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Whilst at the funfair in Soissons on Friday night, my flatmate received a text from her step-mum saying, ‘Just seen the news about Paris. Please let us know that you’re safe.’ Until that moment – around 10:30 at night – we were completely unaware that anything was amiss. At the time, all that we could find out from Google was that there had been shootings in Paris and that 18 were dead. Our first reaction was to let family and friends know that we were safe, as Soissons is only an hour away from Paris.
Throughout the evening I received numerous Facebook messages and comments on my ‘I’m safe’ status from concerned family and friends. When I returned to my flat at around 1am, I caught up with the news to find that there were now around 140 dead and over 200 injured from the attacks. I stayed awake for a long while, reassuring my loved ones that I was safe, emailing DELC (Department of European Languages and Cultures) at Lancaster, who had asked about our safety, and trying to find out more about what had gone on. I just couldn’t get my head around the fact something so awful had taken place so nearby. This morning I woke up to more news reports, confirming what had gone on last night, and emails inquiring about my safety from the British Council, for whom I am a representative this year.
What has been most striking today is the solidarity with Paris, as is obvious from the sombre atmosphere on the streets of France, the support shown on Facebook and news stories about local people’s reactions. I was touched to read about the #PorteOuverte (#OpenDoor) initiative. This is a hashtag used by Parisians who are offering a safe place to stay for those stranded in the midst of the attacks. Moreover, on Saturday hundreds of people queued for hours in Paris in order to donate blood at hospitals across the city. People are placing candles in their windows to show that French solidarity is stronger than violence.
President Hollande described Friday night as ‘a horror’ and has reacted by closing the borders, mobilising all possible forces, including the military across wider Paris, and declaring three days of national mourning.
As for me, I still can’t quite believe what has happened. I am taken aback to see the ways that citizens have come together to support one another and to have received so many messages of concern myself. My thoughts are with everyone affected by this atrocity and I worry particularly for my friends who need to travel through Paris in the coming days. I am grateful to say that I feel safe; I wish that was true for everyone in France this evening.