Monday, June 20, 2011

Starting to Sum Up

Last Thursday Julia and I had a hole in our finals schedule so we had a chance to go with Jean Pierre and Jade to do some visiting in the north. We went to Breendonk, a concentration camp from the second world war that's not too far from Antwerp. The guides told us it was a visit of two hours or so, but we spent nearly four without dawdling. The presentation of the camp was minimal and very powerful. We wandered through the halls and barracks with our audio guides, trying to grasp the reality of the horrors that were being described that happened on that very spot. The SS had a Flemish branch that helped run the camp, and I was stunned by the youth of the murderers and prisoners---one prisoner was only 16 and one of the most brutal guards was only 21. Many of the inmates were fellow Belgians. I had known that soldiers would obviously be young, but the realization that people my own age and basically kids were killing and being killed like that really took my breath away. We toured the entire compound, hearing stories, interviews, and descriptions. Torture chambers, gallows, toilets, beds. The worst is that Breendonk wasn't even a death camp---there were worse places. It was a very powerful thing to see and it was definitely something I would recommend doing. Even in the US we are required to read Holocaust literature and we're steeped in WWII stereotypes and stories, but seeing it in person is something else entirely. From what I've seen Europeans are much more conscious and retentive about the World Wars, not surprisingly. Seeing is still more powerful than second-hand information.
After that we took a little detour into Holland to walk about in the sunshine and 'boire un verre' (drink a glass), a very important pass time here. The waiter of course spoke good English. We were talking about the Dutch Stereotype of stupid Belgians and the Belgian stereotype of scroogish Dutchmen when Jade decided to adapt to the country by making a show of tipping the very last drop of soda out of her bottle. The waiter was pretty obviously staring at her. I died laughing, Jade maneuvered her hat to try to become invisible, the waiter kept staring, and we retreated to the less commonly spoken French. Good times.
Saturday night was our going away party. Marianne rented a room, a dj, and basically went all out. We are some spoiled exchange students. It was really wonderful to see all of our friends and family together---so many good memories and special people. We had wonderful Belgian sausages and baguettes and danced and laughed and had a really wonderful time. Around 3 Marianne and Jean Pierre managed to get all of us youngsters back to the house and we all conked out on the sofas. Coffee and tea were very important substances the next day, but it was totally worth it.
I finished my last final today, so now I am done with high school FOR REAL. Hooray! We have to go back to the school next week to get our report cards though, because Belgians don't do online grading. I'm glad; it'll give me a chance to see all my friends again and it lets me procrastinate on freaking out over how little time we have left. Much to do and so little time.

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