Normally, I don´t write about politics or terror or things that go on in the world. It´s not like I´m not listening or paying attention – I do. I´m actually watching the news every day, and not just German news. So of course I know what has happened in Paris and what happens in Brussels.
Last week we were on a one-week class trip to London, Brussels and Bruges. In London we had to deal with the “normal” problems such as drunk students, fights, lost items and lost students who had problems trying to figure out the London bus system. On Tuesday, we left for Brussels. We took the ferry from Dover to Dunkerque (France). On the ferry, one of our students alarmed us to the BBC news that were shown in the cafeteria area.
We were shocked.
While on a ship out on sea without any cell phone reception at all and no chance to check the internet for more information, we were left with the bits and pieces of news that were presented on BBC news. And we had to make a decision.
This two-hour ferry ride was unnerving. It´s never easy to calm down or to make a decision when you have to remember that it´s not just your life you might endanger, but the lives of 77 students and four fellow colleagues.
Upon arriving in France, we called the hostel, the police and the German embassy in Brussels to figure out if it was safe to go there. They all told us that it would be okay and that there was no imminent danger. The raid had taken place in Forest, a Brussels district very close to where our hostel was, in fact, only 4 km away. Reassured by the police and the German embassy, we made the decision to actually go to Brussels.
Initially I voted against going to Brussels. I wanted to go back home. This was my first class trip and I felt uncomfortable with the decision of possibly endangering my students to a threat I couldn´t even begin to understand. I thought I wouldn´t be able to shoulder the responsibility that came with the decision.
Apparently, the area in Forest had been closed off and there was no chance for anyone to escape, but I had this feeling. I don´t have this feeling often, but in that moment I had this feeling and I knew it wasn´t a good idea to go to Molenbeek, a socially troubled disctrict of Brussels (but I´m just quoting the media here). So I insisted on a curfew for all our students and to do the city walk in our bus and not on foot.
Nothing happened while we were in Brussels. I still had that feeling.
The kids complained about the curfew, but enjoyed the bus city tour. We left for Bruges Thursday morning and it was a beautiful day. We got back home Friday morning and it was a nice morning. I went to bed on Friday morning (I can´t sleep very well while traveling in a bus. Trains, no problem, but buses? Nope.).
When I woke, I heard the news about the shooting and the capture of the Paris attack suspect.
This is what shocked me the most:
It´s the walking distance from our hostel to where the suspect had been captured. Somehow, he had managed to escape the closed off area in Forest and had hid in Molenbeek, which is where he is from.
There was a two-day window in which nothing happened. We were there in that exact time frame. We arrived after the first shooting and left before the second one.
We were incredibly lucky.
Today, I was woken up by the news of the attacks on the Brussels airport and metro stations. Facebook and other social media are swamped with posts saying that people should pray for Brussels and condemning terrorism by showing the Manneken Pis like this
or showing solidarity.
But I honestly think that raising awareness by choosing a Belgian flag theme for your profile pic on Facebook is not enough.
I don´t understand what is going on. I don´t understand how some people can do this to others. I don´t understand how one can be so misguided as to think that killing innocent people is the way to make a statement. I think it´s cowardly. I think that people who use weapons and bombs are cowards, because they are not smart enough to use their words.
This is Europe. This is my home.
And maybe this is just raising awareness. Maybe this is not enough. But it is where I start.