Eyewitness: Brussels Attacks, 12 Months Later
To commemorate the one year anniversary of the Brussels attacks, we will feature three of our employees from our Brussels office, who were affected by the tragic events of March 22, 2016. GMF’s Brussels Office is located near Maelbeek metro station, one of the two sites where bombs were detonated. Some of our employees use this metro station to come to work and a few of them narrowly missed the attacks.
The profiles will feature impressions, memories, and hopes for the future as we remember the victims and the ways that GMF staffers have been personally impacted. A year later, GMF continues to have the thoughts of both the victims and survivors in mind during this challenging time and throughout the rest of the year.
“The shocking part is how long you are trying to figure out if everyone is okay. I had a friend in the metro tunnels and I was talking to her on the phone when the explosions started. She didn’t know about the explosions but I did. I didn’t want to scare her so I didn’t tell her what was happening. Then the line cut out. I panicked—I thought that I had lost her and started crying. I think that it takes you a long time to really understand what is going on. There were so many sirens right after [the attack] and then there was a strange sort of quiet. A really sad, deep sorrow. You don’t know the people who were hurt and it’s hard to find information and know what is going on.
I think I also felt pretty alone. As an expat, all of your really close friends and family are far away. My friend that was in the train invited me over to be with some of our other friends that night. I didn’t want to go because I would have had to go and live it again. On one hand I felt alone and that made me sad, but on the other hand I wanted to be alone. An incident like this really breaks your trust in other people. I don’t want to be that person in the metro—who stereotypes people or thinks everyone will hurt you. It’s hard to feel comfortable in public spaces. You know it’s highly unlikely that you’ll die [in an attack], but there’s nothing to stop the fear.
One thing that I think about a lot is that people in other places in the world deal with this every day. The experience has increased my capacity for empathy. Every day, kids go to school and face bombs or violence. I know Brussels won’t be that place and I’m happy about it, but I think that knowledge should bring us closer.”
“I was on my way to work around 8 am. I decided to buy a sandwich first so that probably saved me. I probably would have been in the metro that was attacked. The moment I bought the sandwich I received a text from a co-worker about the attack at the airport and few moments later people started running around and screaming Maelbeek was just attacked. I sent some messages to my friends and family and took the first train back home. My youngest daughter started crying when she saw me because she knew that I was supposed to be on that train line.
The next day I was just sitting and waiting it out. The third day I was already back at work. I took a different route in and I remember that everything was really empty. The trains, the stations, the streets were all empty. You could tell that something bad happened. It felt pretty desolate. No light, no joy. It was as if everything was sucked out of Brussels. The office was so empty and quiet—it was like a ghost town. When I think about the future, I would like to be able to contact people that I love faster. My office is a family. I was freaking out that day. I wanted to text people to make sure that they were alright. Now, I have pre-made texts in my phone so that I can just hit a button and send a text if this ever happens again. I think it’s easier if you’re prepared.”
“I’d just arrived at work. It was one of those days where nothing works—I was late getting up, late bringing my daughter to school. I was in the elevator at work when I received a text from my brother asking if I was okay. That was when I heard about the two bombs at the airport. I was glued to my computer for the rest of the day following the news, and letting people know that my daughter and I were fine. I was trying to keep up with the news and with colleagues. I learned that a trainee of ours was in the metro where one of the bombs went off. I was in touch with his parents and assuring them that we would do everything possible to make sure he was taken care of. It wasn’t much but there wasn’t much else for me to do.
It is a strange combination. You always feel like you don’t know what’s going on—we have social media now but you still never feel like you know enough. In a way, going home—leaving the office and the area around Maelbeek metro station—was the most difficult part of the day. You try to proceed with what you would normally do and try to lead a normal life but you can’t, not really.
My behavior hasn’t changed since the attacks…maybe I have a greater sense of the needs of others. Paying attention to what other people may feel when I talk to them. One thing that I’ve learned about the attack and interacting with people who were close to it is that Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome is real and you need to pay attention to it.”
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.