I am in Brussels. I’m here, ultimately, because my friend Hannah decided that the cafeteria fries we have been experiencing in Rome are subpar. Hannah tells the story something like this:
“Mensa is generally pretty good, but one day, I wasn’t feeling their fries. They weren’t doing it for me. So I asked myself, where can I get some good fries? Then I suddenly realized, Belgium. Pommes frites. Belgium is the answer. At which point I remembered that Belgium also has waffles, so I of course looked up affordable flights, and here we are.”
Since french fries are my personal Kryptonite, I tagged along. Belgium does indeed have delicious fries, and waffles, and beers, and chocolates. My traveling companions (Hannah, Roohi, & Emily) and I have wandered around the city experiencing the beautiful architecture, enjoying the cold weather, and eating the delicious food. We saw the famous Manneken Pis statue and took the obligatory selfie. And last night, my phone was stolen. It’s a long tale to tell, but the point is, I don’t have a phone at the moment.
To be honest, I was intending to write this blog post about the Pope’s visit to America, his compassion, and his speeches to the U.N. and Congress. I probably will write about them at some point in the future, perhaps when I get back to Rome and have time to read the text of all his addresses. But today’s CS blog post needs to be about the learning experiences that today has brought me. Today has been pretty trying, but I know that my frustration is a complaint that comes from a place of privilege; after all, the biggest thing I have to worry about right now is not having an iPhone. Reflecting on today’s experiences brings me a couple important lessons— about the importance of patience, perspective, and hospitality.
When I went to the police station to file a missing item report, I was at a loss because I speak neither French nor Flemish, and the woman taking reports spoke no English. Being in Brussels has definitely been more difficult, language-wise, than being in Rome— and this was most starkly highlighted today, when I needed help at the police department and couldn’t speak the language. I felt pretty helpless at not even being able to ask for a basic form, but a flood of gratitude washed over me as a nearby woman stepped in to translate my questions into French.
Kind strangers have been a common experience during my travels. Praise be to the God who makes himself known in unexpected faces, and speaks love in French and broken English.
After submitting some paperwork, I waited. Emily waited with me, and while I felt bad for wasting her time, her patience and willingness to stay with me was something I really appreciated. I ended up waiting for over an hour, because there were three murders in Brussels that day, and the police station was in overdrive. The officer who took my report had a kind and gentle face, and smiled often, but the dark circles under her eyes and her frequent yawns betrayed just how exhausting of a day she’d had. “We usually have perhaps one big event per week, you know, but today with three murders… it’s been difficult.” So I smiled, and felt stupid and frivolous.
I got out of her way quickly, had a moment of gratitude that I’ve never met with any violence in my life, and prayed peace for the families of people killed today.
Praise be to the God who grants law enforcement officers the strength to remain kind under pressure.
The overwhelming experience here has been one of joy. Brussels has shown me so many instances of kindness, openness, and hospitality. A crepe shop, whose owners gave food and exchanged jokes with a homeless man who came to their door. A woman with a ‘Refugees are Welcome’ button on her jacket. The man who delivered our incredible waffles at a breakfast place, and waved enthusiastically as we left the building. And the sandwich shop owner who, as we ordered our food, told us to sit, saying “you are home here.”
So I think this trip has been a lesson in happiness, awareness, and re-framing. The truth is, there have been negatives. The phone thievery certainly wasn’t fun, nor do I appreciate the frequent street harassment we’ve encountered. I’m discovering every day, and in Brussels it’s become even clearer, that studying abroad brings a lot of moments of vulnerability and discomfort. But I’m choosing to let the moments of goodness color my experience the most.
On that note, I’ll be on my way to spend my remaining time in Brussels exploring cathedrals and waffle shops. Stay tuned to hear about my continuing adventures.