An Expat in Paris – Personal Account
So, at the time of writing it’s roughly about 24 hours since the horrifying events began to unfold in the heart of Paris. My head is full of the commentary from broadcasters & newspaper journalists and all the images that held my gaze on the TV screen last night. The dawning reality, that I am living in the capital of France, witnessing the biggest terrorist attack in Western Europe (since the 2004 Madrid bombings) is gathering momentum.
I wake up in a daze, in total disbelief, to the news that 120 people at least had lost their lives in the city centre, the central zone, to the place I now call home. Naturally my mind is fixated on the families of those who died and the scale of their harrowing painful loss, as I gratefully and solemnly sit at the breakfast table with my husband and twin boys. I think about the victims – out having dinner, at a concert with friends, having fun and enjoying their Friday night in Paris – only to have their lives snatched from them so cruelly in the late hours.
Calls had come in thick and fast from friends and family across the world, concerned for our safety. It was so heartwarming, that so many people were thinking about us, as the news broke across the globe. Any shade I had ever thrown on social media was speedily retracted, as my phone was flooded with messages. Facebook offered up the genius ‘Are you safe‘ feature that instantly helped put so many peoples minds at rest. French expats living in far-flung destinations, away from home, consumed with worry and fear were using social media to make contact, find their friends and family, share their emotions and feel supported in their distant location where they longed to feel connected. I am thankful that we were able to say with one message to everyone that, we were fine,we were at home, together, unharmed.
Meanwhile just over the river, scenes of carnage were being reported. Senseless killings, bombings and terror, reigning over everyday people, in their everyday lives, doing everyday things. We watched, aghast at the footage, deeply saddened by the inevitable conclusion.
When the sun rose, the scale of the brutality was just a remote-control click away but we resisted. The kids were up and it seemed pointless subjecting them to the news – looking on at their innocence, we didn’t want to negate their mood..not yet anyway.
I open the shutters to the sound of sheer silence, not a single person on the street in the busy part of Paris where we live, but it’s still early.
I check online to see what’s happening and absorb the stories of bravery, camaraderie and genuine kindness. The taxi drivers ferrying people home for free, the #porteouvertes campaign, where citizens were opening their hearts and their homes for people who couldn’t find a place to stay or needed somewhere to lay their head even momentarily. The queues of people at hospitals standing in line waiting to give much needed blood, the shout out for doctors or nurses to bring their skills and energy to the aid of suffering civilians. Instagram was awash with images designed to pull people together so we could all make our voice heard collectively and show our global outrage.
The people were uniting in their support for one another; and the solidarity in the city was clear. In the face of adversity it was admirable to see such strength and resilience, in the wake of the darkest hour the city had ever experienced.
I think about this ongoing ideological, political, religious war and the innocents caught in the crossfire. I consider our stunned reaction to how unfathomable it seems, that on 13/11, this meticulous plan devised by a group of terrorists could come to reign such terror on Paris.
The Charlie Hebdo attack had only happened in January , less than a year later and Paris was reliving it again in the aftermath of another chilling, devastating and tragic attack. This was one day, a day where our hearts are heavy with grief but defiant and strong with courage. I think about the families on this day and the children across the world who are having to endure this scale of brutality every day. Their stories don’t get this news coverage, their pain doesn’t perhaps touch us in the same way, the world isn’t showing the same outpouring of grief, like the attacks in Beirut and Kenya for example. But here we are, sharing the same backdrop and suffering at the hands of a force, deliberately focused on causing mass destruction.
Taking a walk through the rues to collect the papers, the mood is understandably somber. The bustle begins. I watch Parisians trying to carry on with daily life, but despite the movement, there is an eerie stillness that represents to me, the invisible black armband each and every one of us has adorned, in memory of those who lost their lives in Paris.
People cried and strangers shared a common experience and showed support for each other. The guardienne that services our apartments told me that her son and grandson were at the Germany v France game at Stade de France, where suicide bombers had detonated their armoury, but thankfully her family were fine. She was unsurprisingly overcome with emotion. We hadn’t really spoken before but here we were, connected with a mutual understanding, despite the challenging language barrier.
The press headlines threw down the gauntlet to the attackers, reflecting the stoic position of French citizens, determined not to be oppressed by the fear bestowed upon the nation, declaring “c’est le guerre” This is war!
There are multiple feelings on display here in Paris, ranging from anger, sadness and fear to defiance and courage. The layers keep shifting as we try to process what happened. There is an evident feeling of distrust brewing inevitably. Events like this play right into the hands of xenophobia but I truly hope that people take a moment to realise, that those who died represented different races, creeds and colours. Not everyone is the same, we hold differing beliefs and ultimately we are all individuals and should be treated as such – not judged.
Checking in with social media again, it wasn’t long before the photographs and descriptions of missing people were filling the internet, posted by people desperately searching for their loved ones. Asking for prayers and any sign of potential hope that they will be found, safe and well. One friend, told me that her pal ran from the Bataclan when the shots were fired but ran in the wrong direction towards more gunfire, she found safety but was in a state of shock, her mind on lockdown. In a social media group I subscribe to, a girl announced that her Aunt and Uncle were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in the Belle Eqipue restaurant when the gunmen opened fire, ending both their lives. Another desperately searched for news of her sister, who she hadn’t heard from since the attack – she was at Bataclan with friends. One of many described by ISIS as “pagans” amongst other things, in their incomprehensible statement accepting responsibility for the tragedy.
So many thoughts! So much sadness in the wake of talks of retaliation. But I am feeling encouraged by the determination, bravery and courage displayed here in Paris and it does give me hope for a better day and a new tomorrow and I won’t be afraid of living my life and embracing our time in Paris, because of an unknown yet known evil presence. I’m in the ‘if we go down, lets go down fighting‘ brigade. I’m also in the “make love not war” camp.
Blissfully unaware of all of this, my mixed raced children are still playing, hurling each other to the floor and laughing incessantly. At lunchtime, with the four of us sitting at the dining table, we decide to tell them – quickly, succinctly and minimising any details.
“Boys” I say “something happened in Paris last night, so people in the city are really sad today“
“why what happened?”
“Some baddies came into the city and hurt some people“
“did people die mum?“
“yes son “
“what about the baddies?“
“the police got them and they are gone now“
“so the baddies are dead?“
“did they have guns mum?“
“so, are we safe now?”
Written by Claudette Parry from London. Founder of Mama Loves Paris and mother of 8 year old twin boys living in Paris. MLP was interviewed by Dawn Bournand about 13/11 for World Radio Paris aka WRP. The interview is scheduled to be aired on Monday November 15, 2015. Please tune in.
If you want advice about how to talk to your children about terrorists attacks there are a number of valuable resources online.
Mama Loves Paris would like to extend love, sympathy and strength to the families of those who lost their lives and or suffered traumatic experiences on 13/11. Our heart goes out to you all at this tragic and difficult time. We send this love to all the families across the world who are having to endure these horrendous acts of terror on a daily basis. MLP embraces all the Mamas in the MLP community who have been impacted as a result of Fridays events.
MLP believes that when faced with adversity we have to be strong and courageous and believe that there will be change. We have no other choice.
Thank you for all the love and support MLP has received. It has been overwhelming. Please stay safe, be vigilante but carry on.
Thank you for reading and please like the post and comment, please comment and share your feelings and experiences with us too.
Love MLP x