Last Sunday, over 1.5 million people converged in Paris to march for unity, after terrorist attacks in the capital killed 17 people. Grace Defosse, 55, a Malaysian from Kuala Kangsar was in the crowd. She talks to Ai-Leen Lim about the experience.
I have not seen anything like this in all my years in France.
I left Malaysia 19 years ago, to settle here with my French husband, who I met when we were both working in Kuala Lumpur.
We live in the 11th arrondissement. Charlie Hebdo’s office is two kilometres away; the kosher supermarket is just one kilometre away. (Both were sites of the attacks.) People feel slightly safer for now, as the police are guarding many places. Last night I went to nearby Boulevard Voltaire at 10 pm and all the Jewish stores were still open. It was as if nothing had happened.
The unity rally started at 3 pm at the Place de la Republique. We went with my Malaysian girlfriend and her French husband. The square was flooded with people. We couldn’t see anything and no one could move because it was so crowded.
It was so cold and uncomfortable, but the mood was celebratory. I have never seen the French so friendly; you know their reputation [for being unfriendly]. Everybody was talking to everybody. And there was a great sense of unity and defiance.
I consider myself a world citizen now, as my parents were immigrants from China to Malaysia, and I’m Malaysian with a French family. But I felt French at that moment. United to defend our liberty. The French feel that their way of life is being threatened. They’re against those who wish to impose their values on others. I feel the same way.
After standing still at Place de la Republique for an hour, we decided to squeeze our way out to a side street, and walk home for coffee. It was only when we turned on the TV that we realised why the crowd couldn’t move. There were so many people.
We live about 150 metres away from Place de la Nation, where the rally concluded. From our apartment we could hear them chanting: “Je suis Charlie!”