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Thread: The Belgium Incident

  1. #1
    Senior Member Ultralight's Avatar
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    The Belgium Incident

    On the second and third days of my vacation I was in Brussels, Belgium.

    Something happened there. And I wanted to crowd-source some thoughts on it.

    I was supposed to arrive in Belgium on May 15th around mid-morning. But because of multiple delays I did not get to Belgium until about 11:30pm on May 15th.

    The cell phone I had with me did not have service. So once I left the airport I did not have wifi.

    I took a train from the airport to the main train station in Brussels. The plan was to then walk 5 minutes to the Air BnB.

    When I got off the train I went to an ATM to draw out some Euros. My bank -- despite me telling them when and where I would be out of the country -- did not put in the proper protocols. So my card was denied. This was a stress on top of the flight delays. All I had was about 25 Euros left from Ireland the day before.

    So I started walking to my Air BnB. But then I took a wrong turn and was quickly totally lost in the Arabic neighborhoods. I knocked on the wrong door and two Arab Belgians shouted at me that I was at the wrong place. I don't speak French or Arabic. They don't speak English or Spanish. I was as lost as ever.

    But this drew some attention to me.

    And then out of the shadows came a gathering of about a dozen Arab men in their 20s. Some of them were obviously drunk.

    They walked toward me, saying things in French and Arabic I did not understand. They were rapidly becoming agitated.

    I look about as American as a person can -- white dude, baseball cap, Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, overweight, and a backpack.

    So I started to back away from this group. I also unlatched my backpack's chest strap and pulled one shoulder out, so I could quickly drop it and run or -- worst case -- start throwing punches.

    A couple people in the agitated crowed pulled out cell phones and started taking video.

    The vibe became increasingly hostile.

    I used my martial arts training to walk/move in a way that lined up the crowd instead of letting them form a circle around me. That way, if it became a fight, I would -- at least at first -- only have to deal with one at a time.

    Just then I saw a little all-night quickie mart.

    I ducked in there. I said to the owner (also an Arab): "I am lost."

    He said: "You are more than lost."

    Suddenly one of the guys in the crowd, which was just outside the door of quickie mart, could speak English. He said: "Come out. I will take you right where you need to go."

    He was clearly drunk.

    The owner of the quickie mart said: "You don't wanna go out there."

    I was like: "I know."

    I reached out my hand to the owner and said: "I am Jake."

    He shook my hand and said: "I am Raja."

    I explained: "I am an American. I don't have cell service or internet on my phone. I am lost trying to find my Air BnB."

    Raja, the quickie mart owner, said: "I have been right where you are. In a foreign country, can't speak the language, lost. I will help you."

    So he called the Air BnB host, who was apparently mad as hell for me being so late and so lost.

    Raja said: "The apartment is very close. But it is hard to find."

    The agitated crowd was still outside the door.

    Raja said: "Are you thirsty or hungry? Take what you need."

    I took a couple bananas and offered to pay him from the few Euros I had left from Ireland. But he said: "No, free of charge."

    Then he said: "Here is what I am going to do. I am going to drive you in my car. We'll duck out of here, get in my car, and go to the apartment."

    Keep in mind, by now it is about 1am.

    So we zipped out of his store (which he left his brother to run). We jumped in his car. We took a quick but zig-zag path to the apartment.

    He said: "Go knock on the door, if it is the right place, give me a thumbs-up. Wrong place, get back in this car."

    I went up to the door. It was the angry Air BnB host. I calmed him down. Then I gave Raja the thumbs-up. Raja waved and drove off.

    I apologized to the Air BnB host and smoothed things over. Then I went to bed, rather shaken up.

    For a moment there it was touch-and-go. I could see the headlines, something like: "American tourist stabbed to death in Brussels amid elevated terror risk."

    But I made it out okay, with Raja's help.

    After another day, in the morning, I was to fly out of Brussels to Zagreb. I tried to walk (in daylight!) to Raja's quickie mart. I could not find it. I wanted to tell him that anytime he was in the USA he had a friend and that dinner would be on me!

    I couldn't find him though.

    So I flew out. And vowed to myself: "Next time I see a stranger in a strange land, I will help him, to do something like what Raja did for me."

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
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    You were fortunate to find a good human being. Pay it forward. You find the same situation in the USA in "bad neighborhoods" too, so it is a pretty universal thing to find hoodlums terrorizing strangers, or worse. You might see if the Air BnB host can tell you where the quickie mart was, since Raja said it was close; so you can try to contact them by mail. But the best complement you can pay Raja is to pay it forward. Good men are deserving of the respect of emulation.

  3. #3
    Simpleton Alan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ultralight View Post
    Thoughts?
    How did you both agitate a crowd and locate the owner of a quickie mart with a heart of gold at 1am?

    The only problems I've ever experienced in Brussels was trying to find a gas station while my rental car's gauge was sitting on 'E'. I couldn't find anyone in the city who would admit to understanding the words gasoline or petrol, and for the life of me I couldn't think of a French equivalent.
    "Things should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler." ~ Albert Einstein

  4. #4
    Senior Member bae's Avatar
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    Hmmmm.

    I’ve been “lost” in “no go” zones in Scandinavia, as reported by our media. Even in Stockholm, the day after the recent truck mass killing, which I was staying a mere block or so away from. I found the immigrant folks I interacted with quite kind, and they had great food, and I had some good chats about how to immigrate myself with them.

    To be fair, there wasn’t a language barrier of significance, and I wasn’t dressed like a California tourist.

    Glad it turned out well for you.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Ultralight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan View Post
    How did you both agitate a crowd and locate the owner of a quickie mart with a heart of gold at 1am?

    Well, the crowd seemed rather pre-agitated!


    My mom thinks Raja was a guardian angle who never really existed. haha

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan View Post
    The only problems I've ever experienced in Brussels was trying to find a gas station while my rental car's gauge was sitting on 'E'. I couldn't find anyone in the city who would admit to understanding the words gasoline or petrol, and for the life of me I couldn't think of a French equivalent.
    I found one, but I was on foot. So I didn't need it! Oh, the irony!

  6. #6
    Senior Member Ultralight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bae View Post
    Hmmmm.

    I’ve been “lost” in “no go” zones in Scandinavia, as reported by our media. Even in Stockholm, the day after the recent truck mass killing, which I was staying a mere block or so away from. I found the immigrant folks I interacted with quite kind, and they had great food, and I had some good chats about how to immigrate myself with them.

    To be fair, there wasn’t a language barrier of significance, and I wasn’t dressed like a California tourist.

    Glad it turned out well for you.
    I dress like a California tourist every day!

    And thanks.

  7. #7
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    What a scary situation. Glad it worked out.

  8. #8
    Senior Member catherine's Avatar
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    Wow, you guys are scaring me with your stories of "no-go" zones... My DD and her bf are going to Copenhagen tomorrow for 10 days. Is there anything they should know? Any risk mitigation suggestions?
    "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?" Emily Webb, Our Town
    www.silententry.wordpress.com

  9. #9
    Senior Member Ultralight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by catherine View Post
    Wow, you guys are scaring me with your stories of "no-go" zones... My DD and her bf are going to Copenhagen tomorrow for 10 days. Is there anything they should know? Any risk mitigation suggestions?
    My travel rules are:
    1. Don't drink.
    2. Try to be home around dusk.
    3. Don't get involved with local women.

  10. #10
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    Stay aware of your surroundings and stay out of sketchy areas. If there are not lots of people out walking take a cab. All the times we have been in Europe people are walking everywhere. Never felt unsafe.

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