Sun 04 May 2014

Małgorzata Rejmer blogs from Hasselt & Genk (3): 'What do you mean, difficult?'

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

(3) From Hasselt to Genk: What do you mean, difficult?



As a part of field studies I'm going to a local rock music festival. Everyone around claims that Belgians are a very closed nation, but after a week in Hasselt I can't walk a street without meeting someone, waving at someone or going for a coffee with somebody.

At the concert – a crowd of new acquaintances. So I'm grumbling at Ben that it's somewhat difficult to chat up strangers and ask them about suicides. And he says: What do you mean, difficult? It's easy, look! He stops a girl who is just walking by: Hey, my friend is writing about suicides in Flanders, do you know somebody who's killed himself? The girl looks at us and says with a smile: My best friend hung himself a month ago. We stare at her, stunned.

The girl doesn't stop smiling.



Last moments in Hasselt, I'm sitting on a bench next to a church, reading a book. A moment later a Belgian family joins me – neat, light haired, nice. The mother keeps scolding the children not to speak too loud or disturb me.

An hour later I'm sitting on a bus to Genk. Next to me, a slender, sad Hindi woman, further on a couple of Palestinians angry at one another and in the back of the bus a bunch of Turkish children punching themselves on the heads. Rough, Arabic hip-hop served from a phone by someone to the travellers sounds as if from underground.



Water is pouring from the sky onto emptiness. Hasselt is a carefully planned circle filled with people; Genk is a single, narrow line of a deserted street, where only wind is blows. Where will I find a human being?



I'm joining Marie at a local café and I instantly notice her fiery red hair, as if sparks are about to fall from them. I tell her how helpless I feel in Genk.

Genk is a completely different town than Hasselt, Marie explains, and generally different from all the other towns in Belgium. Genk belongs to minorities who came here from all around the world to work in the mines. Poles, Italians, Romanians, Turkish... Anyway, just look at me; my father is Irish and mother German.

So what nationality are you? - I ask.

I'm fron Genk – smiles Marie. My identity is the town of Genk. They say about the Belgians they are born with a brick in their stomach, it means they always want to live where they were born, live there and build a house. They don't like moving, probably because of that brick. I was born in Genk and wherever I go, I will always be saying I'm from Genk.



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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