Thursday, May 30, 2013

10(0) Jours des Rhétos, The Great Gatsby, and plans for the future

Hello everyone!

Last Wednesday, my school had their 10 jours des rhétos. Normally it's 100 jours, but a bunch of people got us in trouble on our voyage, so we had it a bit later. On this day, all of the students of rhétorique dress up in costume and run around terrorizing the other students. When I got to school, I was immediately greeted by my fellow classmates, yielding hair gel, confetti, zip ties, and more. It was a nightmare. As everyone (besides teachers and rhétos) entered the school, they got globs of hair gel all over them, and were drawn on with lipstick.

At first I felt really mean, and I didn't want to put gel on anyone. My friends explained to me that they've gone through it for the past five years, so they had a lot of steam built up. They also said that with each passing year, it gets more and more tepid, so I felt a little better. Apparently they used to be able to use eggs and flour, but now it's forbidden. During my host sister's year, they put garlic in the hair gel and it smelled for months, but that was forbidden now too. I got into it when I saw some students trying to hide from getting gelled, those people got it worse than anyone else (and rightfully so).

Besides terrorizing the younger students, the rhétos were also exempt from all classes that day, and we did activities the entire day. My class even won the costume contest! Because it was a Wednesday, we were all finished by around 1 or 2, so many went to Namur afterwards to get a drink.

Sixième B

les rhétos

Representing the US, of course

On Friday I went to Louvain-La-Neuve and met up with Madeleine. We ate dinner at her house and then watched The Great Gatsby. After that we went to a bar and had a few drinks, then went back to her house to sleep because it was past midnight by then. The next day, she and I went to Brussels. Avenue Louise is where all the shops are, so we decided to do some retail therapy.
This past week was my last full week of school. I'm going to a Lana Del Rey concert in Brussels with Kaari on Friday (I'm super excited for that one, but I can't believe it's already happening, I bought the ticket in November!) and I start my exams June 6th. 

My first exam is French, which really sucks. I'm also taking English, English (but I'm doing it in French), Geography, and Socio. So we'll see how that goes. Then I have my bal des rhétos on June 22, which is probably the last soirée I'll have a chance to go to. I'm inviting a few exchange student friends too. In between all of that, I'm gonna try and find time to go to Bruges and Ghent, and maybe a few other cities too. Maybe Maastricht or Cologne as well. I also might go kayaking! It's AFS Namur's last activity, and if the weather is alright and it's not too expensive I'll go. But hopefully they're double seat kayaks so I can just have someone paddle for me... and hopefully we don't flip over!

As I'm writing this, I have 36 days left in Belgium. I don't even know how to feel about that yet. Part of me is so happy to be going home, but part of me is starting to panic. Belgium is part of my life now, and I don't know how it will ever not be. I don't know how I'm supposed to live without something so ingrained in me. I'm so grateful for my life back home, but which one is home? I'm being pulled from two different directions, and each day seems to be getting shorter and shorter. I can imagine how my life would have been had I been born here, lived here, so easily. But I wasn't, and I must go home eventually. 

“We exist because we exist... We could imagine all sorts of universes unlike this one, but this is the one that happened.” Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I know, even now, that my life will forever be impacted by this year. 

À la prochaine,


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Malines Holocaust Museum/Fort Breendonk

If you're reading this and you haven't read my last update about parties in LLN/MeF, Mexican food, or Brussels, STOP. But if you have (and maybe, it's been a week) keep reading.

The museum is near Antwerp, which is almost two hours away by train, so my school wanted us to be there early. I got there at 7:15, and we loaded onto the travel bus. It was close to a two hour train ride, so I popped in my headphones, put on some music, and fell right asleep. We got to Malines around 9:30, but apparently that was too early. Our tour wasn't until 10:30, so we all went to a Panos (kind of like a Subway but worse) and got coffee.

Our group split into two and we started off with the tour. The first floor was about the lives of Jewish Belgians before the war.

They had to register as Jews or face penalties

Every wall was covered with photos of the over 25,800 people who passed through Malines. 

Some were of silhouettes, some of young children. 

A photograph of the entrance into Auschwitz-Birkenau

This transport really stuck with me. 1000 people left on Transport 4. One (Simon Gutfreund, age 18) escaped, but was later captured and sent to Auschwitz in the next transport. 82.5% were immediately gassed upon arrival. Of the 104 men and 71 women who weren't gassed immediately, none survived. 

Every transport would wait in this room before being shipped to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There were 28 transports. It was only until you sat on the chairs could you hear the names and ages of all of the victims, and they sounded like they were whispering in your ear. While you were standing in the room, you could only hear voices, but as soon as you sat down, it was as if they were speaking right into your ear. Only 5% of those who passed through Malines survived past 1995.

After our visit, we ate lunch and then headed to Breendonk, which was about 15 minutes away. 
Fort Breendonk was used in WWI, but by WWII it was considered obsolete. When the Nazis occupied it, they turned it into a forced labor prison camp. 

Whoever passes this limit will be shot.

So much barbed wire

Respect these places
Men suffered so you could live free

Swastika with the official motto of the SS

My friend Loïc standing against the wall, as prisoners had to do when they were being processed

They had to stand for a long time, some up to ten hours, and if they moved, they would be severely beaten.

The camp commander Lagerkommandant Philipp Schmitt was known to set his German Shepherd dog (called "Lump") loose on the inmates.

Our guide

Inside one of the interrogation cells

Inside an interrogation cell, looking out. This was what the prisoners saw while they were trapped here

Each bunk had 3 levels, each level had to accommodate 4 men. There were 48 men in each room.

The torture chamber and its hook.

Men were handcuffed and the hook was attached to the handcuffs and then raised. Because their hands were behind their backs, their arms would be contorted into painful positions. Doctors were there, but only to make sure the prisoner wouldn't die prematurely. 

Posts where they would assassinate the prisoners

Much more barbed wire.

It was truly a humbling experience going to Breendonk, and I couldn't stop talking about it with my family. I hope you and I have an opportunity to visit more of these places, so we never forget this part of history.