The Motions

And so, here we are again. Mere weeks after the first ‘Brussels Lockdown,’ we are in the midst of another one. Only this time it’s different. This time our fears have been realised. This time the carnage that was originally predicted has happened. This time there have been deaths (over 30 at the time of writing, but with many more critically ill in hospital); at the airport, on the metro. Two places where we most want to feel safe, but no longer can.

One of the three terrorists from the airport is still at large. Sirens blare on every street corner. Stony faced soldiers stand watch over frightened pedestrians. No matter how much we don’t want to be, we are afraid. And we are angry. But alongside our fear and anger is something else, something far more unsettling: the total absence of shock. I can only speak for myself, of course, but when I woke up yesterday morning to see my phone going crazy with messages from concerned loved ones, I instinctively knew what had happened. And I wasn’t surprised. Not in the least.

Thankfully I had stayed at home ill (the only time in my life that I will ever be grateful for a tummy bug), which meant I hadn’t taken my usual route to work via the metro. Instead of being physically caught up in the chain of sickening events I therefore watched the horror unfold on the news and social media, where the vile reactions of people like Trump and Hopkins turned my stomach.

Today, as a new day dawned, I still felt numb. And I still do. The outpouring of sentiment from around the world is fitting for the victims, but no amount of brightly coloured monuments will bring them back. And sentiment alone will not address the threat that we are facing – which, let’s be clear, is far more than a group of radicalised people on the rampage in the name of their twisted and hate-fuelled ideology.

We are as threatened by the ignorant, yet terrifyingly prevalent, attitudes of the Trumps’ and Hopkins’ of this world as we are by the terrorists themselves. In the battle between love and hate, hate is gaining ground. But it will never win, because for every ignorant, hate-filled person there are a thousand more who can not only see the truth but whose hearts are fit to burst with love. Yes, LOVE; the one emotion that the people who are trying to threaten our freedom are incapable of feeling, and the only thing that can unite us in the face of such unspeakable terror.

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Fight hate with love

Like many I was shocked and horrified to hear of the bombs that rocked yesterday’s Boston marathon, killing three – among them an 8 year old boy – and injuring many more. When I expressed my outrage at this latest tragic atrocity, however, I was shocked when someone challenged me to explain why it was any more tragic than the almost daily bombings in Iraq or Syria.

Ever since it was asked of me that question’s been playing on my mind in a loop – in much the same way as the video clip of the Boston marathon bombs going off has been played on every network since it happened. Did I feel more sad hearing about the marathon victims than when I heard news reports of innocent civilians being blown apart in Iraq? If so, what did that say about me? Was it possible some form of racism, classism or snobbery had crept into my consciousness without me even noticing its existence? Did I, in truth, value the lives of those people in Iraq less than the lives of the marathon spectators?

After a thorough period of introspection I’m pleased to say the answer to those questions was a resounding no. Whether they lost their lives in Boston or Iraq, I feel the same deep sense of sadness, the same feeling of shame that there are other human beings capable of such terrible acts of malice and hatred against their fellow men, women and children. The Boston bombings aren’t, therefore, more tragic; not at all. But, for those of us in the western world who are fortunate not to live in war torn countries, it is more shocking. Why? Because, quite simply, it’s far less common for a bomb to go off in the middle of a marathon taking place in an American city than it is on a normal day in an Iraqi city.

And there’s another reason. We see so many international news reports featuring the images of bloodied, limbless children’s corpses and wailing men and women beating their chests with grief that we are systematically desensitised to their effects. We’re used to death in Iraq and Syria. What we’re not used to is death in our own communities – or at least not the kind of death we witnessed yesterday in Boston.

No matter where terrorism strikes it sends shockwaves through not only the community whose beating heart it strikes, but also across the world. But whilst each time they strike the terrorists may think that they are winning the fight, what their hate-filled hearts will never comprehend is that through love for our fellow men it is we who will win the war.

I fell completely head over heels with this, a tiny model scene in the wall of a toilet in a Manhattan restaurant. I think it’s quite appropriate given the end of today’s post.

Past Post: Laos

I wrote this last year when I returned from my travels and submitted it to a newspaper writing competition. Sadly I wasn’t shortlisted, but I do think it’s good enough to share here, so here it is.

When the minivan driver hit his second chicken and narrowly missed a child toddling by the roadside, I felt moved to intervene. “You’re driving too fast, it’s not safe!” He responded with a maniacal laugh and slammed his foot down harder on the accelerator. I sighed. This was going to be a long journey.

I have heard many travellers claim that the people of Laos are amongst the least friendly in South East Asia and, based on this experience, I might have said the same. But to understand Laos and its people one must first understand its history. When you consider the ‘Secret War’ waged against it by the US from 1964-1973 – during which over 260 million cluster bombs were dropped on a country with less than three million inhabitants to dent the spread of communism from Vietnam – it’s easy to see why distrust and contempt against foreigners may exist.

It is estimated that up to thirty per cent of cluster bomb units did not explode on impact, and to this day there are still thousands of unexploded bombs located throughout Laos, many of them nestled unobtrusively in paddy fields where ordinary farmers are trying to eke out a living for their families, and where they and their children risk life and limb every day as a result.

We passed through many such fields on our kamikaze minivan adventure from Phonsavanh to Vientiane. In my more lucid moments, I relaxed my grip on the seat and pondered what it would be like to meet some farmers and ask them in person what it was like to live under the constant threat of such unimaginable horror. Perhaps then I would get under the skin of the country I had previously – and shamefully – only heard of in the context of its popular tubing tourist attraction in Vang Vieng.

Tubing is fun, and arriving in the country on a slow boat down the Mekong River is an experience not to be missed, but both are essentially just part of the tourist trail. Even the Plain of Jars and nearby ‘bomb village’ lack genuine character, the touts having sucked it out with their sterile production-line tours. It doesn’t help that a lack of infrastructure makes getting around a strain for even the most hardy of travellers, particularly in the wet season when roads can be impassable due to flooding.

My lasting memory of the country won’t be floating down the river in an inflatable tube, nor wandering around a field of ancient, unexplained relics. It won’t even be the suicidal minivan driver or the touts and their soulless tours. It will be the ordinary but heart-warming sights I witnessed as we drove for hours along death-defying roads; bright eyed children playing and whole families working the bomb-littered fields. Whilst such glimpses by their brief nature fail to yield any real insight into the Laos Peoples’ character, I will always feel respect for them, going about their business despite all that has been inflicted upon them.

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I took this on a day trip from Luang Prabang to a stunning waterfall, and was struck by the contrast of crisp, brown landscape and bright blue sky.