Ech welle GUER NET bleiwe watt ech sinn

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I do not, in any case, want to remain what I am.

Did you know that Luxembourg is one of those countries which has a national quote. Fancy, right? It sounds extravagant and intellectual. It states Mir wir bleiwe wat mir sinn. I hope I spelled it correctly and in accordance with the last rules of grammar, because Luxembourgish grammar is younger than the quote.
It means We want to remain what we are and it originated (at least that’s what wikipedia says) in 1859 around the building of the first railways connecting Luxembourg to the neighbouring countries. In a time when mobility was increasing and people from other countries were coming to visit easily, the Luxembourgers wanted to show that they exist on the map, they have been there since some time and want to remain what they are.

Fast forward to World War 2. The Luxembourgish citizens were forced to declare that they were speaking a German dialect, not a language of their own. This time not only was their identity mocked and questioned (as it has always been and still is the case today), but it was literally denied. It was a tough time, and it even went as far as to deport people who would refuse to sign it.
So, in those circumstances,  it made perfectly sense to say: we want to remain what we are.

Fast forward to the 60s or d’Sixties (the name of a documentary about the golden decade in Luxembourg). Luxembourg was negotiating being founding member of the European Union (which didn’t exist). At that time the population of the country consisted mostly of farmers and metal industry workers, so basically it was a poor country. A handful of people formed outside the country came with the ambition to make Luxembourg one of the three centres for EU institutions. For that purpose the Grand Duc and Grande Duchesse gave the permission to transform Kirchberg which was only fields and forests into a modern quarter and to put a red bridge to connect it with the city.

When I saw d’Sixties I imagined a peasant sitting on a stone, looking at his field, looking at the clouds gathering, letting a sight go because the crops seems to be compromised and a group of people passing by asking: “Hey, dude, what would you say if Luxembourg would be part of this new thing called European Union? What would you say if Luxembourgers would host European institutions?”
And the peasant looking at the clouds again, looking at his crops, shifting on his seating stone, thinking “This stone might be a little edgy,  it might hurt my butt a little but at least I’ve been sitting on it since years looking at my crops” and saying “Ne! Mir well bleiwe watt mir sinn“.

Fast forward another 40-45 years later, during the economical boom. Luxembourg was a country with the best salaries and the banking system was flourishing, companies were blooming and there was work to be found, cross boarders arrived from all three corners of the country and there was cheep alcohol and cigarettes. Luxembourgers finally had time to create a grammar and to implement the written language and in the mean time there was a general opening towards languages and foreigners. They were building museums with plans made by famous worldwide architects and Luxembourg was becoming the European Capital of Culture.
No one gave a damn about mir well bleiwe watt mir sinn. Even some farmers became rich by selling their land to investors.

And then, by the time I got to Luxembourg, days before I start my job, a big bank crashed in the US and it created a big economical crisis.

And here we are in Luxembourg these days, where the unemployment rate is still acceptable (at least compared to other countries in Europe) and the prices of housing continue to raise artificially because of locals selling their parents houses and moving in France or Germany and some referendum tries to open the rights of voting to the foreigners, out of the sudden, again, the Luxembourgish resurrect the national motto.

Now, I consider this country to be my home. I was more welcomed here than anywhere in the world. I found incredible people, my best friends are here. I appreciate the life in Luxembourg. But why on earth, why why why would you like to remain WHAT you are. 

Why WHAT and not WHO?

Actually the WHO we are? is the BIG question in Luxembourg and is equally a theme for the locals, for the 2nd generation of Portuguese and Italian, for the expats, for the cross boarder workers, for the immigrants. Who we are, us who live here?

If I wouldn’t have asked this precious question “Who am I?” years ago I would for sure wanted to remain what I was.
And I am a lot like Luxembourg, in a way. Just a glimpse of personal memory here: what was I some time ago? You might not know so let me tell you.
3 years ago, the woman writing these lines had already passed the big challenging of integration and had a nice job, a boyfriend and a bunch of friends. Life was comfortable sitting on the stone and watching the clouds that were gathering. 3 years ago the woman writing these lines was terrified by the idea of change.
She was afraid and unable to climb a few stairs without stopping in the middle.
She was afraid to go for a run.

She was afraid to express her thoughts.
She was afraid to step out of a relationship which was breaking.
She was (at least in her opinion at that time and for many domains of life) worthless.

Back then if you would have asked me, I was damn sure that I wanted to remain what I was.

But I didn’t. One day I realised that WHAT I was didn’t define me, that I was asking myself the wrong question. WHO I was had nothing to do with the WHAT I was, because who you are is that thing in the middle of our soul that defines our values and shapes our personality. What we are can be changed.
So I changed! And that’s the thing about change: it’s addictive. I’ve become something else. I don’t know how it look to the outsiders, but from here, from inside it’s far better.

I also understood that we do not have to limit our identity to one thing. One can be Luxembourgish even if one has an Italian and an English parent (a situation that I saw in Luxembourg)… and be Jewish on top, who cares.

So because Ech well NET bleiwe watt ech sinn, I will apply sometimes in the future for the Luxembourgish nationality.

And because Luxembourg didn’t remain what it was, we now have the possibility to live in a country where important decisions are taken, where we are still not afraid to walk in the streets and where we can have a happy life (because we have more than we need to have a happy life). We also have the opportunity to live among hypocrisy and fear and xenofobia and whatever. But are not doomed to remain what we are. We also have the chance to live among people from all the corners of the world and learn from our differences. We can change for better!

Yes we can!

Piss in peace

manneken-pis

Brussels Nord train station. At the entrance of the toilet,  there is a table on which I see a grey doily and a basket with plastic little pink roses, also a notice: 0.5 EUR P.L.S.

Around the table there are three corpulent women in their 50s. One of them is black, she’s smiling, and I can see she’s new in the business. A more experienced one is speaking loudly sharing knowledge while people come in and out. An old man stands confused by a pile of paper tissues on the table, but none of the three pays attention.

“Listen my dear, they have to pay your fees in time and to provide you with a replacement!” She turns to the man standing: “Help yourself, Monsieur! Yes, there is paper in the toilet, this you can take if you want to dry your hands after!
“You hear me, dear? A replacement. Very important. A re-pla-ce-ment!
“Here,” and she hands the new woman a small paper as if she would be reading tarot cards. “Here you mark everything you do: WC, (Go on Madam, don’t be shy!), mirror – that’s when you clean in front of the big glass, and so on…
“But very important, when you can’t make it, there has to be someone to replace you. That’s what the union guys always tell us: the replacement is mandatory! If you get sick and can’t make it to work they HAVE to find you a replacement!!”

The three women all nod and the new one smiles with a sense of being accepted in the group. Just above their table I see two intriguing small prints, and now I regret not having the presence to take a picture of that whole set up. One is the Belgium flag. The other a Catholic icon.
I don’t get to see who the patron saint of “damme pipi”s is because I get disturbed by another character entering the toilet: a Muslim woman with a blue veil, the apology of multi tasking. She’s dragging a child with one hand, a small suitcase with the other and she’s speaking on her huge smart phone which is held in place to her ear by the veil.

As I go out of the toilet, I bump into a man asking around “Marie, Marie? Where are you?”. It takes me a few good seconds to understand what is he doing in the women’s toilet. He’s blind.

The conclusion I get is that in any case you can piss in peace in Brussels, because the ladies cleaning the toilets are very serious with their job and, if they can not make it, they always have a replacement!

… Memories of my last passage through the city of Manneken Pis, soon after the attack on the 22nd of March.