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Friday, January 10, 2014

Croi Alainn

by Lisa Becker

This week has been heavy. The constant drizzle and gray skies have done nothing to lighten the mood as we learn more about the conflict in this community each day. Personally, I was ill prepared emotionally for this course, yet I understand that there is nothing in my past which could have helped me understand the emotion we would be seeing here. Of course, it is called Peacebuilding Through Dialogue, so we knew these discussions and these feelings would inevitably come. Up to this point we had been talking to locals in pubs, listening to passionate tour guides, and discussing the problems among our American selves. But the last few days finally brought everything we have learned thus far to a head. On Monday, Charlie and James came to us to tell their stories- stories of struggle, rebellion, violence, and survival. Seeing these two gentlemen from different sides of the conflict together in one room, in one space, opening their hearts and admitting things they had done and remembering things that had been done to them was beyond powerful. It was quite unbelievable.
James tells his story as Charlie looks on. 
In memory of the victims.
Tuesday we learned more about the Peacebuilding Through Dialogue process. The two facilitators led out small group through a trust building process that they use with locals who are willing to come together to share their stories. Once again, I can’t imagine the pure emotion that would go into one of these activities as combatants sit across from maimed victims, police officers across from convicted bombers. Yet I can see from telling my own story how a circle
of trust, with a single candle in the middle and handful of beads can bring out an overwhelming flood of unexpected emotions. It is hard to imagine living in a place where the divide is so deep that either side sees the other as expendable, not even human. But the telling of these stories helps the healing. Any parent, sibling, family member, or friend sitting here can empathize with the other’s loss. The activity, led by our two facilitators, brings these former enemies together and builds trust by humanizing the people around you, lessening the hatred so many people have held onto for decades.
Looking at the "peace wall" in Derry. 

I felt utterly empty after hearing so many stories and sharing my own story with these new friends I have only known for a few days. I hadn’t even experienced any trauma, yet felt like I had absolutely nothing left to give. I could only ask myself how they have survived so long in this place surrounded by the pain. This broken country is still deeply divided as the “peace walls” in each community remind us. Even though the peace process has begun, the roots of conflict are still deeply embedded everywhere you turn.

After the last few days of difficult topics and discussions I decided in my truly American way that retail therapy could help improve the mood. The bracelet I purchased from a small shop spoke directly to my experience this week. It says “Croi Alainn” which means “beautiful heart” in Gaelic. This small souvenir will forever remind me of the beautiful city we have gotten to know over the last week. Derry could very well be the beautiful heart of Northern Ireland; the heart which will forever beat for peace.

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