‘My Kids’ and Me: Between Brussels and Cairo

NH, an Egyptian student in Belgium and SB OverSeas volunteer, recounts her experience of the bombing at Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, on 22nd March 2016.

16th JANUARY 2016 | The first day of activities with the kids. I share their language, their colour and more… But I chose to be here, in Brussels. How many of these kids would have made the same choice?

FEBRUARY 2016 | In spite of the cold, the beauty of the magnificent Brussels sky still amazes me. ‘My kids’, will they one day understand this beauty? Or will Brussels always remain a place of exile to them?

8th MARCH 2016 | DIY paper bags. The kids offer their finest bags to Mahmoud, their friend who has been sick for almost a month. I tell myself “When I visit Mahmoud, I will show him these bags, he will be happy.”.

22nd MARCH 2016 09:05 | I’m in the metro and in a couple of seconds we’ll arrive at Maalbeek station. The metro stops, I hear the explosion and I inhale the smoke. The death avoided me in Cairo, but is looking for me urgently in Brussels… I will be killed in the name of my faith. It’s absurd.

22nd MARCH 2016 09:30 | They make me get out of the metro by walking in the metro tunnel. Am I ‘traumatised’? Maybe… How many of ‘my kids’ have taken even more dangerous roads to get to Brussels? Did they feel the death, like I did at Maalbeek? I can understand, but do they? Why should a child see death coming?

25th MARCH 2016 | Mahmoud died. He is in a better world now, that is for sure. However, I did not offer him the bags his friends had made.

26th MARCH 2016 | We talk to ‘my kids’, we explain to them that Mahmoud has left. “Mahmoud is happy, he plays, he draws, he does not suffer anymore, he is with the angels”. We explain to them, but how to justify to them why his mum was not there with him? How to explain to them that in Pakistan, in Belgium, in Nigeria, in Syria and in Egypt, people die, when they could have instead been spreading happiness all around? I could not talk about injustice or humanity.

27th MARCH 2016 | We cancel the activities. It’s impossible to get around Brussels, too risky to move with the kids. It’s distressing. My work, my friends, my time are spent between Cairo and Brussels. Now, the pain and the fear for this country too. Was it necessary?

Hope? Sometimes this word seems insolent to me! But it remains – yes, I am sure – in the smiles of ‘my kids’ to the volunteers who do not speak the same language; in the pure emotion when they craft, draw or sing; in the sharing of tough memories; in the diversity of our colours, languages, dialects, ideas.

Yes, hope stays as long as we share a heart that simply wants to remain human.