Marvin
Systermans



Artistic and Documentary
Photography focused
on urban and rural spaces.

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︎︎︎Our Belfast humor


In a small room, somewhere in Belfast, I meet nine elderly ladies, 
who have invited me to share their experiences of THE TROUBLES. 
They meet here every week to share their memories as a way
to deal with their traumas.

When I enter the room, some of the ladies are laughing and chattering,
while some sit quietly in their chairs.

I ask them about their stories and they start to tell:

„I lost my husband. We had been married for almost twenty years.
He got shot on the street during the day, along with his friends.
None of them saw it coming. In all the years since nobody could tell
me who had done it. The not knowing is what still haunts me.
The police would not tell me if they were even looking for the murderer.
He might still live on the other side.“

„We have all lost someone. We are all still waiting for the names of
those responsible, we are waiting for justice. I don’t generally hate
the others. But I tell you if that person, who shot my husband, was
here with us in this room, I couldn’t promise you anything.”

        „Yes, yes!“ say the others.

“It is not so much about Protestants and Catholics anymore. But look
at the other street for example, it used to be the poorer neighborhood.
Did you see it? 
All the shops are open, they are doing great. They get what they want,
the city pays them. And I don’t say to take it away from them, but look at
our street, what it has become. Every other store is closed, it wasn’t like
this before. How can we trust them? Before the troubles started we had
friends on the other side. Good friends. But some betrayed us, just gave
information away and didn’t even warn us. And it cost us many lives.
I don’t even trust the priests. They let the snipers on the church towers.
They are responsible too.”

        „Yes, yes!“ say the others.

“One time some men attacked a bus. They warned their people first, let
them leave the bus and then killed the rest. They say that the police even
found fingerprints. But they never investigated. We might never know
who it was. We want more attention. Look, when something happens
in the US it‘s all over the news. When something happens in Belfast nobody
cares. The politicians do nothing.”

        „No, no!“ say the others.

“During the troubles one had to show their bags when entering a shop.
Plastic bags were put on street lights to avoid being spotted by snipers.
I visited a friend one day, and when I got to her house I found at least
seven badly wounded men at her house. She tried to help them, wash
their wounds. There was blood everywhere. Once you see something like
that you will never be able to forget.”

        „No, no!“ say the others.

“That’s all too negative. We still like to laugh a lot. Maybe it is our way to
deal with the whole thing. Let me tell you a funny story. I was coming back
from the center of the city one day, I didn’t know what was going on here.
When I entered the neighborhood I saw my friend Rebecca, she was waving
her hands at me from the other side of the street. There were sharpshooters
somewhere in the area. She wanted to warn me, but I didn’t understand
her, so I waved back at her.
Can you imagine? The two of us in the middle of the street waving our hands
at each other and sharpshooters above our heads?”

All of them laugh.

“See? Thats our Belfast humor.”