I was living in Ghent in March of 2016 when terror struck Belgium in the Brussels attack. Living in a random place in the world, but Ghent to Belgium is not far. I was living with a host family when the Brussels bombings shook the world.
We hear about terrorism and our hearts always break for victims and their families. Events such as the bombings that took place in Brussels, Belgium in the month of March 2016 have become all-too-common.
An occurrence that happens far too often for comfort
Tragedies bring the world together for a few days or weeks, but soon, they’re forgotten about and no longer talked about. The unfortunate part is that families and friends of the victims affected by these senseless Brussels bombings can’t just move on. Some lose mothers and fathers, sister and brothers, best friends and even acquaintances.
To the rest of us, a terrorist attack becomes nothing more than a death toll on our screens. That’s very harsh, but it’s the sad reality of the world we live in. I must admit that I grieve with the victims of every senseless attack, but I never do anything to support them. The truth of the matter is that a”RIP to the victims I am praying for you” Facebook post is meaningless and most of the time just a call for attention to ourselves.
The world is not about to change. This is the reality we live in and it will only get worse with the passing time. It’s time we reconsider what we can do to help bring peace on Earth.
Although I cannot relate to the pain of losing a loved one in such an attack, I can relate to the tense feeling one gets living in the area of a terrorist attack the day it happened. That’s where I was on March 22, 2016, when terrorists bombed Brussels’ airport and surrounding metro stations. The Brussels attack was a sad day for everyone around the world, but here’s how the day went in Belgium. . .
I was living in Ghent, Belgium, which is about a twenty-five-minute train ride away from the heart of Brussels. It was a wacky day. I woke up and first heard news of the explosions over the internet from a friend thousands of miles away in the United States. Immediately, I searched the internet for details of the explosions. I was the first one that alerted my host family at breakfast. They had a daughter working in Brussels that morning.
“Oh, no. Did you hear the news in Brussels?” I asked.
“No, what do you mean?” The mother of my host family asked as she fumbled for the television remote control to turn on the news.
I showed her the news from Google on my laptop. Immediately she took the computer from my lap and concern took over her facial expression. She sat silently, jaw dropped, as she scrolled through the news on screen.
“Is Lisa there yet?” I asked the question I know everyone was thinking. Lisa was the daughter of my host family.
More silence filled the room as now everyone was on their phone or computer looking at the same news. There wasn’t much out about the attack yet. It had just happened thirty minutes prior to this moment.
It was a sad morning of mourning. Anxiety was running high as I tried to help out my host family in whatever ways I could. More of my family and friends from back home in the United States had contacted me, knowing that I was only minutes away from Brussels, making sure I was safe.
As the afternoon grew old and we still hadn’t heard from Lisa, frustration and tension was building in the house. I knew I should give the family its space, so I went for a ride through Ghent on my bike.
Sirens were blaring all afternoon, even in Ghent, as Brussels hospitals filled up and victims had to be brought to Ghent as Ghent to Brussels was a very short trip. I had heard them all morning, but it was even eerier outside. The streets were empty. Everyone was inside. No one felt safe as there were already two Brussels bombings in the nearby area and the terrorists were still at large. It had a feeling eerily similar to the morning of September 11, 2001 in the U.S.
I returned to the home of my host family in the early evening. Luckily, the family had finally been able to reach their daughter. However, many families still couldn’t get ahold of loved ones. Phone networks were jammed until the next day.
Brussels Attack: A time of uncertainty
Everyone was still uncertain of whom committed the Brussels bombings, but there were strong suspicions it was to revenge the capture of one of the Paris attackers just three days earlier. There was panic. Throughout the day, as we learned more, we learned the whole city was shut down. No one was allowed in or out of the capital city. Public transportation was not in operation. I had friends from Ghent who were trapped at work in Brussels until the late evening – as was Lisa.
When Lisa finally returned home, it was around 10 o’clock at night. I heard horror stories of what she had heard and experienced. There’s a certain realness of a situation you gain from being near it.
Ironically, Lisa was working on the set of a new TV series based on terrorism in Brussels. That show was immediately canceled after this day.
“I was at the same metro station that had exploded not but thirty minutes prior to the attack,” Lisa was telling my host family who were gracious enough to speak in English in this kind of moment just so I could hear about it.
“A lot of my co-workers didn’t even make it to work yet before the entire city was on lockdown. I couldn’t leave the office for 13 hours,” she told us, “We had to literally ration out the food we had in the office for two meals each.”
“Luckily, one of my co-workers was also heading back to Ghent tonight to be with family,” Lisa said, “I didn’t want to ride public transportation today and I really didn’t want to spend a night in Brussels.”
A capital city shut down
They still weren’t allowing cars to enter the city even when she left at night. Public Transportation in Brussels was completely shut down until about 6 p.m.. that evening.
It was a day that I wish no one ever had to live through, but I viewed it as very important to me so that I can truly see the realness of acts of terror like these. I was able to see the emotion from those affected that day. I was able to feel the anger of the unfairness. And, most importantly, I was able to remain in touch with the tragedy much more than a Facebook post dedicated to those affected.
Brussels was hit that day. It was an ugly, grim day. Terror won. Terror scared us for that day. But days later, the perpetrators were caught. I would say justice won, but does anyone really win when there are senseless deaths involved?
Brussels Attack: Lucky to be alive
I was in the same metro station that was hit not even a few days before the horror struck. It could have been me. I consider myself fortunate to be able to experience an event like that from a safe distance, and my thoughts are with anyone still being affected by that day on a daily basis.
My plan was to leave Belgium only two mornings after the Brussels bombings. I had to ride right through Brussels’ main train station. Admittedly, I was terrified and thought about changing my itinerary. It was two days after, but the men responsible for the bloodshed were still at large and the city was still shaken.
I stayed strong and went on with my normal itinerary. When I arrived at Brussels’ main station, fear was still running high. Some didn’t show it on their faces, but you could feel that everyone was on edge.
Security was high – locals had warned me to leave earlier than normal to catch my train in Brussels so I could give myself ample time to wait on the heightened security precautions.
It turns out, I waited in the security line to enter the station for over an hour. Policemen checked every man’s bag and even women and children would occasionally be searched.
Brussels Attack: Bomb threat in Brussels
Not ten minutes after departing from Brussels main station, a man on the intercom of my train made an announcement in French. I wasn’t sure what he said; there was no English translation.
Shortly after, there was a crowd shuffling to the back of the train where I was sitting. As I watched people keep coming down the aisle, I started wondering what the reason was.
“Excuse me, is there a reason everyone is coming back here?” I asked a passenger who was walking the aisle to the back of the train.
The sweet lady looked at me and said, “Oh, you must be so scared (I wasn’t until she said that)! There is a mysterious black bag that was left on the other end of the train. They asked us to move to the back of the train.”
I was on the back end of the train, but this news spooked me out and I decided to move even further back. I was told that the train would be evacuated at the next station so that the bomb squad could investigate.
Sure enough, when we arrived in the nearby college town of Leuven, the train along with the entire station was evacuated. Everyone in the station gathered in the nearby square outside the station.
Nobody showed visible fear or concern. The entire station was evacuated, so theoretically, everyone was safe from danger. We sat outside the main station in Leuven for an hour before officials deemed it a false alarm. Nobody was upset; better safe than sorry in times like these.
I spent the next 7 hours adjusting my route because of train delays and cancellations caused by this evacuation. What was supposed to be a three-hour, one-train route to Dusseldorf turned into an 11-hour, seven train journey.
Understanding the realness of the Brussels bombings
There was no way I could be aggravated by this after the horror many suffered in the same place just two days prior. I was happy to be alive – if just a tad bit late.
If after reading this, you know of a way I can use my platform to help victims of senseless acts of violence such as the one in Brussels, please do not hesitate to reach me through email or social media!