John McCullagh October 12, 2005
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It was now a few days before the end of the month and an increasing amount of vehicles were arriving in the town from over the border. Strangely enough not only had they household equipment but it looked like they had everything on board from roofing sheets to the kitchen sink.


There was no doubt that these people, like the ones I met on the road a few days ago, knew something, but their general attitude made them utterly unapproachable. Furthermore, the disheveled militias that I had seen earlier at the monastery had now swelled their ranks and were dressed in military fatigues, but this time clutching rifles that fired bullets. ‘Where did these come from?’ I wondered to myself. The 30th was just around the corner and these groups were clearly preparing for something.

On the day of the vote I tuned into an English speaking station on the radio. All the news was focused on what was happening over the border. It seemed that more people than had been anticipated had turned out for the ballot, and just like they do in all countries, the radio commentators and panels of know-alls were trying to predict the outcome. There was no sign of the militias and the amount of traffic coming from the direction of the frontier was increasing. It now seemed as if it was coming in waves every few hours.

Next day the town was overflowing with various modes of transport filled with people of all ages making their way to who-knows-where. After a time it had eased off so I decided to go to one of the small restaurants nearby. It was fairly empty considering the traffic movements and as usual I chatted with the owners whom I had known for a long time. They were saying that some of the people passing through had told them that some serious events were about to unfold on the other side and they were blaming westerners for it all. It was now clear where the militia had disappeared and where had the military gone?

The next few days continued more or less the same and then when the results of the ballot were declared all hell broke loose. Radio broadcasts were reporting serious acts of violence at different locations across the country. It was now clear that quite a few people knew in advance what was going to happen and had got out before it exploded. The meeting of military minds in the hotel had planned well in advance and obviously informed certain groups of people what was going to develop should the vote go against them.

Just as I had done a few nights earlier I returned to the same restaurant for a few beers. Again it was fairly quiet, but about 20 minutes later two vehicles pulled up and the occupants entered the place. They looked like police or paramilitary types accompanied by their wives and friends. They were clearly very aggravated to see me, a westerner, and the women especially so. ‘Shoot him’, they kept saying over and over to their male companions. By now I was in fear of my life as they were carrying small fire-arms and I thought that this was it. I had nothing to do with what had gone on a matter of a few kilometres away on the other side of the divided island and yet in my mind I felt I was about to become a statistic.

What could I do? If I made a run for it they would have a clear excuse to shoot me for what ever reason and my odds of escaping were nil as the street outside was full of similar individuals. Then suddenly as if by divine intervention, I stood up and calmly walked over to the proprietor and asked for another bottle of beer in the native language. Fear of a sudden and violent death had given way to a peaceful easy feeling. My nervousness had completely gone and it felt like I was walking on air. I looked directly at those who had been screaming about shooting me and sat back down like I had not a worry in the world.

They were taken aback, and now they knew that I understood exactly what they had been saying. For some reason they seemed to be overcome by the same peaceful air that had taken over me and we stared at each other for some minutes. A little later they finished their meal and walked out past me, everyone gawping in my direction and I returned the gaze to each and every one of them without exception. There was no way I was taking my eyes off any of them.

But the drama was not yet over as they were now in the semi-darkness outside and I thought any second now a bullet will come through the window. It never happened and as they drove off I stood up, thanked my hosts for their hospitality and left. I can never explain that experience and what happened that night, but one thing I am sure of, it was not bravery, probably more like accepting the inevitable.

I was extremely lucky that this ‘inevitable’ never happened.

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