When I arrived to Brussels, a Belgian man told me something that would ring true by the time of my departure: “You hate coming to Brussels, you hate living there, and then you hate leaving.”
I didn’t hate the idea of Brussels. When I accepted my job offer, the only thing I knew was that it was the Capital of the European Union. “I love Europe, so I’ll love the capital.” I told myself that without truly understanding what it’s like to live in another city and navigate through another system.
Well, my first month was horrible. I had the tiniest number of friends, I was homeless in the I-don’t-have-a-home-but-I-have-shelter sort of way and I was broke. The problem was that I needed money to rent a place. But I needed to have a place in order to have a residence permit. And I needed a residence permit in order to get paid for work. Confusing? Yes. I didn’t prepare at all, so it was no one’s fault but mine, but navigating through a bureaucratic system in French and Dutch didn’t help me fix it.
So once I finally got that figured out, I moved in with two people that really made my life easier. This was the beginning of an upward trend in my time there. I started renting my new place on the day before Christmas and they made us all a Christmas dinner as a welcoming gift. I could have cried at that time. From that day forward, I knew that while the clouds could burst with rain at any minute, that the people would make it all better.
But the actual place I was renting was terrible. I recall not having hot water for upwards of two weeks. Some of the weakest wifi I have ever had. To top things off, my room eventually was infested with flies. 5 months into my contract, I decided to move. Besides, I had already become acquainted with the city by this point, I could finally find a place more fitting for me.
When I moved, I found a wonderful place in the better part the city. Close to awesome bars, fritkots and the European Parliament. To add to this, summer had finally come. Anyone who knows me knows that I love summer. My time in the summer was simply wonderful. Hanging out with new intern friends, drinking beer by St. Catharine, eating at Mama Roma’s pizza place, hiking almost every weekend, travelling on others. It took almost 7 months but I finally felt like Brussels was my home.
When I finished my work contract, I didn’t realize what I was going to miss. I knew I wasn’t going to miss the bureaucracy, and the government that conveniently didn’t operate in my native tongue, but I ended up missing everything else. Brussels is weird. There’s no arguing that. But I learned to love it, like you learn to love that greasy run down restaurant with the suspiciously cheap food. It’s not the cleanest, it may not even have the nicest people, but it’s undeniably comforting.
Even after the events that took place two days ago, I can safely say that it will recover. The Mannekin Pis will reign again. The asymmetrical Grand Place will stand tall. And it will recover because of the people there. As much as they complain about it — and as much as I did — the love was there.
It will recover because Belgium always recovers — even if it’s in the most inefficient way possible.