November 26, 2021

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“You are quite sick in the head if you want to live in Belgium”

“You are quite sick in the head if you want to live in Belgium”

Brussels (TV 2): The scent of “Marché des Abbatoirs” is a mixture of spices, wet clothes, sweat, live animals, and hot frying oil. The sky hangs over the market around and inside the old slaughterhouses. It is full of people and the noise level is high.

This is my new country, my new city. Brussels, where many Europeans and people of immigrant background live in the community, is somewhat on the side of the country itself.

Belgian waffle: it smells sweet and tastes sweet. More powerful than the Norwegian version, but with the same quality. Photo: Elin Sørsdahl / TV 2

Earlier this fall, investor Øystein Stray Spetalen made a strong ball against Belgium. The country has always attracted people who are not too fond of the wealth tax. For billionaire Stray Spetalen, Belgium’s tax evasion is irrelevant:

– You are quite mentally ill if you want to live in Belgium. If you choose to settle in Belgium, you are worth every penny saved in taxes, which is quite a harsh country. In an interview at Dagens Næringsliv in August, Stray Spetalen asked what you are doing in Belgium on Saturday.

Sunday Bunny: Should it be a bunny from the market in the fall pot this weekend?  about 80 kroner per kilo,

Sunday Bunny: Should it be a bunny from the market in the fall pot this weekend? For about 80 kroner per kilo, Photo: Elin Sørsdahl / TV 2

On a Saturday or preferably a Sunday in Belgium, you can, for example, go to one of the many markets. Whether you’re interested in vintage clothes, second-hand stores and antiques, or like to sip oysters and white wine. Or buy a live rooster for a hundred Norwegian or get cheap vegetables all week.

French Fries: Belgium is the home of French fries.  Preferably eaten in a cream of food paper with a fatty layer of mayonnaise.

Fresh Fruit: Belgium is the home of French fries. Preferably eaten in a cream of food paper with a fatty layer with mayonnaise. Photo: Elin Sørsdahl / TV 2

The first weeks after moving to Belgium do not frighten me, despite Stray Spetalen’s dismal prognosis. Then I also drove «Belgian». This is the third time I’ve moved to a country that has earned a bad reputation, both undeserved and owed.

Child sexual abuse and horror

Belgium was rocked in the 1990s by cases of child sexual exploitation. Kidnapping and killing children. Emotionally some of the toughest cases I covered for TV2. Rarely did I feel more welcome when I knocked on the doors of my relatives to meet the parents who had lost their children. Children are abused in the worst ways.

Because they said. For all the years we’ve been pleading with the police and authorities to look for our children, journalists were the only ones who listened to us. In moments like these, a profession feels more than just meaning.

Oil return: Belgium is the only country that I know of that has its own frying oil recycling and recycling scheme.  Then the fries will have at least some sustainability.

Oil return: Belgium is the only country that I know of that has its own frying oil recycling and recycling scheme. Then the fries will have at least some sustainability. Photo: Elin Sørsdahl / TV 2

In recent years, the country has bolstered an alarming number of foreign fighters and terrorists. I can still feel it in my stomach when I drive to Maalbeek metro station. One of two scenes of the terrorist attack in Brussels in March 2016.

After seven years behind me in Brussels on two different shifts, I gave birth to children and brought up teenage boys in a small country. I would say it went well.

However, I do not want to deny that Belgium is a special country. Well, it’s hardly a country at all. It is said that the only thing that unites the regions of Flanders and Wallonia with Belgium is the royal house, the armed forces and the Red Devils, the men’s national football team.

The country has countless parliaments and governments. At times, the country has been more than a year without a national government. Because the various parties with Flemish-speaking and French-speaking politicians did not agree.

Belgium is a country that has been overtaken by European powers and divided among themselves for centuries. The country became an independent kingdom under the leadership of Leopold 1 in 1831.

However, there are a lot of traces of wealth in the city. Belgium was a colonial power for many years. The contrast between the rich and the poor is staggering.

Common Country: Belgium's different regions differ on a lot, but they agree to honor the mission's war pigeons efforts with a separate memorial.

Common country: Belgium’s different regions disagree on a lot, but agree to honor the war pigeon’s efforts with a separate memorial. Photo: Elin Sørsdahl / TV 2

Brussels is a very divided city. Markets in areas where the Belgian middle class and Eurocrats live, taste wine and sell Italian delicacies.

People who live in the city because of the European Union like to live in their own neighborhoods and areas. Children go to their own EU schools or expensive international private schools. Many live in their bubble, without much contact with Belgian society. The Belgians know that we who came here may leave in three or four years. So why invest in friendship?

The opposite is the Molenbeek area, which former President Donald Trump called “the filth.” Many do not cross the canal separating Molenbeek from the city center, because they are afraid of the terrorist wave in Europe in 2015-2016. Much has been done to improve and clean up conditions, but people still live in their communities on this edge of town as well. One in three people in Brussels lives below the poverty line a year and a half after the pandemic. Unfortunately, four out of ten are children, too. You’ll find plenty of them in Molenbeek.

In all shapes: fluorescent lamps and tubes of all shapes on the market in slaughterhouses.

In all shapes: fluorescent lamps and tubes of all shapes on the market in slaughterhouses. Photo: Elin Sørsdahl / TV 2

Those who do not venture into this and other neighborhoods, miss out on the good markets. And an opportunity to help some poor children get food through trade. Here, the market price of rabbits for a Sunday bowl is €8 a kilo and you can buy everything from fluorescent tubes in all shapes to pots and sequins in bulk. The advantage of the market at Les Abbatoirs slaughterhouses is that they are partly indoors, if the weather becomes too wet.

My oldest son always said as a child that Belgium is a game of weather gods. I think of it when it rains in front of the cages with roosters and hens.

Stray Spetalen is right about one thing. Belgium is a “cruel” country, at least in terms of weather.

GRAND PLACE: The outdoor country living room in Brussels.  Flanders and Wallonia are the two main regions of Belgium.  A country does not always agree to a joint government within a year.

GRAND PLACE: The outdoor country living room in Brussels. Flanders and Wallonia are the two main regions of Belgium. A country does not always agree to a joint government within a year. Photo: Elin Sørsdahl / TV 2

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