Sitting in front of the wall, the girl on the left is known to friends and family as Nato. She is named after the military alliance that provided the deadly fireworks ensemble which celebrated her birth in 1999.
Those bombs severed a certain continuity with the past, as surely as the umbilical cord between her and her mother was severed. Yet in defiance of the major societal changes that shook her parents’ generation, the DNA of conflict – of inequality and hatred – has hardly become recessive.
Behind the girls stands one of many walls of the past – the wall of authoritarian rule and warfare. In front of the girls, and on all sides, many other walls remain. The walls of ethnicity and race, religion, sex, of people entomologised into ‘peoples’ and nations. Walls divide and isolate us from greater human interaction. They incubate ignorance and hatred, discrimination and violence. Ultimately, walls blind us. They blind us to the humanity of those who live on the other side.
Should one squint through the cracks to decipher human forms, the walls obscure our view of those shapes as people worthy of equal lives. What does it matter if we look into a boy’s eyes to see trepidation, anguish and hope, if those emotions belong to someone different – something we can never share empathy nor the throes of existence with. He – it – is just that, some thing. Between us are walls of wealth, of poverty, of distance. Walls of absolutes. Pay him lip service, and he will become an ornamental feather upon your conscience. Relax your eyes, and he will merge into the squalid, repulsive walls that surround him. Close your eyes to put up another wall and he will disappear. Disappear forever.
No walls are permanent. All are ugly. Most are holograms – substanceless projections of our own fears. To confront them is to shake their foundations, to dismantle them brick by brick, and to walk through the blinding light to meet fellow humanity, struggling just as we struggle, breathing just as we breathe.
To know why these barriers must fall, and to know how to summon the courage to walk through to the other side, one cannot stare down into prophecy at the bottom of our cups. Instead, we must gaze deep into one another – for in those eyes beyond the wall, reflected you will see your own.
Adapted from the publication in When I Fall Silent, Silent Falls the World