Thoughts on the Brussels lockdown

1) Not what you expect when spending time studying abroad, but for 4 days Brussels temporarily transformed into a ghost city with an army. Being confined to the residence wondering what was going on outside was pretty scary.

2) The whole thing was surreal. One picture caption summed it up perfectly: “journalists waiting to report on an event that they are hoping won’t happen.”

3) The media know too much or, rather, speculate too much. Minute by minute updates of what (wasn’t) happening mean you get to the end of the day, having read 50 different articles, but are none the wiser as to what is actually happening. Breaking news effectively means the same article that was published 5 minutes ago, plus a new starting sentence about the number of police now in the Grand Place. The most amusing reflection of this was when the BBC in London reported that universities in Brussels would be closed before the universities in Brussels did.

4) Hate creates fear, and fear divides communities. Knowing that an event could happen makes everyone suspicious of everyone else and you forget that the vast majority of people in Brussels are good people who just want everything to be normal.

5) There seem to have been two reactions to lockdown. One being a critical reaction: “it’s like someone just realised Belgium is a basket case, so they’re trying to turn Brussels off and on again in hope of a hard reboot.” The other being more realistic I think, summed up well in this article.

6) The strange atmosphere that was present for the first few days after lockdown has largely gone now. Although the police checked bags on the way into the Christmas market, inside everyone was chatting and smiling and generally having a good time.

7) I guess the only option is to continue on as normal but it still surprised me how normal everyone was acting in the week after the lockdown. The next day the lecturers acted like nothing had happened and some police outside the campus were standing chatting drinking coffee. I also spent a good hour of a lecture wondering why the campus was covered in horse poo before realising the police were using horses.

8) I don’t know what the answer is to the terror threat, but bombing Syria surely isn’t it. I was sad when I heard the UK had decided to join in. The supposed “terrorist attack” on the London metro yesterday is in a way not surprising after Cameron’s decision. There was a child, than upon hearing the news that UK would bomb Syria, responded: “I don’t understand why we are doing this. At school we are taught that is someone hits you with a stick, you don’t hit them back, as that will just make them angrier. You try and work out why they want to hit you with the stick in the first place, and then you take their reason away.” Should we let children run the country?!

9) A wonderfully Belgian response to the police request for social media silence… plus the response of the police to the Belgians…

And on a slightly lighter note, some more general updates:

1) 6.30am starts for 8am lectures never ever get any easier.

2) Lidl remains a refreshingly constant experience whether in Scotland, France or Belgium. For example, the lack of any kind of baskets by the doors (although I’ve noticed in France and Belgium they just fill their own bags, empty them at the checkout then refill them again), the walk through the junk food aisle to get to the vegetables, the toilet seats on special offer next to the orange juice, the lack of any staff anywhere, the choice of a queue of 5 people with baskets or two people with trolleys at the checkout (chose 5 people with baskets queue … wrong decision), the panic as they scan things through at lightning speed before you’ve even opened your bag, the judgmental stares from everyone else in the queue as you take your time gathering up your stuff after paying… home from home really.

3) I have really enjoyed our international dinner parties at both the residence and amongst our course. We have such a laugh and they always leave me thinking that it is possible for many different nationalities and religions to be friends!

4) The VUB lunches are better than ULB lunches; the ULB sandwiches are better than the VUB sandwiches.

5) I have 2 words for the Netherlands: flat and windy.

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International dinner in the residence.
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