Peace was a great help to us. In the past during the years of war we were living with constantly trembling hearts. We lived in fear. When children were sent to school, we stayed in fear. We could neither work nor set on a journey with peace of mind. We were constantly living with fear that we may have had to leave our homes at any time.

—From Sri Lanka


INTRODUCTION

Fear can be literal or figurative darkness. From people staying away from downtown Belfast for fear of bombings to Sri Lankan students having to extinguish lamps, abandon their studies, and flee their homes for the forest, war often turns out the lights. Fear can also come in the form of fire. Few incidents seemed to elicit more fear than stories of homes burning and attempts to escape.

Anthropologist Tim Allen describes North African refugees’ flight from war as a “search for cool ground.” For some, peace has brought this cool ground. The lights have turned on in downtown Belfast—and then some—as people now flock there for work and play. Yet, for many in South Africa, high crime rates and the precarity of poverty make this cool ground elusive still.

Fear is a burden not easily removed, though in its simplest form, reducing fear is what peace building is. Long after the fighting stops, the legacy remains. Several Northern Irish respondents describe an initial fear of crossing the border into the Republic. Yet this fear dissipates (for some but not all) with evidence of increased security; trust requires risk, for the road is made by walking. For some in Sri Lanka, and most notably in South Africa, however, violence, crime, and fear remain a mainstay of daily life.


1) He was prepared. He had his plot bought and everything, which I didn’t know about until I was about to go and look for one. And they said that he had it bought and all. He knew it was coming. You know we had both sensed. You know those things.

Q: You said his friends had already died?

A: Yes, and he said, “I am next.” I mean you carry a gun all the time, constantly. They knew everything about you. They knew where you lived. They knew what time you picked the children up, you collected them, and all the rest of it. They knew the place where you changed over hands for lunchtime and nighttime; they knew all that. You were just constantly looking behind your back.

—From Northern Ireland

 


2) After the attack, the people were afraid of sleeping in the houses. So we took all of them into the forest and kept them in three guarded places until their fears ceased. Until the present government came to power, my group slept in the forest. It was only after peace that our fears and doubts ceased.

—From Sri Lanka

 

 

When we go to the tank for bathing, twenty to thirty people bathe together out of fear. We used to hide behind the tank bund and bathe for fear that the LTTE would shoot us. Some did not bathe there, but went to the lower section of the tank plain for fear that if they bathed near the tank bund there would be no place to run in case of an attack, except right into the middle of the tank where we would be easy victims.

—From Sri Lanka

 


3) Sometimes we had to sleep in the bushes. Because we were scared when we slept in the houses that something was going to happen. That we run away all the time. And when I think about this time and that time, I don’t see any difference.

—From Sri Lanka

 


4) We feel insecure in the process of compromise and we are frightened of the process and it keeps on coming to us. When we are alone we are frightened, thinking, who will intrude into our house and who will forcefully come to our house?

If our villagers come we can identify [them] but now there are several people who are working in our village, so we are terrified. The fear is within us. If we happen to meet Sinhalese, we have this fear and we are unable to accept them as our fellowmen.

—From Sri Lanka

 


5) I was angry then, but as I stayed there I started to understand these things: I can’t hate a white person because that man is indoctrinated. He is full of fear, fear of something we don’t even know. There was also what they called the “swart gevaar,” that’s what they called it in Afrikaans, it was the fear that “once the Blacks take over, they will kill us,” that was the expectation, so they wanted to fight till the last person.

—From South Africa

 


6) My daughter is called [Siobhán]. And I actually remember being in a shop years ago when she was young. And I was actually in a shop on the Shankill Road. And this woman said, “Hello, and what is your name?” And I nearly died. The blood drained from me. And [Cathleen] and [Seamus], also Irish names. And she said, “[Siobhán].” And this woman just turned ‘round and said, “That’s a lovely name.” It didn’t flinch on her. But it was just the reaction I had. And it surprised me…. That was fear. And I have been through the explosion and everything then and I just thought, Oh my God. They are going to realise that we are Catholics.

—From Northern Ireland

 

I have had a lady whose son was going to be the largest human bomb, and I have had several journalists, politicians, high profile people to her house, and she has never had any problem. I took a man this year to her house and she broke down. And she has told the story to me maybe ten to fifteen times with no sign of emotion, and this year she broke down. So it is always there under the surface.

—From Northern Ireland

 


7) I took quite a few drives across the border at crossing points.

Q: So what was that emotion you had then?

A: It was—“this is dangerous.” It was associated with all your life not being allowed somewhere. If you were not allowed to cross the road or whatever, you were not allowed into that field or not allowed to do this and that. Then all of a sudden you are allowed to go in and have a look around that field. That was the way I would have described the feeling. It wasn’t relief. I don’t think relief, probably partly relief.

Q: I was thinking that maybe a different time had started and you could actually cross?

A: No, it took time. But I remember crossing for the first time in the car and it was like – I shouldn’t be doing this. And then going through and saying – well I done it now and I am still living. But there was still then that fear in the back of your mind.

—From Northern Ireland

 

The first day that I went across the border after I got out of the UDR, the border had changed at that stage. Because it used to be all the roads were blocked; there was only a certain number of roads open. We used to lie at the border crossing points when we were on patrols and guard them while they were blocking them. And then you would go away and the community would come and open the road and the next weekend you would be back and you would be blocking the road again. And that was part of the activities or the work that you were doing.

But the first day that I drove across the border, I remember the feeling. There was this road and it was like new tarmac that they had put down and a new fence. Just right at the border where the road had been closed. They had filled it in and made it. And you were sort of driving along and you were thinking, you know, this is different. It was like coming up to a big glass wall, you could see the scenery and then—bang—you were through and on the other side. And then you sort of look ‘round and say to yourself, it looks the same, you know. But it would have been like going through a glass wall, the feeling.

—From Northern Ireland

 


8) During the war, even if we ate and drank, those things did not properly digest. We lived in fear whether there would be a terrorist attack that night. We were vigilant about any outsider. That’s how we lived at that time. If a vehicle came, we were vigilant. Really speaking, two people came to buy millet. Later we came to know that they were spies…we looked for them and they were gone. At night, in spite of the guard, we were afraid. Today that situation is no more. Whether we eat or drink, we are happy. We have no fear for the night.

—From Sri Lanka

 


9) We are all prisoners in this country…. When you drive you are not safe; in your own house you are not safe. If you work you are lucky in this country during these years. And even in that work your days are numbered. There is nothing that you enjoy because of the new South Africa.

—From South Africa

 


10) We are living without the fear of shelling and bombing, but there are other threats like looting, murder, kidnapping, breaking houses, stealing, et cetera. Safety of an individual is threatened. So it is another form of threat to society.

—From Sri Lanka

 


11) There was a darkness, like physically there was darkness; if you went into Belfast you could see the difference.

And I don’t think we could ever slip back. I don’t think we have the stomach for it. And as I say, all those groups that don’t want to be dragged forward are really being isolated.

So the fear has gone. And if you are not living in constant fear, you can achieve so much, whereas you couldn’t have ever achieved that. So this is a necessary step. But I think it will be a long journey.

—From Northern Ireland