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Saturdays in Galway are a special thing – when its dry.

The three ducks (2 males and a female) are usually waiting outside to be fed. I’ve learned you have to be quick and discrete or else word spreads to the gulls, and mayhem ensues.

Along the prom dogs of all shapes and colors are running towards the ocean. Kids bundled up like marshmallows stumble just behind. And still further back, parents stroll with one eye on child, and the other out to sea.

In town the market is bustling. All the usual suspects are manning their stations. The falafel man with the dreadlocks has the longest line, with good reason. The crepe lady with short dark curly hair comes in a close second. Dozens of people squeeze around each other in the 800 year old market square located in the shadow of the 800 year old St. Nicholas Church. My consumer senses are stimulated by the paintings, pottery, knit clothing, fresh vegetables, pastries, and fish caught in the sea just down the road. But, my citizen senses also come alive at the sight of civil pleasantries exchanged between old friends and new strangers.

Across from the market, the pub patios lining Shop Street are filled with folks sipping pints and exchanging chat. In the background a motley mix of musical instruments provide a fitting soundtrack – the boys on the bongos in front of Eason’s bookstore, fiddlers warming up at Tig Coili, and the smiling man near the Meteor cell phone shop with his bellowing accordion.

My favorite part about Saturdays in Galway, though, is the balloon animal man. He stands right in the heart of town – across from Evergreen’s Health Food Store. A steady stream of children guide their parents to him for a custom made crown, dog, or sword. He’s quick, and good. I’ve never seen one break. As he works, the kids watch his hands intently, with clear looks of anticipation. The parents watch too – perhaps thinking more like their children in that moment than they’d like to admit.

And along Shop Street, for the rest of the day, bright colored balloon objects dot the landscape, giving people something small and different to smile at.

Maybe every town should have a balloon animal man. Surely it couldn’t hurt.

Remembering old George on the week of his birth with a  quote from his Farewell Address:

“The common & continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain it…It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another…The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism…But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.”

Wisdom, it seems, never becomes out-dated.

My quarterly reflections on my time in Ireland are newly posted on the Mitchell Scholar website, along with the reflections of my friends, the other Mitchells.  I’m cross-posting mine here, for you all to read, but do check out some of the other scholars and what they have to say about their experiences in Ireland!

*****

I expected that making friends … real friends … in Ireland would take time. That it would be a delicate process, and subject to awkward exchanges and uncertain social cues. During my first few weeks in Galway, I fearfully imagined leaving Ireland feeling like I had made no real friends whatsoever. The strange events of a single day have led me to believe, though, that those fears were completely foolish.

This is the story of how what should have been my worst day in Ireland turned out to be one of the best.

It was 1 pm on Saturday, January 16. I was sitting in my pajamas (I know, 1 pm and still in my pajamas?!), hoping to gain some inspiration for this Mitchell reflection by reading some of the past scholars’ writing, when a knock came at the door. I sheepishly shuffled over to answer the door. Two of my Irish classmates, Avril and Laura, were waiting outside. They both looked alarmed.

Immediately, Avril asked, “Are you ok?”

Ok? Why would she ask that? I thought. Sure, Jon was back in the US, leaving me all by myself and a little lonely, but hopefully I didn’t give off such a fragile flower vibe. “Of course I’m ok. Why?” We moved inside to the living room and sat down.

Avril explained. She had received 6 blank text messages from me throughout the morning. When she called me back to see if something was wrong, an unfamiliar, incoherent man’s voice picked up the phone. Avril panicked. A million terrible thoughts went through her head. She called up Laura and they marched over to my place, half expecting to find me held hostage. During the walk over, they (seriously) devised a number of attack plans for my rescue.

Tickled that they took my personal safety so seriously, I went about the business of figuring out what I had done with my phone. The last time I had seen it was the night before as Michael and I headed to the corner Spar to pick up the ingredients for chocolate soufflés. I thought it was in my purse… but then where did I put my purse? I searched the house. It was in none of its usual spots. The notion that my entire purse was not lost but…stolen…started creeping into my consciousness. I logged onto my credit card account online and sure enough, found a brand new $86 charge to Vodaphone that I did not make.

Throughout the next couple hours, Laura, Avril and I became the best Private Investigators we could. We swapped theories, brainstormed methods of tracking “our man” down, and watched a couple of youtube videos for a laugh when we got sick of the serious stuff. Laura made grilled cheese sandwiches, Avril put the kettle on for tea, and I Skyped banks and credit card companies. We finally came to the conclusion that the thief snatched my bag from my unlocked apartment’s entryway while Michael and I were focused on the soufflé baking in the room next door. Despite my frequent reminders that they did not have to stay with me, Laura and Avril didn’t leave. Instead, they kept me company all day long.

After we had visited the Garda station a couple of times, searched through the foliage in front of my apartment, and eaten some cookies, we called off the investigation for the evening. Avril invited us to walk along the Promenade towards Salthill, a ritual that she performs every single day. Laura and I agreed, threw on a couple of extra layers, and we were off.

As we reached the bay, the salt in the air was thick. The tide was in, and the waves were crashing against the rocks menacingly. The wind picked up, and suddenly we were in the middle of what felt like a hurricane. Laura and I struggled against the wind, and tiny, cold pellets of rain assaulted us from the sky. Avril pushed forward. “THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE ALIVE!” She shouted, skipping onward. Laura and I, half laughing and half terrified that we were about to be swallowed by the sea, followed along until we noticed a sprightly old woman coming straight for us.

“Grab on to me, girls!” She cried. “I’m going to be blown into the sea!” Laura grabbed the small woman (“She must’ve weighed 4 stone!” Laura later remarked) by the arm, and the four of us turned around and walked back towards town. After the wind died down, our older friend insisted we let her continue on her own. Laura and Avril then realized that they had “rescued” not one, but two people in one day. Not bad for a random Saturday in January.

While Laura and Avril certainly rescued me that day, they weren’t the only ones worried about my wellbeing. After the walk through the hurricane, I was home drying off and foraging for dinner, when there was another knock at my door. Jada, another classmate, a peppy, talkative American, was standing outside. “How are you doing!? What happened? Are you ok?” Jada bounced into the apartment. I told her my ordeal, she sympathized, and we moved on to a more important topic: her date with a very eligible Irish lad.

Some time later, after Jada had left, another knock on my door. It was Michael, who had given up a fun night out with his class to come to provide me with a little extra security. He threw down his overnight bag in the guest bedroom and joined me in the living room.

It was at about this moment that I realized: I have somehow managed to acquire this incredible support network. In a new city, a new country. In a matter of months. Irish friends, American friends, and of course, my reliable Mitchell crew. All ready to lend me money until my new laser card arrives, sit with me while I deal with banks over a lousy Skype connection, and just spend time with me so the house feels less empty. Avril and Laura were ready to literally save me from an evil kidnapper if they needed to. (I found out later that Avril had quickly devoured a bowl of cereal just before leaving her house to rescue me. Just in case she was going to be in a hostage situation without food for a long time. You know.)

And that’s just the kind of realization that can turn a bad day into a brilliant one.

We, like many others around the world, spent last evening with our gazes fixed to a big-screen tv, beers in hand, while rowdy men around us chanted, “GO SAINTS!” Apparently, word had spread that this pub was the place to go to watch the Super Bowl in Galway.  Hundreds of Americans descended upon the small pub, many of them wearing football jerseys supporting their home teams.  American accents abounded.  Everyone was ready for a good game, and the Saints looked to be the crowd favorite.

While the sheer number of people at the pub to cheer on the Colts and/or Saints was surprising, there was one group present that was particularly unexpected: young Irish guys.  We were standing next to a very loud, rambunctious group of them, who were friendly enough, but didn’t seem to know a lot about football.  They asked me, Jon, and our American friend Jada, who we were cheering for.  They seemed to be weighing the options between the two teams very carefully, hoping to choose the winner as their favorite.  Although they reacted appropriately at a couple of big plays, it was clear that they didn’t know American football very well.  Why were they here? I wondered.  All I had to do was look around… large groups of cute, new-to-Ireland, American study abroad girls.  Ah ha.  Question answered.

No Super Bowl is complete without a whole bunch of outrageously expensive, hit-or-miss commercials that make the whole shebang worth watching – true or false?  From my experience last night, I would say that it’s true.  While you all back in the US of A were being treated to Dave, Jay, and Oprah, and controversial (well, maybe) Focus on the Family ads, we were stuck with the same 3 low-budget ads over and over again.  Not having anything interesting to watch during the commercial breaks made me realize just how many commercials there are!  And it definitely made the experience of watching the game a lot less fun.

One last perk to our late night football watching was a chance at a true Irish experience – the lock-in.  Lock-ins, according to my Irish friends, began back in the day when pubs were obligated to close for two hours on Sunday afternoon (I am not sure why they were supposed to be closed at the time – Irish friends, help me out?).  Instead of closing the pub down and forcing customers out, the pub owners would simply shut the windows, lock the doors, and pretend like they were closed, while allowing those inside to keep drinking.  Nobody was allowed in or out until the pub was officially “open” again.  Apparently, lock-ins still happen from time to time, when a pub wants to stay open past its required closing time of midnight.  That was the situation we found ourselves in last night – locked in to the pub!  Luckily, we found someone who was willing to let us out before the game ended.  But from the outside of the pub, you’d have no idea that a couple hundred American kids (and a couple dozen hopeful Irish lads) were inside, cheering the Saints on to victory.

Last year the American Human Development Project of the Social Science Research Council published its first report on the state of human development in America. Cleverly titled The Measure of America, the report applies methods that the United Nations has used for 20 years to produce its annual UN Human Development Index to the American context specifically.

Amazingly, Measuring of America is the first report to use this method to assess human development within a wealthy, developed nation.

I’m doing a bit of analysis on specific elements of the report for my part-time job. So far, its been absolutely fascinating to dig deeper into the actual reality everyday Americans find themselves in. As I make my way through it, I’ll share some of the interesting factoids that it highlights.

The report is based on an extensive methodology that basically boils down to looking at people’s level of health, education, and income. In addition to presenting national averages, it compares America’s outcomes to 30 of the world’s richest countries, and looks specifically at outcomes by state, Congressional district, ethnicity, and gender.

A wonderful website has been developed in conjunction with the report that has loads of interactive tools to visualize how specific communities and groups compare to one another. If you’re looking for a few minutes to kill online while sitting at home or at your desk, I highly recommend it!

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Welcome to our blog! Follow along with us as we travel and experience life as a couple of 20-somethings - with all its ups and downs. We hope to post photos, short videos, stories about our daily life and not-so-daily adventures, and thoughts on what’s going on in the world.

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