Of the three sites I visited during Walking Walls, I’m still debating which one is the odd man out, and whether or not it even makes sense to think about the conflicts through the lenses that would group them in such a way. You could make endless arguments that distinguish one site from the other two: Israel/Palestine as the odd one due to not being part of Europe…the physical borders have yet to be fully constructed….most recently a violent hotspot. Cyprus because the UN is still involved…because the border is built to stop an army instead of individuals. Northern Ireland because the borders are entrenched in neighborhoods…because the walls were requested by the residents.
But even as I was writing that list, I was struck by the number of things that I had to omit after encountering dissenting opinions on this trip. For example, although I cannot articulate the details of the argument, I now know better than to classify the Troubles as only an intra-state conflict. I have come to appreciate that the generalizations I made above are much more complex than I have characterized them to be; I think you could find exceptions to any of them.
I can’t reflect on this project without being comparative because I intentionally went to three different sites to gain a more complete understanding of what it means to live in a physically divided society. The idea was to unite the partition in different places through the common, human threads in my experience. But you cannot separate the personal stories from the conflicts. A Palestinian refugee is not a Greek Cypriot refugee is not a Belfast resident who moved to a different neighborhood to escape car bombs and gunfire. Glossing over this would be a disservice to the individuals, the complexity of the conflict, and the difficulty of any solution.
But at the same time, it’s not very useful or interesting to completely separate my reflections on each site, because it misses an opportunity to deepen my understanding of why and how people build walls, and discourages any transfer of good ideas for solutions from one place to the next. There will be some good insights on the X axis from thinking about the intersections of these three sites, both in commonalities and differences, the negative and the positive.
I’m not sure what the Y axis is at this moment. Maybe it’s the stories of exceptional circumstances, the extremes on the scatter plot, the odd man out. That’s worth thinking about too.
March 14, 2012 was split between two different countries, and two vastly different modes of travel. The first, Cyprus: warm, palm trees, airport with wifi, food and drink on the plane, well rested and light. The second: the United Kingdom: cold, poor, tired, dark, hard floor of Heathrow Terminal 1 with no 24-hour places to eat.
My first hours in the UK were rough and tense. The following morning (it doesn’t make sense to distinguish by something so arbitrary as dates in this story) I boarded a flight to Belfast which landed in a dense fog and cold mist. It was a bitter beginning to the last leg of this journey; in my run-down state, I cringed at the industrial streets of Belfast, imagining shadows around corners and in doorways.
My 24 hours in transit between these opposite corners of Europe, shifting focus between the massively different, dividing conflicts in each wasn’t exactly a typical approach to island hopping.
March 13, 2012 marked my last full day in Cyprus, and also the first (and only) time I have visited a mosque- the Selimiye Mosque in north Nicosia. The building used to serve as a cathedral, which explains the Gothic architecture in the photo above. This strange history is repeated elsewhere in Cyprus (and indeed could be a metaphor for the island itself), but to me it represented a beautiful (if troubled) fusion of spaces and traditions. The vaulted ceilings and absence of seating combined to create a single chamber that was remarkable for its vast emptiness. The carpet was plush under my stocking feet while stained glass windows dappled pastel light on the walls. The air inside was cool and a bit musty as if the interior of the building featured its own climate, independent of outside. It was an enriching experience and rewarding to see a degree of preservation and adaptation at play in the building’s use.
No pictures from March 12, 2012. I think I spent most of the day writing my 43 postcards at a cafe. Compared to the five weeks I spent in Israel/Palestine, my short stint in Cyprus flew by, and for the most part, was much easier, emotionally lighter, and generally a bit weirder. With just a day and a half to go on the island at this time last year, my looming departure seemed rushed. It would have been nice to squeeze in an extra week in Cyprus (and spend part of it on the Karpaz Peninsula).
On this day in 2012, I took a field trip to North Cyprus with 3 charming ladies, each old enough to be my mother or grandmother. Our first stop was the Ruins of Salamis where I was transfixed by this parallel group of Muslim women. It was very windy and their skirts and headscarves were billowing just enough to make an interesting photo. I followed them for a ways as one of them approached the walls with a handful of wildflowers. Why had they come to leave offerings at the ancient walls?
I have no photos from March 8, 2012 and am not sure why this is. I was back in Nicosia and my guess is that I spent the day post-processing everything from my 4-day excursion to the north, as I didn’t bring my computer or have internet access on the side trip. The organizational aspect of Walking Walls was challenging because I often had to balance ‘office’ work (emails, planning, post-processing, writing) with absorbing and collecting all of the content and experiences possible within my jam-packed, low-budget itinerary. I found that making time for the office work was necessary to make me feel productive and balanced, even if it was sometimes hard to give myself permission to do so.
If the Buffer Zone is ever demilitarized, swept for mines, and opened to all (which I am predicting, without much supporting evidence, will happen in my lifetime), it’s going to be an awesome piece of wilderness to explore-hopefully one that is supported by some ecological, environmental, and commemorative initiatives like the European Green Belt project. There is, in fact, a silver lining that comes with sealing off a chunk of land to humans for a generation or two.
This picture was taken very near the BZ from the Turkish occupied north.