It is fantastic to welcome Orlaith Hendron to the Salt and Sparkle q&a. I met Orlaith when I heard her speak at TEDx at Stormont in the early summer. I thoroughly enjoyed Orlaith's talk especially the way she opened it with a powerful poem, which made me laugh and how she spoke about encouraging women to go for it, to take a leap, a risk and see what happens. I was very encouraged by what she had to say. You can listen to her TEDx talk and follow her on Twitter.
Orlaith Hendron is a political and social activist, a poet, a wanderer and a strong advocate for women. She has been fighting for LGBTQ and women's rights for the past decade both locally and internationally. An inspiring an interesting speaker Orlaith is a fascinating person, and it gives me great delight to interview her.
Who are you, what’s it like being you ...
I’m Orlaith and being me right now is going pretty well…I’m enjoying life at 31
Where are you from, where are you based ...
I’m from Craigavon, about 30mins south of Belfast in County Armagh. I’ve lived in Belfast since I turned 18 and came to go to Uni. Right now though I’m Based in Berlin…
Talk about your work ...
Before I moved to Berlin I was working as the lobbyist for the Women’s Sector in Northern Ireland. Employed by the Womens Resource and Development Agency (WRDA), on the of the leading women’s orgainsations in Northern Ireland, I was running campaigns, engaging with the women on the ground who are doing really great work all over Northern Ireland and harassing politicians at every turn I could to stand up for women’s rights and get our message across…
Northern Ireland is still a pretty dire place to be a woman particularly because we still don’t have access to safe, legal abortions.
Before working with WRDA I was a development officer for HERe NI, which is a charity that works with lesbian and bisexual women across Northern Ireland. I set up ten peer support groups in the six years that I worked there from Fermanagh and Derry to Coleraine and Craigavon we were supporting women in their own areas to build their capacity and confidence. The organization recently won a funding grant from the Big Lottery, which is great news.
What are your future plans
Well I came to Berlin on a wing of hope, I want to use my vast community and networking skills to transition into online community management and with Berlin being the tech start up hub of Europe, what better place to come.
How do you find inspiration, who you are inspired by
Ok, this is going to sound cheesy, but inspiration is all around. Working in the women’s sector especially you get to see these amazing women all the time, particularly some of those I worked with when I was at HERe NI…
These women are living through the awful homophobia and prejudice of rural areas and some are living with severe mental trauma and they still manage to stay on the bright side, to struggle through with hope in their hearts, it kinda makes you much more grateful for your lot in life.
But more than just people, inspiration is everywhere else, in nature, in human kindness, in the will and drive of others. I suppose though, if I had to choose one person, it would probably be my Mam. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, particularly when I was growing up, but if I got my feminism from anywhere it’s from her and I couldn’t be more grateful for everything she did for the five of us growing up.
Describe your space ...
Well, here’s a story. I’m living in a houseproject in the middle of Berlin, talk about lucky! I really landed on my feet living here.
The place is a huge square of 5 storey buildings with a large garden/courtyard in the middle. There are around 90 people living here altogether I think, but our flat is hosting 7 people. So it kinda works like a commune, we have a communal living room and kitchen that’s very homely and cozy and then the seven of us have bedrooms split across different floors, so we have a chance to meet people from other flats in the house project.
In our flat we pay together for food every week and there’s always a meal cooked every evening and plenty of food for lunch and breakfast. My room is really big, it has a raised bed that’s made of pallets and a desk by the window that looks down onto the courtyard.
At the moment there’s a big problem in Berlin with landlords trying to increase rent, forcing a lot of people out of their homes, our houseproject is currently in a court battle with our landlord to try and keep rental prices down!
How are you feeling today
Today I’m feeling great, it’s pride weekend in Berlin and this evening I’m heading out to the dyke march…that’s a march just for lesbian or queer women…we don’t have one in Belfast and I’m super excited to go out tonight!
A non-negotiable in your life is
Feminism, if you’re not a feminist –ie. If you don’t believe that women should have equal rights to men on all fronts – then I severly question your moral fabric.
Most encouraging words you have ever heard
Is it ok to use something I said myself? I have this phrase “Just be dead on” – in Northern Ireland we say dead on with something is grand, it’s not brilliant or disappointing, it’s average, it’s standard, it’s a flat, no ups or downs.
I often say just be dead on because people put a lot of pressure on themselves to be the best, to be brilliant all the time, to be everything all at once, to get people to like them…and it’s just not possible. For the most part people really do just need to be dead on.
Nothing more or less. Just be decent, you know?
For me that takes the pressure off, all you have to be is decent and people will like you…it’s true. And if they don’t generally what other people think of you is none of your business anyway.
Your work life philosophy is ...
Well, it’s cliché but work hard play hard. I’ve worked my entire adult life in jobs that require a great deal more from you than simple 9-5. You have to put a bit of yourself into a job like that, a bit you don’t usually get back.
But that’s where the playing hard comes in, if you’re going to be working like that you have to replenish yourself somehow and I’m a social creature, I feed off being around others so I’ve always surrounded myself with great people and after working hard, I go out and play with my friends.
What is your favourite smell ...
Easy, it’s motorbikes…I’ve been a huge fan my whole life and when I see or hear one it makes me feel totally excited…then when the exhaust smell of one makes it’s way to my nose it’s like a calling “come and find me, go and buy an motorbike”
Who do you like to listen to, what’s playing just now ...
I’m one of those people who really hasn’t a clue about names of bands or songs or whatever, but I know a lot of music when it comes on. At the moment I’ve been listening to La Roux – Trouble in Paradise album – it’s BRILLIANT.
The dr hook thing is a funny story, I’ll keep it short. When I was growing up sharing a room with my big sis, she used to have the unhooked album on tape and would play it through the night, side after side, you remember tape decks used to automatically just play the other side. It drove me crazy for years…I’m not exaggerating on the years. Now I know all their songs and I love them. Check out “you make my pants wanna get up and dance” you won’t be disappointed.
Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...
Damn, it used to be cabbage bacon and potatoes, but I recently stopped eating pork on account of meeting a little baby pig called percy.
I’m trying to go totally veggie, not doing too bad so far…but never eating pork again. So that’s out the window. Fav three ingredients are easy though –
1. I love love love sundried tomatoes
2. I love avacado
3. Manchego cheese!
Three things or products that have changed your life...
1. Hair mouse, seriously, I grew up with curly/frizzy hair…discovering hair mouse was miraculous.
2. I’ve almost always had a swiss army knife of some kind on me, and recently friends bought me a Leatherman for going away…theres nothing quite as useful as multitool! Every woman should have one.
3. There’s this app that I’m addicted to at the moment called Dubsmash, it’s hilarious…you go in and pick a sound clip from a movie, your favourite quote, or record your own, it can be a song even that’s in the charts, an oldie, anything you want…then you selfie record yourself doing the quote – it’s so funny and I’m having whole conversations with friends with quotes from movies…such a brilliant way to procrastinate.
How do you relax ...
I go out and be around people, I really thrive on social settings and it’s cathartic for me if I’m stressed to just be around people and have a laugh. I suppose the key is really laughter and banter…
What makes you happy, where’s your happy place ...
See question above, I really love being around my friends, having a laugh and putting the world to rights over a good beer.
What is your favourite journey, where in the world would you like to visit ...
Favourite Journey? Well I’ve travelled a lot, but one of the best journeys I ever went on was taking a bus ride from NYC to Minnesota when I was 18. I’d just finished doing camp America in New Hampshire and was travelling to Minnesota to visit my penpal – I know that sounds weird.
When I was 8yrs old my whole family took the train from Portadown to Dublin for st paddys day, there were about 12 kids and a bunch of adults and no seats on the train, I remember my mam hoiking me up onto the train and sitting me in the one free seat around a table for 4.
The other three people were an American woman and her husband and son, needless to say that journey was fun too, I got a lot of American candy from them, I played tin whistle for them and we exchanged addresses when the train arrived in Dublin. I’d writted to Maggie every since…and still do to this day, albeit not very often, but we’re in touch.
Anyway, that bus ride to go see her took 41 hours and the landscape was breath taking, and I met two guys from Russia who didn’t really speak English, we stopped over in Chicago for 9 hrs and I hung out with them the whole time, not speaking English but understanding each other anyway.
What do you most value in your friends ...
Honesty…it costs nothing and you expect your friends to afford you at least that muchWhat are your favourite words, what are you reading, just now ...
I have a lot of favourite words, I love Effervescent – just how it sounds and feels to say it. Also I have a couple of favourite three letter words, the best one is Apt.
Right now I’m reading “Do It Like A Woman” By Caroline Criado-Perez – it’s a brilliant book exploring what holds women back and the brilliant women that are doing their thing anyway across the world, from female pilots in Afghanistan to Graffiti writers and Skateboarders in the UK and USA.
Share some words of wisdom
Just Be Dead On
Below are the words of the fantastic poem Orlaith wrote and shared at TEDx
You wear big hoop earrings Dragging down your lobes, they flap and fling And clink and chink off others same, And ones in gold that spell your name.
Six loops in each ear covered in make up goop, No shining here, a different shade for every year. A different shade from the one on your hands You can’t go out without your tan.
Twenty shades of tangerine, Only on parts that can be seen But when your belly’s on display Your clothes are bound to move and sway
And show the bits below the band of tan That’s really there to catch a man And is it that the man wants tan so as a fan Of man you buy in bulk tan in a can.
Or is it that you’re just too scared To show him what is really there Like the bright of your white would cause him such colossal fright That he’d take flight into the night and never again embrace your sight?
Or is it that the man won’t care and that the tan is only there Cuz there’s nobody pale in vanity fair? And cuz you care you’re not like her Who’s on the front with body bare.
Or maybe, just maybe there’s some bigger con that’s there to make you feel Anon'. In a world of gradient skin they make you hate the one you’re in They make you wanna be someone else They make you loathe and hate yourself
But wait, just like a fairy tale they offer alternatives to pale And just like that you’re passing jail and buying can tan by the bale You’re not alone. In fact it looks like you’ve been cloned. Your skin colour is not your own.
You’ve all been conned, same con that makes your brown hair blonde Same con that makes you not respond when your body’s being pawned For money that you’ll never see, they take from you at liberty And leave you with no sense of “me”.
It is a pleasure to have you at our place for this interview Orlaith, thank you for taking part in the Salt and Sparkle q&a.
That's it for now ...
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