Friday, September 20, 2013

Brussels: a leap of faith



Jade collected her bags and was surprised when no one even questioned her at customs.  She even found the bus to the city center with relative ease.  In fact she was rather proud of herself, and enjoyed her bus ride while thinking to herself, ‘I’m in Belgium!’
Up until the point, that is, that the bus driver had to inform her, in English no less, that this was the last stop.  He had already said so in French, twice, and everyone else had gotten off the bus, but Jade was happily clueless.  Until she was mortified.  And, to make matters worse, she was travelling with an ungodly amount of luggage, so it took her a few moments to collect all of her things and arrange them in a fashion conducive to being moved off a bus by a single person. And thus, before she knew it, Jade was almost literally in a heap in the middle of Brussels, and she had no idea where she was, especially in relation to where she needed to be.  Nor did she exactly have a point of contact…
Surely this wasn’t what her parents had been so worried about, was it?  ‘I mean, worst comes to worst,’ she thought to herself, ‘ I can always stay in a hotel.’  Secretly this was tantamount to defeat to Jade, but she needed a little reassurance at this point, and she damned sure wasn’t going to call her mother for it.  Largely because she was afraid her mother would say ‘we told you so,’ and insist that Jade come home.
But Jade was out to prove herself, mostly to herself.  So after 15 or 20 minutes of fumbling through her guidebook and looking intently at the French/Flemish bus stop sign, Jade resigned herself and asked for help.  There was only one other person left nearby at that point, a middle aged gentlemen who replied to Jade’s question as she asked it, in French.  Of course, Jade couldn’t exactly understand his reply, as the only French she knew was what she had read out of a book on the plane ride just before. 
So, she calmly asked him back, “Je ne comprend pas; parlez vous Anglaise?”
He then told her, “Yes, the metro is just over there.  Where are you trying to go?” as he pointed across the circle.  Jade saw some escalators in the general area he had motioned toward.
“The American Embassy.  Do you know where that is?”  Now truthfully, let’s consider how many people randomly know where any embassy is in their own city, particularly an embassy that does not belong to their own country. 
But Jade was lucky this time, and the man told her, take the metro two stops and get off at Arts Loi.  You will find it a little ways down when you come out.” And with that, he left.
So, Jade set off toward the escalators, with a garment bag, a large purse, a backpack stuffed to capacity, and a large rolling suitcase.  She probably looked like a crazy person, but she was determined to fit in, and so she held her head high as she neared the subway.  The escalators seemed not to be working, which struck Jade as odd on a Monday morning, but because she didn’t want to be mistaken for an ignorant tourist, she was undaunted and took the adjacent stairs, her wheeled suitcase loudly slamming down every single step.  She did not realize that the escalators had motion sensors until, having arrived at Arts Loi and dragged all of her bags up the stairs, a woman walked right next to her, onto the lifeless escalator, and as she stepped on to it, the escalator jumped to life and carried her down into the metro.
One part of her wanted to laugh at her mistake, the other part was mortified that she had been revealed as a foreigner, and so Jade decided not to think about it.  After all, she was ultimately succeeding in her quest; she was, according to the man’s directions, almost to the Embassy.  Jade’s new place of work, starting tomorrow.
One thing that bothered her still, though, was how quiet the sidewalks and the streets were.  After all, it was Monday morning in the capital of the European Union – where was everyone?  But just as this question began to nag at Jade, she saw an American Flag out of the far left corner of her eye, and she thought to herself, ‘hah! I did it!’
Before she could gloat though, she had to once again dig through her rather large purse to find her passport.  And though she held it in her hand as she approached the embassy gate, the short marine outside stopped her anyway.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but we’re closed.”  He informed Jade.  Which is right about when she thought she felt her heart stop.
“What?! How can you be closed? I’m an American.  This is the American Embassy.  I have a job here and I don’t know anyone.  I don’t have a place to live, or even a place to stay.  I’m supposed to contact my boss when I get here, and he works here.  I don’t even have his phone number, just an email address.”  She held out her passport while she ranted all of this information off, really it sounded more like a plea for help at this point.  The short Marine let her in the gate, and soon she was telling the whole sob story to another Marine, even shorter than the first, inside the gatehouse.  Clearly this Marine could see that tears were on their way, and he reassured her, probably before he even knew what she was talking about.  He took her boss’s name, and while Jade waited and stubbornly refused to cry, the world’s shortest Marine kindly called Jade’s soon to be boss.  Who, it turns out, was the director of his entire division, not only for all of Europe, the US mission to the EU, and also Africa.  It also turned out that he just so happened to be in Venice, Italy that day.
As Jade soon learned, not only was it Memorial Day in the States, but it was a Bank Holiday in Belgium and indeed, the US Embassy was closed.  The cute little Marine, though, must have interjected on her behalf, because when he turned his gatehouse microphone back on to speak with Jade, after hanging up the phone with her new boss, he said “not to worry.  The Director of your department in is Italy, but he is calling his housesitter to come and get you.”
After showering copious, genuine thanks upon both of the short Marines, Jade was ushered back out of the Embassy gatehouse, where she sat on her giant wheeled suitcase for only a few minutes awaiting the arrival of the rescuing housesitter. 
Jan showed up quickly, and hopped out to meet Jade.  He was rather pudgy but very nice, and he worked up a bit a sweat while stuffing Jade’s luggage into his tiny car.  Clearly he had not planned on picking up someone with lots of luggage today, and it was really good of him to drop everything and race into town on a holiday to pick up some poor tourist.