Inside Brussels’ lockdown: a perspective from zinnekes
As you may know (or will in just a moment), I am Belgian, born and raised in Brussels. My dearest friends and my family live in Brussels and this city is my home. We all got in shock after the horrible and disgusting attacks in Paris. But then, my city and country got under threat and the world’s attention concentrated on a small part of town: Molenbeek.
In this article, I want to share some of my fellow zinnekes (aka an inhabitant of Brussels) perspective on the recent events.
Vanessa is 30 and has been living in Molenbeek for the past three years. It is a weird area, mixing locals and immigrants, with lovely houses and rough places. Vanessa didn’t witness much during the searches conducted by the police and the army. But felt, straight after Paris’ attacks, a change in the city’s atmosphere. Soon after the events, she saw two heavily armed policemen guarding her carriage in the metro and she thought: “If something happens, they are going to intervene and contain the incident. But, if I move, if I make a mistake, I could get shot.” Even though the presence of the army and the police was somewhat reassuring, it was also making the threat very real and unavoidable.
Vanessa also recalls that first weekend where the authorities advised citizens to stay indoors, away from windows and avoid public gatherings. She got scared for her husband and her family and made sure none of them used public transports for a whole week.
Now, the threat level has been levelled down to 3 instead of 4. “I don’t watch the news anymore. It was turning into an obsession and was making me very anxious. The army and the police are still patrolling the streets and there is still fear hanging above us like a big dark cloud.” Vanessa says.
What about the future, then? This zinneke is not very hopeful: “We know it’s only the beginning. I’m sure it’s not over. But life has to go on.”
Emilie, a mum of two and also living in Brussels, is staying positive. “I have to. I hope it’s going to evolve positively because I want my children to grow up in a safe and peaceful world.”
How does Emilie talk to her little ones about the attacks and the army in the streets? “Nathan is a four year old little boy who is ignorant of violence. Elise is only one and not aware of what is going on.” When Nathan asks questions to his mother, she talks about mean people and insists that her, his father, the policemen and the army are all here to keep him safe and sound.
The schools and nurseries have tried their best to keep things running normally for the children. But, the authorities’ guidelines made it difficult: schools were closed for two days, the army was patrolling the surroundings, kids couldn’t go outside and all gatherings were completely forbidden.
Emilie says that, even though she feels calm about the situation and safe in the streets, she will be avoiding big crowds, outdoor Christmas markets, concerts and social activities.
Now living on the Gold Coast, all the way down in Australia, Zoe was hit hard by the recent events. She used to live in Paris, near Place d’Italie, just about 20 minutes from Le Bataclan. She was playing in a roller derby team and often said they were all like a big family. So, when she heard that one of the victims was a roller derby player, her heart sank. She didn’t know her personally, but a lot of her friends did. Suddenly, it was even more real.
She felt wrong to be this far from Paris, a city that was hers for 5 years, from her friends, that roller derby family that lost one of theirs. She told me: “I wish I was there, I wish I could hug them and cry with them and just be there.”
Also from Brussels, Zoe felt just as worried for her zinnekes. We often talked about how mad this all mess was; we spent hours trying to assess and comprehend what was happening. I asked her if she felt safer, being that far away from it all: “I live in a quiet part of Australia so, I am tempted to say I feel safe. But then, a year ago, there was this guy who took hostages in a café. So, I guess no one is truly safe.”
Finally, I wanted to give my very own feelings about the whole situation. What happened in Paris hit me hard. Because my best friend used to live not far away from that neighbourhood, because those people were my age and were doing all the things I could have been doing on a Friday night. I stayed indoors for a few days, avoiding the world, avoiding any sort of risk and binge watching the news.
Then, the attacks got linked to Brussels and the threat level was raised to 4. I started feeling completely useless and was willing to go back home, go back to my family, go back to my friends. I couldn’t. And my worry shifted: I wasn’t scared for myself anymore; I was scared for my people back in Brussels. For a week, I called my parents every single day. We ran out of things to say, in the end, but I needed to hear that they were ok, that everyone was calm and collected, that the authorities were super effective at keeping them all safe.
I got really proud when Belgians started tweeting pictures of cats to protect the police’s investigations. It was silly but funny, positive and typically us.
Now, I can’t wait for my family to join me for Christmas. I want them here where I feel I can protect them or, at least, keep a close eye on them! I am already planning a trip to Brussels in January, eager to squeeze and hug my friends, eager to take some time out of this madness to laugh, talk rubbish and be together… Because, no matter how hard they will hit us, we will still be merry, a bit crazy and full of weird jsokes. We will still be zinnekes
(This post was previously published on missdiversit.blogspot.com on the 4th of December 2015.)