Two Oxford Year Abroad students living in Paris have spoken to Cherwell about their experiences following the series of terrorist attacks in the city last Friday night which killed 129 people.
The Modern Languages department emailed all third-year linguists over the weekend asking them to confirm their safety amid reports that a recent LSE graduate was among those killed. No Oxford linguists are believed to have been directly injured.
Kenny Dada, a third-year linguist from Pembroke, who lives in Paris, told Cherwell, “I was at home in the UK when it happened. Gare du Nord, the station that I took the Eurostar from is one train stop from Stade de France, where some of the bombings happened. If my Eurostar had been later in the evening, I would have been right in the middle of everything. The other interns that I live with and I go into Paris for dinner/drinks all the time. What if we had decided to have a ‘big night out’ on Friday 13th? In fact, two of my friends did go into Paris on Friday and as a result of the events, they couldn’t return back to our residence and had to spend the night at the house of kind strangers.
“A few weeks ago, I was at a James Bay concert in Paris. What if the terrorists had decided to hit the Olympia Music Hall on 2nd November, and not the Bataclan on 13th November?
“To say that I was scared when all the horrifi c things occurred would be a massive understatement. An MBA student at the business school that I work in was one of the Bataclan victims. One of my colleagues lives a street away from one of the shootings and she was at Le Petit Cambodge for dinner the night before.
“When François Hollande announced on Friday that the French borders were closed, I was so set on delaying my return to France. Eurostar offered full refunds to those that wanted to cancel their trips to Paris, and my parents really didn’t want me to go back. However, over the weekend, I realised that cancelling my return would be letting the terrorists win. So, I decided that I would keep to my original plans and go back to France on Monday 16th. It was a hard decision that was made even worse by the fact that my seven-yearold brother cried his little eyes out worrying for me, as he didn’t want me to go back.
“I did the one minute silence on Monday at St Pancras, and the station, which is usually buzzing was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. The Eurostar departure lounge was deserted, armed police and security were everywhere and my passport and ticket were checked multiple times. I was shaking as I came through Gare du Nord, where there was even more of a police presence and everyone on the train was visibly on edge. The atmosphere in France is tense at the moment and security has been heightened everywhere, but despite all this, the French are still defi ant and definitely not broken.”
Huw Oliver, a third-year French and Linguistics student living in Paris, told Cherwell, “I was at home [in Paris] watching TV when I heard. A shooting in Paris, they said on Twitter. At first, I thought nothing of it. This kind of stuff happens outside the centre now and then. But as details trickled out on social media and newspapers, the more agitated I became. The reports were confused and contradictory, and even professional news sources had no clue about the exact goings-on. Yet it was immediately clear this was much closer to home.
“The first news that came in was about the shooting at Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge, ten minutes down the road from my place in Belleville. Many dead. At one point they said there was a shooting at the Jourdain Métro station a few minutes up the road too (there wasn’t), so it seemed I was trapped. My eyes and fingers were glued to my phone and my laptop – which was all I could do.
“As news of other shootings and the Eagles of Death Metal gig hijacking burst onto on my newsfeed, I began to think why. Why these places? Why these people? Why such innocent, normal, fun, Friday-night activities being impaled in the name of terrorism? Chances are, you can fudge an answer to these questions by now. You’ve read all the commentary and analysis. The bars of Canal Saint-Martin and Charonne, the music venues of central Paris, the black-blancbeur French football team: these are all glaring emblems of a liberal, young, mixed Western society, Paris’ enviably brilliant nightlife and its brilliantly diverse social fabrics.
“The only reason I wasn’t killed or injured on Friday is because I’m lucky, and lazy. Having just got in from working from my 10-6 job, I was pretty tired. I didn’t want to go out. But if I had, who’s to say I wouldn’t have wound up at one of these buzzing, relatively well-known addresses? One of my colleagues – Manu, a funny, kind man and big rock fan – was at the Bataclan on Friday and he got out with just a minor knee injury. An even luckier escape, but I dread to think what he’s thinking, and how his close friends and family must be feeling. Elsa, my boss and desk-mate, lost two friends on Friday and three others have been badly hurt. Everyone knows someone or someone who knows someone who’s died.
“The only way forward for Parisians is unwavering resilience, as far as I can see. Going to bars, going to gigs, watching the footie, that kind of thing. I’m going to see Spectre on the weekend – Saturday’s token act of defiance – and then maybe Canadian band Ought next week – that’ll be Wednesday’s. I expect to enjoy myself, but no doubt I’ll be placing myself near the exit. Métro commutes are awkward at the moment – everyone is looking each other in the eye and acting with a certain degree of fausse politesse – and I absolutely hate it.”
In Oxford, over 400 students and locals took part in a peaceful march from the Radcliffe Camera to the Maison Française on Sunday to show solidarity with the people of France.
Clara Paugam, who organised the march, said, “We wanted to organise this walk because we are all concerned about what’s happening, the victims of Paris. It could have been us. I had a friend of mine who was living on Rue de Charonne where 19 people were killed … A lot of us here are from Paris.” Many of those in attendance were French or had family in France, though a number of students without such connections joined the march to show solidarity.
A number of vigils for the 129 victims have been held across colleges, including Christ Church and Hertford.