We were making our way home from South East Asia when we heard what happened. With a significant time change and irregular internet access, we were delayed getting the news.
A shooting in Paris? It couldn’t be. Not in my France.
Five years ago, we left Canada and moved to Paris. After a year, we moved again, to the South of France, where our kids were born. Where we now call home. Where things like this aren’t supposed to happen.
I thought of the France I know. The life I’m living is similar to what things were like when I was a kid, where things are a bit more relaxed and there’s not as much to worry about.
A striking difference I found when I moved to Paris is that people in the city ‘live together’ a lot more than I was used to in Canada. They build relationships and share space in a way that I hadn’t before been accustomed to. You interact with your neighbours because you share an elevator in your apartment, and you all have the same guardian at the front door. You ride the metro to work–not alone, but with fellow Parisians that are also making their way across the city. Because space is at a premium, neighbourhood kids flood the parks, and families spend weekends not alone, in their houses, but together, picnicking in the parks, or in restaurants, with tables nearly touching. You know the people that work in your neighbourhood because you’re loyal to your Boulangerie, Boucher, and Pharmacie. The people that work in these places definitely know you by face, if not by name. Contrary to popular belief, the Paris I’ve come to know isn’t a cold, mean city; but warm in a different way than I expected before I moved there.
My mind went back to the shootings. It couldn’t be. Not in my France.
I feel safe living in France, like the country is taking care of me. Things that I hear people worrying about at home often don’t feel like they apply to my life here. I don’t worry about food being over-processed because I buy most of it at the market, where it often still has dirt on it. When I hear my friends talking about how they were rushed out of the hospital after they had their kids, I couldn’t relate. When my kids were born, I stayed in the hospital for the week. I asked to leave because I felt more than ready. Our healthcare couldn’t be better: I have my doctor’s direct phone number, and she answers every time and tells me to bring the kids in right away if they’re sick. It’s okay to talk to strangers, and at Halloween, the candy given out is unwrapped, but everyone still eats it. We feel safe here.
I thought again of what happened in Paris. I still couldn’t believe it. Not in my France.
As our plane touched down in Paris, I had a different feeling than I usually do. Normally, I’m excited to be in the city that I love so much, but today felt different. The gunmen had just been apprehended, but the general feeling was obviously still tense, with heightened security.
We were just in Paris on a connecting flight, but had to take a taxi from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Orly. As we sat in the back of the cab and talked with our driver, the topic of conversation was obvious. It was the same one that everyone was having across the city; and across the globe for that matter. He was telling us about the stress of the city, how finally, after three days, today they felt like they could breathe again. At that moment, I realised that I’d been holding my breath as I stared out the window because I saw what the cab driver was about to point out. We were passing by the Kosher grocery store that I had just seen on the news. Images of the hostages running for safety were flashing through my mind as I looked at the store through my window. I wanted to somehow enclose the taxi in a bubble of safety to keep my family protected, but I knew it wasn’t possible.
I hated feeling this way. I felt scared, nervous and terrified at the thought of what could happen next.
We all hope the worst is over. That we can go back to the way things were. But can that really ever happen?
A few hours later, we landed in our tiny airport in the South of France, and as we walked into arrivals, we immediately saw a sign, “Je suis Charlie.” And just beyond that sign I saw something that I had never seen in all the times I’ve landed in this quiet little airport: armed police officers standing guard.
Things were different. It’s not supposed to be this way. Not in my France.
But today is a new day, and through my fog of jet lag, I wake up to hear that last night, in our neighbouring town of 80,000 people in the South of France, 35,000 showed up to march in solidarity. France is known for their marches. For their strikes when they aren’t happy. They stand firm for what they believe in, and what they want. Last night was no different. Today in Paris, more than one million marchers are expected in the street. They won’t take this sitting down. The French are tenacious and they will stand strong.
The French Republic’s national motto has never been so true, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity). We’re all in this together. The country stands as one.
It won’t stay like this. Not in my France.