Over the weekend, I traveled up to Northern Ireland with my study abroad program.
As we traveled through the Irish countryside, I did not even realize that we crossed the border until UK flags were sprouting from every house. No border patrol. No one asking to see my passport. In the blink of an eye, I was in another country.
We picked up our tour guide on the side of the street.
[Let’s just say I was not a fan. I could write a whole blog about that experience!]
The entire length of our walking tour, a friendly helicopter followed us. Being in West Belfast, a place with a history of crimes and violent crimes, I wondered if our group of twenty-something girls looked suspicious. Our guide reassured us that this was normal. That if we could somehow talk to the pilot, we would see that they were very friendly. I decided not to ask questions.
Many of the communities were gated. They were surrounded by high concrete walls. Some had fencing or barbed wire on the top. In the city, at a certain time a siren will sound. Once it does, the gates to these communities close.
The one community has what is called the Peace Wall. From the outside, it’s simply a very high concrete wall with fencing. Inside the community, it is a beacon of hope. Yo
u are free to write a message of hope on the wall with a marker. Since our guide did have markers, I chose to leave my mark. I had been thinking about what to write as soon as he had mentioned it, roughly ten minutes before. You could see that not only was this a spot for tourists to enjoy and read, but those that lived here would visit the wall as well. It was amazing to see so many positive messages from all around the world written on a single wall. Along with the wall, the community celebrates ‘International Day of Peace’ every single year on September 21st. The goal is to have that feeling of hope and peace in the community the other 364/5 days of the year. If we can set aside our differences for that one day in September, why can’t we do it the rest of the year? Being more of a pacifist myself, I could understand the mentality that these people had. They were trying to rediscover themselves and not forget their troubled past, but to learn from it. They wanted to create a friendly, peaceful environment for the next generations to grow up in.
After this, the tour bus was silent until we went to lunch. Though no one said so, I think we were all reflecting on the Peace Wall and West Belfast.
After lunch, my friends and I discovered the beauty that is city centre Belfast. I truly recommend visiting the gorgeous city. The city centre is a combination of old and new. The cobblestone roads will lead you to modern art and the friendliest people you have ever met. During our adventures, the locals and tourists alike were always very helpful and kind. They made you feel welcome.
Being over 4,000 miles from home, it can be hard to find that feeling.
Belfast, you will always have a part of my heart.