[box]Editor’s note: Candice Yandam is from Avignon, France and was a post-graduate at Blair in 2011-12. After Blair, she continued her academic career in Paris at HEC and now La Sorbonne. She is also one of the founders and president La Sorbonne Gourmet, an online resource for students navigating the food scene in Paris.[/box]
It was supposed to be a fun Friday night. I was sitting at my favorite pizza joint with friends when our phones started ringing off the hook. 18 people had been killed in a shooting in the 11th arrondissement in Paris, near Place de la République. Moments later, we hear that two suicide bombers had blown themselves at the Stade de France where our President, François Hollande was attending a soccer game. We all quickly ran back to my flat, located only a couple minutes away from the restaurant.
We turned the TV on before taking our coats off, the images were horrifying, the news devastating. In between responding to worried friends and family members, I checked out the screen where the number of dead was increasing: 20, 26, 34, 50, 60… By 12 am the Bataclan, a concert hall, was under siege. In the building two heavily armed terrorists were shooting their AK 47 in a circular fashion to kill the most people. On a video footage from TF1, the national news channel, there’s a women screaming “I’m pregnant, I’m pregnant!” while crawling on the ground, wounded. 112 people died at the Bataclan last night.
The streets were dangerous, and there were no questions about it: none of my friends were going home, we had to remain together in a safe place. An incredible movement of solidarity was taking place under the black Parisian sky: people donated blood, brought covers and food to the wounded, and opened their homes to strangers via the hashtag #PorteOuverte (aka: Open Door). Our President spoke to our nation minutes after Barack Obama had expressed his support to France. Our country was put under the “State of Emergency” something that had never happened since the Algerian war, and was closing its borders. We all went to sleep, drained by the atrocity of the attacks and woke up to the sounds of the sirens.
This morning, Paris was mourning. Streets were empty, shops closed and even the weather was gloomy. Eight different attacks had taken place at eight different places in Paris: a restaurant, a concert hall, a stadium, and random shooting in multiple streets of the 10th, 11th and 12th arrondissements. 128 innocent people died last night. More than 1500 troops have been deployed in the city of Paris and its surroundings. The Parisian authorities advised to remain inside, safe.
ISIL claimed the attacks as retaliation for the strikes in Syria and the killing of Islamic fighters. They have hit the heart of what we are: a free country, a democracy. Free to experience music or enjoy a soccer game with friends and family, free to dine at a restaurant, to walk in the streets. I spent the day indoors and in need of fresh air, I stepped on my tiny balcony. You want to know what I saw? Couples holding hands while walking down the street, friends laughing while entering a bar and a family eating takeout crêpes under the streetlights. Their lives went on because their freedom cannot be taken away. Freedom is a state of mind.
Vive la République et vive la France!
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(Copyright 2015 Candice Yandam) (Cover photo from NPR)