Before my exchange in Europe, it was difficult to envision being in a potentially life-threatening situation. Yet that was exactly what occurred as I travelled to Paris for a weekend that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Although this is a sensitive topic, I wanted to about it to get it off my chest and reiterate that these are my personal experiences.
First, some context for my visit.
As a football fan, I had always hoped to see a game of international football. Having narrowly missed out on tickets to the Belgium v Spain match, I booked tickets to the next best match on that weekend – France v Germany. One of my friends was on exchange in Paris, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up with her as well.
Having finished class early on Friday, I took the train to Brussels, where a bus would take me to Paris. Although the train ran smoothly, the bus wasn’t so punctual. Rather than arriving at the e.t.a. of 6:50pm, the bus arrived at 8:10pm. This was the first factor that I was fortunate for. However, at the time, stuck in a kilometre-long tunnel for over one hour, I was growing increasingly frustrated because I was unable to contact my friend who I was supposed to meet at the game.
Upon arrival, I immediately took the metro and checked-in at my hostel, as I feared it would be too late to check-in after the game. As a consequence, I left for the game later than expected and knew that I would arrive late. The second factor that I was fortunate for was that Google Maps gave me the directions to the Parc de Princes stadium, rather than Stade de France. This meant that I had to travel another 50 minutes to get to the game.
A culmination of all these factors meant that I arrived at the game at around 10pm. If one or two of these things had changed, I might not be here to share with you today. Running hurriedly to the stadium, I was met by the intimidating presence of two heavily armed policemen who were guarding the entrance to the stadium. They wouldn’t let me in. After 8 hours of travel to watch a football game, they wouldn’t let me in! Even the fact that the policemen were heavily armed did not alarm me as to what had happened; in Australia, it was typical for several highly armed policemen to patrol the area for the general safety of the public. At the time, I was very angry. Of course, these feelings would change over the course of the night as i became aware of the events.
I watched the rest of the game at the Novotel, blissfully unaware of what had happened outside stadium or in the rest of Paris. As the game concluded, the news suddenly broadcast the dreadful news of a bomb blast near the area of the stadium. At first, I still thought there was nothing wrong. It was only when my friend in Maastricht messaged me about the death toll that I realised the monstrosity of the events.
I am eternally grateful that I was able to make it to the hostel safely that night. I would later find out that many of my friends were confronted with closed metro lines and were forced to stay with others for the night. I found out through Facebook’s safety feature that they, too, were unharmed. This is one of the ways technology can be used in the future to respond to emergency crises and it was helpful in letting friends and family know that I was safe.
On that dreaded night, the city of Paris stood still, shocked. On the day after, a quiet Saturday, the windy, overcast weather was mourning with the city. There weren’t many people out on the streets and all of Paris was still in shock.
On Sunday, I was fortunate enough to meet up with my friend at a popular café. The fact that it was open so soon after the tragedy was a strong show of defiance against the instigators who had tried to pull the city apart. Life felt the same. But it wasn’t. As my friend and I walked through La Republique to see the vigils and flowers that people had placed near the Bataclan, the number of people that had come out to show support amazed us. The city had come together to show strength through unity. Although this was only my fourth short-term visit to the city, I felt like part of the community. As I placed my flowers done near the Bataclan, I cried. It could have been any of us.
Paris walked on.
Living in Australia, most of the tragedies that occur overseas seem remote. Too often, it’s easy to dismiss the loss of innocent lives as another statistic being replayed over the nightly news. Being in Paris that night made me realise how real they were. This experience taught me to appreciate life and realise how lucky we are to have our loved ones around us.
To the families of the departed, I give you my deepest condolences and stand with you in this difficult time.