Fri 02 May 2014

Małgorzata Rejmer blogs from Hasselt & Genk (2): Searching for stories

Małgorzata Rejmer © SawomirKlimkowskiThe Polish author Małgorzata Rejmer was invited for citybooks Hasselt-Genk. During her residency in the two cities she blogged about her daily experiences. Belgium was not what she expected it to be!

Click here to read the original Polish text

Hasselt part 2: searching for stories


Why are young Belgians so eager to die?

I don't know, Laura shrugs.

Laura is the organizer of my stay in Hasselt, I meet her over a coffee.

Maybe it's a question of pressure... Everyone here puts pressure on the young – says Laura. Two of my friends committed suicide. I didn't expect they could kill themselves, but I wasn't surprised when they did.

It's a paradox, I say.

Yes, Laura nods. But so it was. There was some kind in sadness in them, a feeling of end. I don't know how to explain that.

Laura has to go back to the office and I'm left in questions in my head.


Young Belgians are taught fear, says Michiel, whom I meet in a local library. Fear, premonition of decline and end are everywhere. A conviction that everything is about to collapse, any moment now. Politicians are trying to arouse fear in us along with a belief that without them everything is going to crash. First Belgium, then our lives. That we will lose all we have. There is no thought more terrifying for a Belgian than that he could lose his house, trimmed lawn and beautiful car. We are taught to be afraid, trained to fear.

Michiel is an atheist, socialist and idealist. Graduated from Philosophy. He says that Belgium should open itself to minorities, because Belgians are not able to share what they have with the weaker. Michiel reminds me of a character from some book. But which one? He is gentle, open and constantly speaks about social inequalities. Maybe it's Dostoyevsky's The Idiot?

Michiel has not read The Idiot but he wants to catch up. Each person you meet leaves a trace in you – he says on goodbye.



I anchored at the bar of Irish Pub in Hasselt and after a moment I'm explaining to Ben, who's sitting next to me, why I came here – I'm searching for stories.

And Ben has a story for me. For thirteen years he has been a rail safety engineer. It means that, among other things, he was collecting bodies of suicides and accident victims from railroad tracks. After that he started thinking what to do so that there are less accidents. Less than so much... Over 13 years he saw 400 unfortunate accidents, half of them caused by suicides.

You can get used to that, says Ben after a moment. I grew up on a farm; I've known the smell of meat ever since I was a child. A dead man smells the same as a dead pig or cow. The same blood, the same protein, so the meat is also the same. Many people quit this job 'cause they can't stand the smell. As if you enter a slaughterhouse. But, with time, you can get used to it.

We drink to life.



I'm walking around the cemeteries of Hasselt, from crypts and tombs, through pits for ash and green grass where ashes are scattered. This is one hundred years of sociological changes in Western Europe – from massive tombs with angels and images of children, to ashes in the air. Once, death had a shape and form, now it has turned to nothingness, a gust of wind and soil.

My mother was obsessed she would be buried alive, says Inge, who works in the library in Hasselt. Check five times, she pleaded, and then cremate me. The urn is in a niche. It's the most practical solution.

Do you fear death less thanks to this?

Inge was thinking for a while.

No... In fact, I guess we fear it even more.



Małgorzata Rejmer is currently writing her citybook about Hasselt and Genk. Keep an eye on the website to find out when you can read and listen to her story in Polish, and in the Dutch, English and French translations!

Photo © Sawomir Klimkowski


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