I first read about the Paris Attacks on my way to spend the day with refugee students and later my Maltese family here in Melbourne. As the count went from 20 to over 100, I had to shut myself out from updates. I couldn’t picture myself explaining being visibly shaken because white western people were killed to children who had witnessed and experienced so many more horrific things as the world essentially ignored them.

And then I arrived and an Eritrean boy taught me a grammar rule I never knew existed. He’s been in Australia for one year and started learning English in a refugee camp. He was reviewing for a test and wanted to know what hyperbole was, despite not having learned it in school “just in case the teacher puts it in the exam”. He was offended when I asked if it were too hard for him (“I’m in year seven!”). He was using a website to review, and he saw the word there for the first time. He still wanted to learn, so I explained. He made me smile.

Later that evening, I wasn’t sure how my (relatively conservative, older) Maltese family would react to the news. But the first thing they said was that it was terrible that ISIS is able to brainwash so many people into becoming terrorists. We could only imagine what would happen to someone to make them turn to a terrorist organization and give up their lives so willingly, so unflinchingly. We talked about how the refugee students are generally well-behaved, but sometimes because of the trauma they’ve suffered, they can’t cope with being in a classroom and need to go outside and run, scream, sit. talk, whatever. We talked about how all “bad” people are people who have experienced trauma in one way or another. Despite the somber tone of our conversation, it made me smile.

Understanding why is so much more important right now. Yes, we can grieve and pray, but the entire point of terrorism is to get people to jump from grief straight to dictating next steps without the critical thinking in between. Please, please don’t jump to hyperbole in your reactions. Leave the hyperbole to literature and schoolchildren. Please don’t ask that we shut the borders to refugees in response to this tragedy. It’s a tragedy that refugees have been living every single day. Take a broader look at our world and focus on the bigger picture. It’s hard work, but like most hard work, it’s well worth the effort.

observatoire

This is the view from my apartment in Paris circa 2007. I spent many an afternoon on my balcony people watching and weeks watching French university students protesting an increase in fees. Paris was the first place I visited solo, where I had my first (good) kiss, and where I fell in love with travel. To say I love this city is an understatement at best.

The Paris attacks were the first that have personally affected me since 9/11, albeit in different ways. During 9/11, I was young and lucky enough to have a mother who shielded me from the worst of it in those first few days. The pain would come later with a funeral and watching as loved ones dealt with the devastating effects of surviving the attacks. To this day, when people make lame 9/11 conspiracy theory jokes after hearing I’m from New York, I grit my teeth because for me, it’ll probably always be too soon.

This time around when I heard the news, I immediately went into overdrive, racking my brain for everyone I knew who was still in Paris. Beloved professors who could be partially credited with changing my life, yes. My dearest friends, thankfully no. Random people I went to school with, yes. As each one checked in as ‘safe,’ I breathed a sigh of relief and had a wonderful day with beautiful people.