Friday, 5 October 2012

The challenges of a public diary

The observant among you will have noticed that, since leaving the Philippines, and more recently arriving in Northern Ireland, the frequency of my blog posts has declined significantly. Given last year’s word count, those still following are probably breathing a sigh of relief, but for myself, if no-one else, I wanted to reflect on some of the reasons I have been here nearly a month, living a multitude of new experiences and have, for the most part, written nothing about them.

I guess the most straightforward excuse has been lack of time. While I can’t deny there have been days when I have reached the end of the day feeling like I have done remarkably little, that remarkably little has filled the hours quite thoroughly. First during induction, and then since starting work almost a fortnight ago, the days, and evenings, have soon filled up: even if that has often been with the important business of socialising and enjoying new friendships

But it is not quite as simple as that.

Another factor has been the social nature of life here. Coventry House, home to the one year volunteers, and a motley collection of others is a sociable place. It is a place where there is always something going on or someone to chat to. It is a place where there is much silliness and banter, but also space for more serious discussions and reflection. It is a place where all the things I would figure out and reflect on and share on my blog last year, I now share in conversations over a cup of tea.

And then there is the challenge of what to write and what not to write. Whether or not anyone is actually reading this, it is, at least theoretically, in the public domain. There have certainly been many benefits of assuming I have an audience: not least forcing me to rationalise my thoughts and being something vaguely approaching concise.

But there are challenges too, which have become more apparent here than they were last year. From day 1, I have been determined that what I write should not just be fact (if such a thing even exists) or a mundane record of what I have done and where I have been: it has been intended to be a personal reflection on and response to the experiences I have lived. In the Philippines that didn’t seem too difficult. My cultural observations, my reflections on life were from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in. I was a white westerner commenting on my experiences of my own culture meeting with a very different one: my position as an outsider was never in question. I couldn’t, and I hope didn’t, ever profess to see things as a Filipino would.

Here, it is a little more complex. Northern Ireland is much closer to home and, on the surface at least, the cultural similarities to my own life abound. This is, after all, my own country. It is easy to think of coming here as coming “home” and for both myself, and others to assume I speak as an insider ... but while it is certainly less foreign than the Philippines, a few weeks here has been long enough to make it very clear that this is not my home culture either: Here, I am, if not a total outsider, at least someone on the edge. I am caught between not really belonging and speaking from within, but not really being foreign and speaking from without. It is a cultural complexity which I have found makes the business of writing about here more difficult than I expected.

But don’t worry, I rarely find I am without words for very long ...