Gemma with her new-found Irish friends at the Ostend Beach Festival in Belgium.

A supercharged weekend

The benefits of saying yes to spontaneous plans: New experiences, like-minded people and amazing memories. The benefits of saying no: Literally none.

The past weekend saw me attending my very first festival, not counting Killeshandra’s Festival of the Lakes of course. During the week, an email pinged in my inbox. Naki Power, a partner of the company I work for, needed volunteers for the upcoming Ostend Beach Festival. Ostend is the closest coastal town to Brussels and, with the weather we have been having, it crossed my mind a few times to visit. So of course I was interested, I would get free entry to the festival on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, free train rides to and from the festival each day, free food, the works. All I had to do was show up, promote the company for a few hours and then go and enjoy the festival. I didn’t know any of the artists except for Bob Sinclar (Love Generation, 2005) but there is only one way to get to know them. I put the feelers out in the office to see if anybody was interested, sure enough one of my colleagues from Portugal was up for it. After work on Friday, we headed for Ostend.

Promoting Naki Power was going to be no difficult task, their idea is very smart. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you really need your phone (often myself navigating Brussels), the little battery on the screen is red and you’re furiously closing the notifications telling you to plug your phone in? We’ve all been there, the panic is next level. In this situation, if someone handed you a power bank, you’d probably consider marrying them.

Naki Power allows you to rent a power bank by scanning a QR code, paying for as long as you need it and then returning it to any station. Currently they are present in Belgium, Sweden, France and Spain. So at the festival you pay €6 to rent the power bank for 24 hours. If you forget to return it, it’s €30 and the power bank belongs to you. It’s convenient especially in the festival setting – nobody wants to miss out on documenting the amazing time they are having. So for me, the weekend consisted of making drunk people even happier by informing them I have a solution to their dying phone battery. Needless to say, it was a busy weekend.

The great thing about volunteering is that you have less responsibilities than those on a working contract. When it was quiet, we could saunter off and enjoy the music. It was during this time that my weekend was made. Myself and Eva were dancing at the outdoor stage, the sun was setting over the beach beside us casting a beautiful shade of orange over the crowd who were screaming along to the chorus of ABBA’s ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

Then, among the sea of Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian flags I saw it! A pair of hands launched a green, white and orange flag into the air. So many emotions crossed me at once: Happiness, homesickness, joy, but the predominant one was excitement. I was absolutely ecstatic, poor Eva beside me did not register what was happening.

“That’s my flag,” I screamed, already on my way to see where this crew were from.

It never once crossed my mind that I wouldn’t get a warm reception and of course I was correct. I tapped the guy holding the flag on the shoulder. He turned revealing the broadest smile I have ever seen. The trio came from Longford, Kells and Roscommon. They were out for the weekend to enjoy the festival. After they got over their shock of meeting somebody from Cavan in Belgium, we exchanged life stories for a while, sang, shouted to each other about home - your average Irish exchange.

When we departed ways, my Portuguese friend found it difficult to understand me – I’ve obviously adjusted my accent since coming over here. Speaking to people from home reverted me back to my old Cavan ways. I hadn’t noticed it until now, but I do speak in a more rounded way, pronouncing my words properly and not using our common phrases. Afterwards, I said “your man,” describing how one of the guys lived close enough to my town. She almost looked offended and informed me that he was not her man. I laughed and explained that this was my way of saying “that guy". I do love these cultural hiccups and there are many, I don’t think us Irish realise but we say a lot of things that are completely foreign to the most fluent of English speakers.

Moving abroad, I said I wanted to meet new people, however there is no doubt that it is always nice to meet someone from home. Now my top priority is to source an Irish flag allowing me to attract a few more red heads. I really thought festivals were not my style but I’m so happy I went to Ostend this weekend, I will never forget how I felt when I saw that Irish flag on the Belgian coast.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a second year journalism student in University of Limerick.


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