When I come to school on Monday, I wonder whether things will be different after Paris. I enter the teacher’s room, those who are here look up and seem not to know how to greet me anymore. I say hello as usual and, as I sit down, people come, one by one, asking me how I feel. They look awkwardly at me, they don’t know what to do. I tell them I’m ok. I am alive and so are all my friends in Paris. What more could I wish for in these dark times where so many people lost their loved ones?
It’s time to give my classes again. In the hall, I see some of my Palestinian and Syrian pupils. They look at me worriedly. They seem to look for a reaction. Do they fear that I would resent them? I haven’t planned on hating anyone because of their nationality, I haven’t got any space left in my heart for unjustified hate towards the exact same people who fled bombs in their own countries. I don’t have any doors to open today, I feel surrounded by guardian angels, as all of a sudden, all of my pupils seem to be around, and run to open doors for me. They need to talk about it – but I don’t know if I’m ready to debate about it with them.
Once in the beginners class, the other teacher shows me the text they’ve written about Paris. With their simple words, they express they sorrow and condolences to France. The day is going to be hard. The children enter the room, are especially nice to me when saying hello. I feel like an animal in the zoo as they all scrutinize me. “Ok, shall we talk about it then?” I say. They look relieved, and questions start to fill the room. First one: “Miss, are you sad?”. “What do you think?” I reply. Actually this one made me smile. Next: “Why did they do that?”, asks someone else. The “why” one is very difficult to answer. In a context when you have to have an answer for everything, and to give keys for thoughts to young minds, how can you explain that “why” is a question that can’t always be answered. One boy says “These people are totally sick in their minds! I’m afraid!”. I see that as an opportunity to try and unite the two parts of my class: the European children have more vocabulary than my Syrian, Afghan and Palestinian kids. The two groups also rarely communicate with one another. While there is no animosity, they’re not curious enough to reach out.
To answer the boy’s question, I tell him that I too am afraid of such events, and explain that it is exactly what terrorists are looking for. I tell him I’m afraid and sad, but I also say that the Afghan, Palestinian and Syrian children in this room are here for that very same reason: because what happened on Friday in Paris happens on a regular basis in their homeland. The Europeans have wide eyes now. “Really? They saw terrorists in their countries?!”. The refugee kids know we’re talking about them, only they don’t understand why just now. A Polish kid asks me: “You must be pleased that France is bombing Syria now!”. No, I’m never happy to hear that bombs are falling on people, regardless of why and how. But I don’t have an answer as to how terrorists can be eradicated in another manner either. Education, perhaps, but will it ever be enough?
I leave this class to teach the advanced ones. Different children, same conversation. Only this time, as they are almost fluent in German, I prefer to leave them debating between themselves. I ask them how they found out about the attacks. One of the Palestinian kid says he was watching the France-Germany football game. I know that a lot of my French and German friends had done so too, but hadn’t realized what the explosions were before they heard the news. I ask him whether he knew what it meant when he heard the noise. He laughs. “Hey, you know where we come from, right? Of course I recognized that sound immediately.” Even if it’s obvious, it still hurts to hear that. I muse at how cruel life can be, as that kid knows more about death than any adult I know.
A lengthy debate follows on IS. My muslim children are worried that people will liken them to terrorists. We talk about how religion should vehicle peace and how the Quran condemns taking lives. They are divided when we talk about solidarity. Some find the show of solidarity on the Facebook profile pictures unnecessary, and as they flick through their social networks they all come forward to show me how they dealt with the events over the week-end. The Arabic-speakers translate texts linked to the hashtag #NotInMyName, with which the Muslim community distances itself from IS. One of the Syrian boys wants to show me something on his mobile. That is how I very unexpectedly find out, after years of having succeeded in never seeing any of the atrocity committed by terrorists online, that one can very easily access pictures of these. Here my pupil stands, showing me a Google search showing a terrorist with a head in his hands. I am so shocked to see that, I feel sick, yet I’m in my classroom so I just close my eyes for a few seconds to try and chase that image away and tell him to never, ever, look at such pictures again. The bell rings, my day ends there. As a teacher, I took comfort in seeing that they all felt concerned about the current events of this world. As a being, and a French citizen, I’m relieved to be able to go home.
On the way back, I end up in front of the embassy, again. I don’t know why the sight of flowers and candles is comforting, but it is. I decide to take out my “Refugees Welcome” badge and wear it as a very small proof that I won’t be afraid of mankind because of a few harmful individuals.