Wales (Cymru)!


This week a lot of homework was due so I didn’t do much with my weekend. But after that, our cohort went to Wales/Cymru (coom-ree). Which was very fun and interesting.

Our first stop was Cardiff. While we were here, we started at the Welsh Assembly (Welsh parliament). That was really interesting. It really made me think deeper about the possibilities for better systems of representative democracy. The government meets in a full circle, in a transparent room. Even all of the committee meetings are accessible to the public. Cooperation, negotiation, transparency, and inclusion are highly valued in the institution. In order to get a petition officially considered by the Assembly, a person only needs to gather 10 signatures. Meaning you don’t have to be a millionaire or a lobby organization to be heard in government. The government is very accessible and accountable to the average person. Additionally, it is very gender balanced (averaging between 40 and 50% women) and boasts the highest participation of women in leadership in government in the Western world. Welsh culture is also really well preserved (unlike Celtic culture in other English colonies). Welsh Gaelic thrives and all signs are translated in both English and Welsh. The government primarily speaks Welsh in all of its proceedings. I was quite pleasantly surprised by how appealing their system is.

Next stop was the Dr. Who museum. They start off by taking you through a few studio sets with special effects and the Dr. communicating a story line through television screens, so that it feels like you’re experiencing a mini Dr. Who episode. That was pretty fun and imaginative. Then in the museum, they had many of the original props, sets, and costumes from the many incarnations of the show. I had hoped they would have included things from Torchwood too. But I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Later we went to the Big Pit mining museum. It was very sad to see the long history of misery and disrespect that these people (and animals) had suffered. The job hazards, hard work, and living conditions that folks were expected to survive were beyond imagination. The most disturbing was the exhibit displaying children’s work in the mines. The mining companies believed they had to start them before the age of 9 or else they would never be able to grow accustomed to the work load/pace/conditions of mining. The work they did was beyond cruel. Often their first job was to sit alone in pitch black darkness to open and close doors for 12 hours a day. They couldn’t have food during this time because it would attract rats. The next job they did was climbing through crawl spaces dragging heavy boxes of coal with harnesses built for children. It took decades to get child labor laws enforced because the company was always informed of inspections ahead of time. During the Heath and Thatcher years, inflation went wild and the value of miner’s already pitiful wages plummeted. The miners fought long and hard to gain reasonable wages and suffered especially hard under Thatcher’s cruel, brutal rein. We got taken through the mines on a tour by men who used to work the mines. Their stories were quite harrowing and the mine was a miserable place even just to walk through. Most of the girls couldn’t wait to get our of there. All of the tour guides were wearing black arm bands in solidarity with the mining disaster in Turkey that was announced that morning, reminding us that for most of the world, mining conditions have changed very little.

After that, we were off to Brecon. We walked around the Beacons, hand fed wild swans, explored the ruins of Tintern Abbey, and Chepstow castle by day. By night we explored the local pubs and walked through the beautiful moonlit streets. The locals and even the Scottish military people were really pleasant, welcoming, and friendly. The feel of being comfortable and talking with strangers in the pubs felt much more like home, where you make new friends every time you go out. London can feel a little lonely in that way. People generally keep to their own friends and expect you to have an ulterior motive or that you are flirting if you talk to them. I really hope I can find time to get back to Scotland and I would love to see more of Wales.