Last night (last Saturday) I get a text message from my flat sitter about the ‘
bombers’. Who? I’d been off line for 36
hours so I hadn’t heard anything about this. I ask in the local café and am
told that there were seven suicide bombers, 129 dead and many more injured. I’m mortified.
Only two days ago (on Thursday 11/11) the French authorities imposed month-long border controls, ostensibly to prevent trouble-makers from disrupting COP21 - but that’s still two weeks away! The residents of Hendaye and Irun, who are used to doing regular commutes across the river border for work, school, love or (for the French) cheap fuel, fags and liquor, were not happy. I thought to myself that something doesn't add up here. I thought maybe it is as a disguised attempt to keep the Syrian refugees at bay (Sweden, the most tolerant of EU nations, also 'closed' its land borders the same day). But it was something deeper: much deeper. The French authorities clearly knew something was afoot. They just didn’t know what.
As the details unravelled I became increasingly personally engaged in the horror. One of the suicide bombers and - it turns out later - possibly two of his accomplices - lives/lived in my neighbourhood - almost opposite my apartment. It takes several days for the weight of this to sink in.
For a couple of years I have felt a distinct sense of mal á l‘aise in my neighbourhood. I’d put it down to me suffering from the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome, the Mathelet plan – which had made my flat virtually uninhabitable in summer months with flights going over my apartment from 0600 to 2300 every five minutes; the vous m'avez entendu? boys on their quad bikes (supposedly illegal in Belgium) circulating the neighbourhood every five minutes; Brussels’ seemingly interminable grey skies and the lack of swimming pools that are actually open.
Teun Voetenn's eloquent article sums up most of my experiences of living in Molenbeek; the lack of opportunities to socialise, the inability to buy a newspaper (or alcohol) in my locale. The very reasons I moved to Brussels, to lead a civilised , French lifestyle
After several days reflection I realised that my discomfort with Molenbeek might have deeper causes, of having – for several years - been in the immediate proximity of angry young Muslim men planning acts of terrorism, of indiscriminate mass murder. The lesson learnt is that I should listen to my heart a bit more and not try to rationalise away my feelings about the ‘vibe’ of a place.