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It took nine months, but I’ve finally learned my lesson. When you run on the promenade in Galway, you have to kick the wall.

Our friend Avril, who gets up early every morning and walks the prom, has told me several times that ‘its just what you do’. The directive didn’t quite sink in for me until today, however, when I saw a girl who couldn’t have been older than five give it a big strong boot as she walked aimlessly by.

The ‘wall’ marks the two mile point from where the River Corrib lets out into Galway Bay. Standing about five feet and made of the gray stones that permeate the Connemara countryside, it divides the bayside promenade from a local golf course.

‘Kicking the wall’ is one of those small things that you can only learn by getting to know a place. Its not in the travel book or on the city council website. It’s a piece of local knowledge – the kind that’s only privy to folks that make this place home.

As transients for the better part of three years, Lauren and I have learned through experience how hard it can be to tap into the local knowledge of a place when you’re ‘not from around here’. But, I think, we’ve also learned a bit about its beauty. There is something special and worthwhile about having some things that are shared locally – amongst ‘us’. Its what bonds neighborhoods and cultures and sustains traditions. Its what makes places communities and not just amalgamations of atomized individuals.

When you float with the wind, perhaps you ought to lose a little sway.

Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General, once allegedly ignored advice that he should wear a warm hat while on a trip to Minnesota in winter. “Never think you know more than the natives”, he apparently lamented.

In two weeks Lauren and I leave Ireland to return, first, to Minnesota. I can’t help but wonder what local knowledge about my home – from the U.S. as a whole down to my old neighborhoods – will now be invisible to me. What have people learned while I’ve been gone? Or, rather, what have I forgotten?

I guess, as my anonymous little kicking friend reminded me today, the only way to find out is to listen and to watch…to assume that everyone around you has something to teach.

(And, maybe its about time for me to stick around somewhere too…)

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On Tuesday morning, I dug my bright pink rain boots out of the closet for the first time this year. I had been saving them for a day when the weather was really bad, and Tuesday morning’s weather certainly fit that description. I carefully folded my jeans inside the boots, slipped on my pink raincoat, pulled the hood over my head, and ventured out of the apartment towards the library.

Outside, I faced the rain, which was falling diagonally from the sky in sheets. I struggled against the wind, alongside the rushing River Corrib, past silly Irish women who appeared to care more about fashion than staying dry. Proud of my sensible American roots, I marched on through the cold rain (which turned to hail for a moment) to class.

I’d been warned about the unending rain in Ireland, especially in Galway. But I had no idea that it would be so… severe. I’ve been told many times by native Galwegians that people in Galway don’t use umbrellas because they are no match for the wind and horizontal rain that Galway experiences. In fact, on my walks back and forth from campus, I’ve seen many broken umbrellas, crumpled knots of metal and plastic, abandoned on the street. The umbrellas really couldn’t hold up against the forces of nature in Galway.

As the week has progressed, the rain has continued, unrelentingly, to fall. The River Corrib has been swelling increasingly higher. I have used my bright pink boots on a number of occasions, and have begun to get used to being perpetually damp.

the raging River Corrib, swollen from days of rain.

Thankfully, yesterday morning, I found out that this weather isn’t actually normal. In fact, this November has been the rainiest in 30 years! I was relieved to find this out, because if this were normal, I wouldn’t want to see bad.

Beyond the discomfort of being wet, the rain has brought some more serious problems. The flooding throughout Ireland has been terrible. Roads have flooded, almost completely cutting Galway off from the rest of the country. Flooding has affected downtown areas as well, including smaller towns like Ballinasloe and large towns like Cork. Cork is a mess, as the river Lee broke its banks and has left downtown Cork underwater. The University there has cancelled classes for the next week, and some students are left without housing.

So far, none of the flooding has directly affected us. We have friends that have been unable to travel to or from Galway because of the roads flooding, but luckily this weekend we aren’t traveling. The only possible problem for us would be if the River Corrib flooded, as our first floor apartment is approximately 40 feet from its banks. There are no indications that that will happen, so don’t worry too much. 🙂

As we speak, thunder rolls quietly, the trees are dancing in the wind, and the rain continues. From the safety and warmth of our apartment, it’s actually kind of beautiful. But I am quite grateful that I decided to bring along my huge pink boots.

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