“It was the best of days, it was the worst of days…”
I think that part of this experience in the past few days has truly reflected the nature of this old city. As a tourist, one could naively meander through the streets, see different flags, and think nothing of it. However, the past few days have been eye-opening in regards to how the people of Belfast truly live. Just yesterday, I observed how one of our new friends was completely uncomfortable walking through the neighborhood that our hostel resided in. This reaction is actually very common. I can only touch the emotional reaction, living in a rough part of Chicago, that Belfast citizens feel when walking down the street. The sectarianism is strong, and the people are still aware of it. Now, I do not want to paint the people as hateful, difficult, or rude. They are just the opposite, they actually love, and give graciously to us. I haven’t felt more welcomed into a country in my life (I’ve traveled a lot). But the problems that Belfastians have within their own communities are mind-blowing.
There are walls here that used to divide communities, in order to keep certain people within safe, and of course to keep other unwanted people out. These walls have been dubbed “peace walls,” but the connotation of peace is not readily available to the people dwelling near them. Apparently, some people have accepted the walls as a means of protection, and do not want them removed. Whereas just as many others, see the walls as a reminder of the Troubles that racked this city for hundreds of years.
I’m nervous but excited to see how people cope with this much animosity amongst them, especially when living at a time of peace. In America, we think of peace as something that is easy to comprehend and see on the streets. What we fail to note, is that even in our own culture, we are at peace, but we carry our grudges and our hostilities with us, over time, because our violence was limited. I’m not trying to go too far into our own history, but merely paint a picture of what it is like over here.
How does an individual, or a society for that matter, handle transference from outright sectarian war, to peace, and living amongst the same people they were raised to hate?