Tuesday September 11, 2001: beautiful day, blue sky…
In class, I get a text from my aunt living in New York.

Tuesday March 22, 2016: beautiful day, blue sky…
While eating breakfast, I get a notification from a news app.

On days like these you always remember where you were and what you did.
Here’s my story as a normal citizen, a teacher, an hour away from Brussels.

7:55 — A relaxed day ahead

It’s 7:55. I’m woken by the sun shining through my curtains. I look outside, pinching my eyes, looking up: blue sky. I’m expecting a relaxed day today. I have to monitor a group of students that are making their exam at 10:30. Afterwards I’m hoping to finally make some videos for school (I tried out Quizlet Live and filmed my students). The past four days I haven’t done anything else but correcting loads of exams and overdue tasks.

8:15 — Breaking news

With sleepy eyes, I walk to the kitchen, get the Nutella out of the cupboard, take a knife and two sheets of kitchen paper. As part of my daily r
outine, I watch the rerun of last nights “late news” on Eén (nope, we don’t have morning shows in Belgium -_-).

Suddenly, at 8:15 I get a notification from the “deredactie” news app on my phone: “Explosions at the airport of Zaventem”. I immediately grab the remote control and switch to CNN, right in time to see the “Breaking News” tune, followed by “Explosions heard at Brussels Airport” appearing on the screen. I don’t know why, but I’m not thinking of a terrorist attack.

Maybe it’s a gas explosion? It’s still too early to know. breakingnews

8:34 — The first footage

On my phone, I’m actively searching for more information. Then, I see the very first footage of what happened. This made me realize that something very serious was going on:

While CNN is trying to find out more on what’s going on, they’re talking about something else, for the last time. Twitter is becoming more and more active. Loads of tweets with photos and video coming in… Brigit van Mol (VTM News) tweets: “The fire brigade considers this as an attack. #BrusselsAirport”. On Facebook, I’m posting two screenshots that I took from the Twitter app (see image on the right).

screenshots

Note: the post above is an edited post (I added the metro-part at 9:15).

On Periscope, people are broadcasting images live from inside the airport. Thanks to Laurent Giaccio, I can follow the evacuation of terminal A.

I’m reading and watching all of this on my phone while the TV is on. I’m changing from CNN to NPO1 (Dutch TV), N-TV (German), BBC World… For now, still no news on our own Belgian channels. Eén (VRT) is still doing the rerun of the late news, while VTM just started with home shopping.

At 9:00, Eén “improvises” a live news broadcast. I’m calling it “improvising” because there’s no news studio. Instead, I see news reporter Saskia De Schutter at the airport bringing the news while she’s holding her cellphone to her ear. At the top of the screen, there’s “Attack Zaventem”.
Although our own news is quite late with this breaking news story, they will bring excellent news throughout the day. Also Saskia De Schutter will be standing at the airport the whole day.

eenbreakingnews

At 9:09, Goedele Wachters, VRT news anchor, tweets:
“Our team is shooting unthinkable live footage at the airport.”

At 9:10, Floris Van Cauwelaert posts the following photo from inside a Brussels metro carriage. Everyone’s staring at their phones. I can imagine how silent it must be…

9:15 — Astonishment

I hurry to the bathroom, as I have to leave for work soon. I turn on the radio and switch to a channel where they’re covering the attack. On 100.1 FM I can listen to “Radio 1 on Radio 2”. I’m grabbing my toothbrush, just when I hear that there’s also an explosion between the metro stations Maalbeek and Schuman. At that moment I walk back to the living room saying “Sh*t, something also happened at the metro! This is really getting worse”. On Twitter I’m looking for more about it and I found it:

10:00 — In the supermarket

I grab my bike and ride straight to the local supermarket where I buy my lunch. With the FM radio app on my phone, I continue listening to Radio 1 where they continue covering the attacks, intervalled by select music. (I don’t remember which music exactly, but the lyrics were very meaningful at that moment.) At 10:00, I’m at the cash register. The whole supermarket is listening to the news, silently. After paying, I get back on my bike and continue listening to the news.

On the way to school, I get a notification on my smartwatch. It’s an SMS from a colleague who has a daughter at school who is making her exam at the classroom where I’ll have to monitor in a few minutes. My colleague is asking me to tell her daughter that she won’t have to take the train home because the trains are having delays due to the attacks.

10:15 — In the teachers lounge

When entering the teachers lounge, I go straight to one of the desktop computers and set up the livestream of the news coverage by deredactie.be (VRT). Colleagues gather around the screen and can’t believe what they’re seeing.

10:20 — Exam monitoring

Students are concentrated on their exam since 8:20. While I’m walking around, I realize that these students aren’t aware of what’s happening in Brussels.
In the mean time, I’m thinking how to tell the student that she won’t have to take the train. It looks like she’s done, but maybe she’s taking a break… Yup, 5 minutes before the first deadline, she reopens her math exam.

At 11:15, the bell rings, and the students who are done, give in their exams. I tell the girl carefully: “There have been attacks in Brussels and because there are problems with the trains, you won’t have to go to the station. Your mom will be picking you up”. She kept on smiling, thanked me for telling her and went outside.

12:15 — Facebookmarkedsafe

On Facebook I’m getting messages from my non-Belgian friends, asking me if I’m okay. That’s why I marked myself ‘safe’ on Facebook.
Facebook activated this at 10 o’clock and several friends who really were in Brussels, have marked themselves safe as well. Every time someone does that, I get a notification.

An afternoon filled with updates

After lunch, I go to the supermarket to by bread and a new box of tea while I’m listening to the radio again. Also when I’m back home, more news is coming in, on TV and on social media.

On the VRT News broadcast (left), that’s already taking more than 6 hours, they now add a news ticker (we haven’t had that earlier). VTM News adds the title “Attacks Belgium” in their news broadcast.

In the course of the afternoon, people are coming together on the Beursplein (Bourse) in Brussels. They’re drawing on the street. Later, flowers and candles are being laid. People are singing too.

Evening — Grief

People on social media are asking everyone to light up a candle outside as a sign of grief. Just like my neighbour, I hang my Belgian flag. Sadly we’re the only ones doing that… Others change their profile picture on Facebook into a Belgian flag. I do something similar: I take a black and white picture that I took in Brussels in December and add the Belgian flag in the middle.

In the evening, Eén (VRT) broadcasts a special TV programme called “Attacks Brussels”. Belgian singer and TV host Bart Peeters sang a song which he originally wrote for the attacks in Paris. For me, this was a beautiful end to this awful day (English translation under the video):

Er staat niet geschreven,
Dat elke zot
Mag misbruiken en moorden
In de naam God.

Want God is liefde,
En zeker geen haat.
Geen reden voor misbruik,
Of een nepkalifaat.
Het staat in de Bijbel
En in de Koran:
Zonder liefde kan de hemel niet bestaan…
It’s not written
That every crazy man
May abuse and murder
In the name of God.

Because God is love
And definitely not hate.
No reason for abuse,
or a fake caliphate.
It’s written in the Bible
and in the Quran:
without love, heaven can’t exist…

It has been a black day for Belgium. It’s nice to see people gather on the Beursplein to grieve in all serenity. I’m however afraid that these attacks will only enhance the polarisation in our society.
On the other hand, I hope that the European Union will finally realise that we all need to work together to prevent future attacks.

Let’s hope and pray that attacks like this never will happen again.

Posted by FJRDSTRM

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