When Party Lines become Concrete Walls

23 Oct

Upon hopping off the bus on Belfast, I noticed the beautiful foliage and the familiar quaint, almost Boston-like feel of the area. Soon after though, I started to feel a sort of heaviness- an overarching sense of sorrow. And not the kind of sorrow you feel briefly, after an unfortunate event. I felt a low dispirited melancholy like I’d never want to experience for any extended period of time. The air, even though it moved quickly with the wind, felt overburdened with the weight of the history.

The next morning, my feelings were reiterated when my group couldn’t find an open gate to get into the protestant side of the city. My eyes widened with each side street we passed- ‘no, that gate is closed too’. When we were finally inside the walls we listened to a local guide, the entire group had internalized. Their minds were reeling, processing what they had just heard. This was all to repeat as well, upon hearing the guide from the Catholic side.

Kids in my group kept chatting; speculating which side was more justified in their actions, which side had inflicted the most harm. I was personally struggling with those questions as well- especially since my family is from Ireland and historically very Catholic. For the world, it would be obvious which group I should side and sympathize with. But I wasn’t so sure. All I knew was all of the fighting and craziness that was/is Northern Ireland is hard to grasp. All I knew was I sure as hell didn’t belong in this weird place. I said to myself at one point while looking at the peace wall: ‘What the hell kind of place is this??’ I realized then that that is a similar situation to most of the world at one point. I knew that there were struggles everywhere in the world and there would always be wars, but my upper middle class Bostonian upbringing had never before let me catch a whiff of that. I realized that there are so many places in the world with the same air of sorrow and heavy history hangs over the heads of all that live there… and everyday the citizens probably say ‘well I sure as hell do not belong in this weird place;’ just as I had said to myself.

People always say “You travel to learn what the world is about” and now it completely resonates.

Katharine Thibodeau

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