"Of course, this is all done in the name of national security... but as a student who has frequented numerous EU member states over the years, I can't help but notice the lasting drastic effects that these terrorist attacks have had on countries..."
Stepping into the arrivals section at Zaventem airport, I was surrounded by joyful tourists, a plethora of advertisements for tourist attractions and a troop of well-built soldiers carrying P90 submachine guns.
An odd sight for a 20-year-old student to witness on his summer holiday, but something that I became quite accustomed to very quickly on this trip.
It has been a little over five months since the tragic bombings at Zaventem Airport and Maalbeek Metro station in central Brussels which left 32 people dead and more than 300 people injured.
It was one of the numerous attacks that have been carried out by terrorist cells over the past year and was the biggest act of terrorism to ever occur on Belgian soil.
This didn’t exactly provide me with much comfort on the flight over, but provided context to what I might expect to see during my visit.
Troops of fully armed soldiers patrolled parliamentary buildings and Metro stations, casually striding past busy commuters and other civilians in their camouflaged uniforms.
Large convoys trucked through the main streets, boasting a vast array of military standard weaponry and steely determination.
Public bins in Metro stations have been sealed up with duct tape and covered with bolted wooden planks in order to prevent explosive devices being hidden within them. This was all seen within an hour of arriving in Brussels city centre.
To an Irish person, witnessing these scenes first hand was both unnerving and somewhat exciting. However, this constant military presence seems to be the norm for the ordinary citizens of Brussels who live and work in the city centre.
It’s a strange sight to see elderly women interact with a soldier in such a calm manner, while he rests his arm on a fully loaded assault rifle.
Chatting to a friend, an expat now working in the European Parliament, I began to form a basic understanding of the general feeling towards living in a community that had been rocked by such a disastrous event.
It seemed that although there are security forces roaming the streets day and night, many view them with unease, almost feeling that their continuous presence prevents people from returning to normality.
It creates a constant state of worry for regular commuters. I thought this to be strange at first, but upon arriving at Maalbeek Station for the first time, a sudden rush of anxiety washed over me and I immediately sympathised with those who make this journey daily, quickly understanding their unease.
Scrawled across a white-tiled wall in black permanent marker read the words “Maalbeek Station”, the original sign having been destroyed by the initial blast back in March.
Even though most of the station has been rebuilt, this crude substitute serves as a cold reminder of a dark day in Belgian history.
Upon leaving Brussels after an otherwise pleasant trip, the full extent of Belgium’s military could be seen before you even stepped foot into Zaventem.
A giant white tent stands at the end of an impressive line of steel barriers. Inside stand more soldiers, randomly screening passengers’ luggage before they can even enter the departures lounge.
The tent is only the first port of call for travellers, next is a large steel mesh gate that surrounds the building like something you expect to see in a typical zombie movie scenario.
A well-fortified sand bunker sits atop the building itself, a cosy setting for the lone sniper who vigilantly surveys the entrance, keeping an eye out for anyone acting suspicious.
This trifecta of defence that is on display at Zaventem accurately highlights the high levels of anxiety and general fear felt by Belgians.
Of course, this is all done in the name of national security and the general safety of the Belgian people, but as a student who has frequented numerous EU member states over the years, I can't help but notice the lasting drastic effects that these terrorist attacks have had on countries such as Belgium.
A once peaceful country has been turned into a fully militarised zone, constantly on edge and awaiting the unthinkable.
As Irish people, we are used to living in quite a neutral environment. It served as a wake-up call for myself, opening up my eyes to the reality of the current situation which the world is facing.
I only hope that we won’t have to wake up one morning to see the same thing on our streets.