a wandering woman writes

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Saturday morning at Barajas

I met ETA Saturday morning.

Just about 9 am, while I was carrying two trays to the screening machines at Terminal 4 in Madrid's Barajas Airport, an ETA car bomb blew up the parking structure across from the terminal. I heard the explosion, then watched the check-in area on the other side of a glass wall shake for what seemed like 2 or 3 minutes. Airport guards raced by while a Guardia Civil told us to keep calm. People looked blankly at him, seeking answers; we looked hard at each other. Some people shouted "¡Por dios!" or "¡Joder!"; others simply broke into tears.

A young couple trying to run past the guards into the terminal began to shout when he ordered them to stay where they were. The woman in front of me began to cry. Sobbing quietly, she turned to look in my eyes, not saying anything, just lingering with me for awhile as if to confirm that we were in this together and not nearly as "strange" to each other as we'd been 2 minutes earlier. Smoke began to fill up the check-in area on the other side of the wall.

The security folks closed down the security line, then immediately reopened it. They rushed us through, encouraging us to travel as quickly as possible to the underground train that would take us to our gates. As I passed through security I watched guards try to calm an older women who was shouting angrily. She was desperate for the guards to assure her she'd be all right and furious that someone had managed to get a bomb into the airport.

Walking toward the escalators I passed glass exit doors leading from the smoke-filled check-in area. I heard shouts and watched a group of young men force their way through the locked exit doors into the main terminal, panicked and eager to escape the smoke. On the landing between escalators I walked by one of the Barajas employees posted to help customers find their way through the new terminal. These Barajas guides are usually cheerful and multilingual. Saturday, the guide was standing up straight at her position, tears streaming down her cheeks. She was scared to death, but still on duty.

On the train to the U gates a young Frenchman headed back to Paris told us the bomb had exploded outside the airport building. People speculated that we could be caught up in payback for Saddam's hanging, then moved toward an ETA theory as we counted our fingers and toes and realized perhaps this had been a bomb meant to create chaos and fear without killing any of us.

I spent the rest of the day waiting. Terminal 4 was closed until 2 or 230, and the train I'd arrived in was taken out of service until engineers could check its structural stability. Slowly, those of us who had made it immediately through security were joined by passengers bussed from the other terminals.

My 12pm flight to Chicago left Madrid a little after 430. I arrived at O'Hare 18 hours after catching the airport shuttle at my hotel in Madrid.

The bombing broke a ceasefire which had made me quite hopeful when it was first announced 9 months ago. Last I heard, Madrid police were still searching for two Ecuadorian immigrants believed to be buried beneath the rubble of the parking garage. Each had stayed behind in his car to sleep while his companion went into the airport to meet an arriving visitor. If confirmed dead, they will be ETA's first mortal victims in the three years I have lived in Spain.

I have friends, people I respect, who routinely argue that desperate people will "understandedly" take desperate means to get what they want, be they members of Hamas, or Hezbollah, or ETA or as many of my friends would add, the Israeli government. I now know that the collections taken up in Boston Irish-American pubs when I was young likely wound up in the hands of the IRA.

I don't see any signs anyone in the Basque Country suffers as Palestinians do. That aside, seeing senseless violence as closely as I did Saturday has only strengthened my conviction that nothing justifies violence against civilians. What good can possibly come from the needless deaths of two sleeping immigrants? More importantly, I still can't see any way violence can ever work -- ever get anyone, oppressed or not, what they are after. The day made me think of this old post, about Jo Berry, who met and now speaks alongside the IRA man who killed her father.

I have to tell you. As pleased as I was to be rushed onto a train after the bomb exploded and as thrilled as I was when my flight finally took off 7 hours later, I am sorry I missed the demonstrations after the bombing.

I feel a bit more Spanish. I met ETA Saturday morning.

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17 Comments:

  • Erin, what a dramatic experience. I'm glad you managed to come out of it OK. Your descriptions made me shiver, specially about the "green coat" woman that was crying but staying in her position of duty.

    By Blogger Alfacharly, at 8:13 PM  

  • I'm glad you're ok. Nothing more to add as your narration is quite descriptive.

    By Anonymous mestre, at 12:44 PM  

  • I´m so sorry you are a little more Spanish this way.
    I´m so sorry because it means we lose an oportunity for peace.
    I´m so sad for people died.
    I´m so angry because Human Beign carries on using violence to solve ... nothing.

    By Blogger Nomadita, at 12:48 PM  

  • Geez, what a description from within the airport! Very good management of general perspective and individual concerns.

    I appreciate that you share some of the feelings we have in Spain concerning terrorism.

    To answer your questions about what do you get by killing civilians...

    ...it seems that Spanish government is holding some kind of negotiation with terrorist. From the moment you negotiate with terrorists, they are getting something.. dont you think?

    Regards (I like very much those pictures from Chicago you just posted)

    By Blogger Pedrito J. Papá Papa, at 1:55 PM  

  • I have friends in Bangkok, who could have been affected by the bombs there. The world has become a frightening place. Peace and love for 2007.

    By Blogger qaminante, at 8:52 PM  

  • It's sad to see such kind of expressions:

    · "Basque separatist group ETA"

    · "Organisation séparatiste basque ETA"

    · "Baskischen Separatistenorganisation"

    · And a great lesson of stupidity. Yeah! I dunno what could Navarra think about this. Language arts, fiction novel and RH+ blood type.

    Why is so hard to write "terrorist organization"?
    Damn! Two *PERSONS* dead (may be three). It's simple: ETA is a movement of ass-ass-ins. Terrorists. Killers. Nothing about politics, ideals or separatists.
    Holy God! What more can I say? Only one reference maintain me far from losing the perspective: death. To bring death is not a good thing, isn't It?. Without excuses.
    What a nonsense!.

    I'm so sorry... I'm very angry. This burns me up. I bite my tongue.
    As Gaminante says, peace and love for 2007.

    BTW: Zapatero go home!!! ETA ez, kanpora!!!

    By Anonymous Nach, at 7:48 AM  

  • A most gripping account of the car bombing; and I am glad that, in spite of having been in Spain for a relatively short time, you have understood things.

    I hate to get into politics, but I think the current anti-terrorist policies in Spain are completely mistaken.

    Whenever I hear speak about ceasefires I always think about the unfortunate souls who will be dead when it comes to an end.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:48 PM  

  • Eta es de nuevo protagonista que quita el sueño a los españoles. En Madrid (España)se observa con angustia a cada furgoneta estacionada frente a la casa o el negocio......¿Puede explotar?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:02 PM  

  • Erin, I was sad to hear about the ETA bombing, having been in that airport myself a couple of months ago. I was surprised to hear that you were there at the time and happy to hear that you escaped harm. Thank you for sharing your description which brings this story to such a personal level.

    By Blogger Mark K, at 7:53 PM  

  • An amazing account. Having been uncomfortably close to the 11M Madrid bombings at Atocha a few years back, I understand how you must have felt. Horrible.

    By Anonymous Ben, at 3:05 PM  

  • An amazing account. Having been uncomfortably close to the 11M Madrid bombings at Atocha a few years back, I understand how you must have felt. Horrible.

    By Anonymous Ben, at 3:07 PM  

  • Such a descriptive account of the event and the aftermath. Thank goodness you weren't injured! I was disappointed too when I heard ETA was involved - for a while it seemed like they'd really turned the corner. Sigh.

    By Blogger paris parfait, at 2:07 AM  

  • An amazing story, Erin. And echoing everyone else, it's good to hear you tell the story. ETA has never had any long-term strategy, & every modern Spanish government (including Franco's) has had to deal with them. Some choose negotiation, others don't. Aznar tried to negotiate until ETA broke the truce & Zapatero did the same. Did both make a mistake? Only historians will be able to answer that question. But there is one thing that I firmly believe: violence is wrong. Whatever group (be it the Spanish govt or terrorists like ETA) that decides to go down that road becomes a little less human. I wonder what the political environment will be like when I return in April... again, thanks for the story.

    By Blogger Robert, at 2:49 AM  

  • That's terrible what happened in Madrid. I was in Arrasate, Pais Vasco with my boyfriend when it happened. You see, I really don't want to move to this country. I especially don't feel good about moving to Pais Vasco because the reminder of ETA is everywhere. ETA is spray painted all over the place. People hang the Presoak flags all over the place. It's too much for me. I'm almost willing to give my up 3 year relationship with mi media naranja just so I don't have to live there.

    The day before we were to return to the US from Spain, the Bilbao airport (where we had to fly out from) received bomb threats. That night, several of the banks in Arrasate were set fire to. That's just ridiculous. We left on the day of Los Reyes, and in my nsho, good riddance.

    If you ever get the chance to visit the Basque Country (Pais Vasco, Euskadi), do. It's absolutely gorgeous. And it's a neat mix of castellano and euskadi. The pinxto's are fabulous. Check out Mondragon, Victoria, San Sebastian, and downtown Bilbao where the museum is.


    Anonymouse 31yo female from Atlanta, GA

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:22 PM  

  • I never got a chance to come round and thank all of you for your comments here. It was an eye-opening experience (easy for me to say since I was luckier than the 2 men who dies) I expect I will write about again.

    I'm with you on the terminology deal, Nacho. Haven't read the Times interview that came out today, but I've been told it avoids the term and the honest graphic facts. Read that Jo Berry article I link to if you haven't. She doesn't shrink from the word or the violence or the criminality; yet she finds humanity in the man that set the bomb that killed her father. The ETA comments after the bombing (it's the government's fault, we warned them. We didn¡t want any one to die, on with the peace process) show how completely out of touch with the reality of the situation (and with bomb setting as murder) they are at the moment. I still hold out hope; I read the IRA was that out of touch (easy when you believe you are fighting for an ideology, a just cause?) at one time.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 9:20 PM  

  • Sorry. Typo. 2 men who died.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 9:22 PM  

  • Hello again anon from Atlanta.

    Ah, you'd be moving to Pais Vasco.
    I've only been once, to visit the Guggenheim. Think I was there 2 days; loved it, as a tourist. I understand your hesitance and concern about moving there now. I've wondered how ETA affects everyday life and the general "feel" of life there.

    Know who you should read and maybe email? Wheylona - an American living in Pais Vasco. www.wheylona.blogspot.com
    She seems to love living there; see what she says.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 9:30 PM  

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