Thursday, March 24, 2016

A black eye and a missing tooth

It's been two days since the terrorist attacks in Brussels. Two days since the bombs exploded. And as people are wiping away tears and pointing fingers, I am thinking about what to think of it all.

I used to live near Brussels. In that first expat experience I was in high school and too absorbed in my own teenage issues to think too deeply about current events or Europe's place in the world. My family and I flew in and out of Zaventem airport and occasionally rode the metro. I remember being told to stay away from the sketchy neighborhoods at the north end of town, the ones that are now known as hotbeds for jihad activity.

So I have a very minor attachment to the small city in a small and divided country. Little Brussels is the capital of Europe, headquarters of the EU and NATO. It's the place where the biggest meetings are held and the longest documents are signed. This week's attack is sad, really sad, and scary... but does it mean something bigger than another point for the bad guys?

When I'm not sure what to think, I like to read what other people are writing. One opinion that struck me from this Washington Post article is that Europe as a concept, as a unit, might have been sucker punched too many times. It's reeling now and could be knocked out entirely by the troubled economies of the south, terrorist attacks in the west and refugees pushing to get in at all sides. I don't claim to understand current events well enough to know Europe will pick itself up or not. Daily life in the daily town where I live seems unchanged, with its social supports, safe streets and tuition-free colleges. But even Hannover was rattled by a bomb scare last November. Even though it seems like Europe has that quality-of-life thing figured out, the bad guys are here among us.

It's easy to find people pledging their 'thoughts and prayers' for victims and their families in Belgium. What else can you really do? I liked this column with the headline "It's not enough to tweet your grief." The writer's point is that, with social media, it's easy to move from the natural impulse toward sympathy to become self-indulgent. It's easy to post a flag on your Facebook page so everyone can see how you feel, and then you move on. And these expressions of solidarity only come from those sudden disasters, tragic events, events that make you want to do something. Nobody posts 'thoughts and prayers' for people suffering from chronic hunger or poverty or disease.

I actually don't really agree with either opinion. I am a little too optimistic for that. I have a little too much faith that Europe can get back up again, albeit with a black eye and maybe a missing tooth. And I believe some of that sympathy is sincere, that many of us are actually thinking and praying for victims. I feel like people often post on social media because they feel helpless and don't know what else to do. It's like making a big cardboard sign and hanging it out your window.

As I get ready for our trip to Armenia and Georgia next week, it's funny to think that I might be safer there than in Brussels or Paris. Who would have said that 10 or 15 years ago? (Not me. I am pretty sure I didn't know what the Caucasus region was 10 years ago, and I still can't spell the word without looking it up). That's the funny thing about terrorism, though. We're all the enemy and we aren't safe anywhere, unless you want to live in a cave. Though that cave probably isn't safe either.

I don't know who can beat the bad guys or how they can be beaten. I know that a lot of smart and capable people are trying to keep up, trying to block those punches before they fall. As for the rest of us, we can only hope and get used to feeling a little bit helpless.

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About Me

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Thanks for coming to my blog. It started as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, and now has become an ongoing project. I'm an American living in Germany and trying to travel whenever I can. I write about my experiences as an expatriate (the interesting ones and the embarrassing ones), and about my travels. There are some recurring characters in this blog, particularly my husband Brian and several of our friends. The title comes from the idea that living in a foreign country means making a lot of mistakes. So the things you used to do easily you now have to try over and over again. Hopefully, like me, you can laugh at how idiotic it feels. If you have happened upon my blog, then welcome. Knowing that people are reading what I write makes me keep going. Feel free to write comments or suggestions for future posts.