representatives of the two countries would react, or if even if they would. The main question loomed: should the issue be addressed or left untouched. With only a day between when the delegates were arriving in Dublin and the final stages of planning, the decision was made to leave the issue untouched, and let any reactions by the representatives take place unaided. Turns out, no one from either country cared.

The final day of the visit took place in two different locations. The morning was spent facilitating round tables in the conference rooms of LH 2000. These programs were conducted to discuss ideas that had been generated from the weekend events. As it turns out, many Arab State representatives not only had an idea of how to improve the situation in their own country, but they also had ideas of how to change the Irish Constitution! The afternoon was spent in a conference at TCD (Trinity College). The Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA), who worked closely with the representatives from the Irish Parliament, were in charge of the event. Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, Michael, and another TD, Maureen O’Sullivan, all spoke. The event concluded with a panel consisting of one representative from each Spring State. They were asked questions and proceeded to explain how they planned to take what they had learned while in Ireland and make improvements to the situations in their own country.

arab yemini capital

A riot begins in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

I was amazed at how curious the delegates from the four states were in Ireland’s system. Each of the countries represented at the event are at very different stages of enacting a constitution of their own. The weekend was a success and the the future of the four nations, although an uphill battle, continues to take small steps forward.

#officeofone

Standard

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of my responsibilities, Michael left the country. Unlike American politics, there are not twenty or thirty other staffers to take on his duties…I am actually the only one in the office, and I am not qualified for that. Seriously.

Deputy McNamara is a member of the Council of Europe, and the Monitoring Committee is conducting meetings in Strasbourg this week. This event leaves the TD’s office in Parliament completely vacant…no, wait…the 21 year old American intern is there…lets ask her ground breaking questions on the Arab Spring, the Forestry Bill scheduled to go to committee, status of the upcoming events for the Irish Constitutional Convention…and so on. I came to Ireland to learn about Irish politics and culture, and to sum it up, I am learning a lot.

In other news, I have officially found a church! To be honest,  Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church actually found me. My route from my apartment to Parliament takes me right past the church. This past Sunday was the first that I was in Dublin since I found it, and I really love it. The church community was extremely welcoming and I even met two girls from the US studying at Trinity. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that I actually qualify as an international student, but the church hosts an ‘international meal’ on Friday nights that I was invited to join. The meal is just a time for students and adults from countries other than Ireland to join in fellowship and talk about the joys and challenges of living in a new culture. 

Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church

Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church

I can honestly say that I am learning more about politics, culture, and myself than I thought I would be at this stage. Each day presents a new challenge, but I am blessed to be surrounded by people who challenge and push me. Both at home and here in Ireland, I appreciate all the words of encouragement and continued support. Thanks for reading!