I’m looking at the dried blood on my hand and reflecting on the first time I had to use self-defense in my life. I am quite sure I will never forget the look in the boy’s eye as he flagrantly threw punches at me-untrained. He was scared.
Yesterday I was mugged in a Brussels park.
Violaine and I had found a quiet part of the park for the interview. We sat across from each other on the same bench, the camera just to my left. I remember being so happy with the shot of her, a small tree in the left foreground out of focus because of the ND filter on my father’s vintage Nikon 28mm film lens I had specially modified for video use. I pressed record, lined audio, and sat in bird poop-off to a good start indeed.
Looking back on the audio recording, it had been ten minutes of conversation before the first hit to my left rib cage, exposed as I held myself forward with my elbow around my knee. I opened the talk with a stupid train of thought about her name and by minute five we were in deep. I liked how open Violaine had been with me, I met her just days before in the flea market; an area she explained was the birthplace of social housing in Brussels.
It all happened so quickly; I reacted to Violaine’s “Hey!” somehow innately knowing my camera was being stolen without even seeing it. I turn to my left and see the profile of a boy grabbing my camera. I immediately feel the pain on my left side-well organized. There was two of them. I jump up to assess the situation, see the blue hoodie sprinting away and immediately pursue him-completely forgetting about the second who had just taken a shot at my ribs. Nature kicks in. It only takes six strides to realize his head start will allow him to escape even my trained feet.
Within seconds I remember the second and can hear him running up from behind me. I turn to engage, stepping to the side to avoid his swinging arms, grab him, the two of us turning together with his momentum. My right fist connects with his stomach before I am pushed back into the wood-staked fencing. I am sent forward by the kick back and lose grasp of him as he turns to run. His hat flies off, dropping two feet in front of me. He realizes and turns back to retrieve it. I am now standing behind this light brown, plaid cap, in awe this kid is coming back for it. He comes in with a jump kick. I step to the side. He lands on both feet simultaneously, grabs the hat and makes the same path his partner did.
I turn to Violaine who is back at the bench around the corner, no thought to chase the second. She is standing next to the bench in awe.
There were families in this park.
“Was it the boy who asked you for a cigarette earlier?”
We walk to a café up the hill. She orders a cappuccino, I order a Mojito. She laughs and comments on it being too early for this. Having accepting the situation seconds after turning from the second boy, I laugh and say, if anything, I’ll need more than just one. We’re sitting by the large windows and talking about Brussels, the issues with racism and what it is doing to the city. I’m just barely in the conversation as thoughts sink in of how silly this project of mine has been. Not having received the camera until three weeks into my trip and now losing it just weeks later give me the feeling maybe it wasn’t meant to be. We talk about how I can now pursue audio-only interviews like a podcast. I think back to Central Michigan University when I thought I wanted to work in radio.
I slowly make it down the hill and back to my host’s flat. I turn the key, hear the solid metal square shift into the door, and take each step quietly into the large common space. He’s still in his room or out. Either way I’m relieved because I’ve been holding in tears since the walk to the café. The second I land on the couch I let myself weep.
Jaamar comes out of his room and asks how my morning is. Eyes locked on the floor I answer with, “it’s okay.” He asks if I have a hangover, as I shake my head he begins to understand the situation. He comes over, seeing the tears, sits next to me. I try to explain what happened but am constantly interrupted with sobbing. He puts his hand on my shoulder until I have fully explained what I had just experienced.
“Were they Moroccan?” he later asked. I was set back for a second. I didn’t see their race, even after being quite brutally mugged in the park that day. It wasn’t a race that did this to me; it was two young men in an area riddled with racism and, this particular week, fear. Had they done this before, most likely, but assumedly not met with physical violence.
This past week in Brussels was very educational for me-educational about the odd mix of people in Brussels, of how locals react to local/world terrorism, and especially of the mistreatment of different races.
I’m going away to a friend’s summer flat in France to gather my thoughts and physically recover because do we really live in a world where race defines action? Here I was ignorantly thinking it was only the US that housed terrible thoughts and treatment toward other races but having been in Europe for over two months now, I’ve heard and seen it could very well be a world issue.
You can’t run from that, so can you fix it?
To the boys in the park-you will never see this, but I forgive you. I hope this does not define you and I hope to tell your story one day.
Turn the camera on; it could change your life. It did mine.