(I started writing this post on Tuesday evening but couldn't finish and then had to review due to current news)
My phone rings. It's Jan
J: "In case you've heard already the news, I'm ok, I am in the office."
G: "What, Huh? What do you mean? Where are you?"
J: "In the office in Diegem. I thought you would have read it already on Twitter - knowing you- so I figured I'd call you. There would have been an explosion or something going on in the airport. But anyway, I already arrived in the office and I have meetings here. I just hope that the Americans that are coming over for the meeting come through."
G: "Oh I have not heard anything yet, I have not opened my twitter yet in the last half hour, I was busy with the children. So what's up...oh wait I see...huh an explosion. Geez, hopefully not too bad."
J: "Ok, I have to go, I'll call you later when I come home ok?"
With a 3 week old baby in my arms and a toddler who had been home all week with fever, I turn on the tv where there were special news editions starting. There wasn't much to see except for people running outside the airport building and people evacuated in the middle of the tarmac amidst the planes.
"Ooooh planes, planes, mommy look planes", Kabouter jumps up and down excitedly, pointing to the tv screen. "Yes planes", I mumbled while trying to grasp what was going on. This didn't look like just some sort of accident. There were reports of 2 explosions.
I start sending text messages:
- to my parents and sister to tell them Jan, the children and I are all in a safe place
- to a colleague whose husband works at the airport. I receive instantly that he's safe but that "it's really really bad"
- to other people that are frequently passing through the national airport.
The breaking news band below the screen starts mentioning something in the metro in Brussels. I figure everyone is paranoid and panicking now and I don't value the 'speculations' rolling in too much.
I inform the cleaning lady who is vacuuming upstairs and she panics because her relatives from Maroc are supposed to fly in today and her daughter is at university in Brussels. She does not understand the news so I try to translate. In the mean time it's clear that Brussels is in a lockdown and her daughter and Jan I assume will not be coming home quite soon.
After 90 minutes, I turn off the tv. The images only show police on the street, the news is fragmented and confused. I don't need to know on repeat that there's two bombs exploded in the airport departure terminal and 1 on the metro. I'll hear surely later on the chase on the terrorists, the condolences from politicians worldwide, the minutes of silence and remembrance images, etc... TV goes on silence, radio goes on silence and I withdraw myself on the bed in the bedroom with my 2 sons that I hug and kiss very much. For the first time that week I feel gratefull that Kabouter is ill home with me. It feels right to have them both in my arms right now. We tickle, we laugh, we play on the ipad, we nap, ...and I was irritated because the nurse didn't show up for the planned check-up visit for Beertje due to terror alert 4 in Belgium. I look outside and there is a clear blue sky and the sun is shining. I try to ignore the many sirens that seem to race through Leuven as well. I try to push away the emptiness that I feel, the defeat.
For days I avoid all news editions. My children are my only priority.
In the morning I hesitate whether I'd follow all the live news on the remembrance services for the victims of last year's terror attacks. Would I watch the images I had avoided a year ago? During breakfast I listen for a few moments to the speeches at the airport but then the morning rush demands me to move on. I texted on FB that 22/3/2016 had been a surreal day.
A few hours later I drive by the airport on the highway and I see the passing planes in the blue sky. It feels so good to see the planes flying again after all that had happened. While driving by I hear the live music and poetry read out at the ongoing service in the Brussels city center and my breath stoked. It was very moving.
A year ago, terror had arrived in my backyard. Bombs exploded at 2kms from Jan in the office...in the airport terminal where he crossed multiple times a week. It was frighteningly close and I hoped that none of my acquaintances would be affected. I imagined in sorrow the impact of the victim's families. That pain was so much more tangible when hearing the voices of the victim's (relatives) today.
A year ago I wasn't surprised by the events. Somehow the terror attack had been anticipated. It was bound to happen one day. It was the terror attacks in Nov 2015 that had shocked me a lot...those had changed my world vision. Those had frightened me and left me sleepless for a while. They made me wonder in what world I'd deliver my new baby, whether they'd have to grow up in fear?
While Europe had had terror in its past frequently (most terror deaths happened in the 70ies and 80ies with IRA, Lockerby, ETA, CCC, GIA, ...), the earlier attacks from IS seemed to target people that would not affect me : Jews, police enforcement, journalists , ... They were horrendous but didn't make me feel more unsafe as individual. In nov 2015 it was clear IS terrorists targeted all of us: if we went to a concert, if we went to see some football, if we had a nice drink with friends on a terrace...We were their targets wherever and whenever. And apparently Belgium had been raising terrorists among our midsts. So 22/3 did not come as a true surprise. And that in fact is the most shocking fact to 22/3/2016...that terror is anticipated in our lives.
I liked the message from our King : let's be tender for each other.
Just when I get into the car I see some push messages on my phone about a shooting incident at Westminster and the parliament being in lockdown. During the long drive home I cannot escape the incoming news and I'm cursing out loud in my car. No, not again, no more victims, once again. Not on the bridge where I had been walking with my family a month ago several times a day. It felt so close again. I cursed.
The journalist commented on the calm approach from the police & first aid in London, that an upcoming terror attack had been anticipated.
News of remembrance services mingled with news of new victims...Not only 22/3/2016 had been a surreal day. 22/3/2017 had become surreal as well.
Let's be tender for each other.