Friday 13th November, 2015, 9.30 pm. I had been back in my beloved hometown for less than 36 hours.
Along with 7 of my friends from school, we had planned this trip weeks ago. We knew we would need a break from school after two weeks of finals and before our one-month practical.
Since I had an appointment that afternoon and I wanted to meet my family that evening, I had left my friends in the afternoon to visit the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées, some of the most touristic areas of my city.
While I was having dinner with my parents, I started to receive a lot of texts and calls. A shooting was happening in the 10th arrondissement, not far from our hostel. Everyone knew that I was back for the weekend in Paris, and, moreover, with my friends from Switzerland and was trying to get in touch.
At the beginning, we were not that worried, we thought it was just a settling of scores between gangs as often happens in major cities. I texted my friends to tell them about it, and to tell them to stay safe – just to be careful when going back to the hostel where we would meet later that night.
But, as time passed, the information became increasingly blurred and unclear. Nobody seemed to agree on where the shooting was taking place: France Stadium, concert hall Bataclan, République Square, two bars, one restaurant, one street… and suddenly the words ‘terrorists’, ‘taking of hostages’ were being mentioned. In the restaurant, we all started to talk about it together, guests and waiters.
And then we realised: it was Charlie Hebdo attacks all over again but a thousand times worse. This time, it was not just the Republic and its values which were attacked but its people. Dozens of people were already confirmed dead by that time.
My friends had wisely decided to stay where they were and to take another hotel for the night, advising me to go back to my parents’ house, in the suburbs, away from the chaos. Now, less than 24 hours later, they have called the Italian embassy, booked new plane tickets and are waiting to go back to Geneva tonight.
One of my friends told me, “Ale, getting back to Switzerland as early as possible is the best thing you can do”. Switzerland may be safe but France is my country and Paris, my city. My family and most the people I know and love live here. So, I am staying; spending some unexpected time with my family, being thankful that we all are still together but deeply sad for the victims, families torn apart, traumatized people, and for my beloved country.
While it is true to say I feel everyday a little more international, since Friday, I know that forever in my heart I am and I will always be French.
Today, my heart is wounded. My country has been attacked, 128 people were cowardly assassinated, and 250 people are injured including 99 fighting death right now.
I know time alleviates the pain and slowly, suffer and anger will give way to determination and willpower to fight against these murderers. We are more united than ever, we will not give up, they will not win.
Fluctuat nec mergitur, motto of Paris. It means ‘tossed around but not sunk.’
Paris remains standing; we remain standing.