On March 22, 2016, I woke up to news that ISIS had killed more than a dozen people, and wounded hundreds, in Brussels, the capital of my native Belgium. Two bombs exploded—one in Brussels’ busiest subway station, Maalbeek, and one at Zaventem airport. A few hours later, I had booked a ticket and found myself on a plane to join CNN as a field producer in Brussels.
I remember feeling shocked, hurt, but not surprised: I had been covering extremism in Europe for more than a year at that point. Brussels, a city just 40 miles away from where I grew up, had emerged at the center of the story. More than 516 fighters left from Belgium for Syria, the highest number of militants per capita in Europe. Many of them had spent their childhoods in Molenbeek, an impoverished district of Brussels, where politicians had turned a blind eye to recruiters luring youth to Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, for decades.
The morning I landed in Amsterdam, on my way to Brussels, one particular image popped up in my newsfeed. A woman was sitting against the wall—her face dusty, her feet bloody, her shirt in shreds. Tabloid newspapers identified the woman in the image as Nidhi Chaphekar, a stewardess for Jet Airways. Her photo was shared withouther permission, but news agencies didn’t care. Sharing the image raised many questions about the ethics of reporting on the victims of terror attacks, when the race for numbers—of victims, perpetrators, shards inside the bombs for maximum damage— raised clicks and ad revenues.
I won’t easily forget the faces of the victims I saw. At a Brussels hospital, Sebastien Bellin, a former professional basketball player, grimaced when he looked at the pins in the leg he nearly lost. Chaphekar, hit hard by the bomb blasts, stared blankly in the distance.
So when her image showed up again, a year later—this time on a slide of the #IWMFFellows security training in Nairobi—I recognized it immediately. Cath Mossom, our instructor, used it to teach us about the tell tale signs of shock: Confusion, shallow breathing, and pale skin, indicating the flooding of blood away from her brain toward her hurting heart. I wrote down the signs in my notebook, wishing that, should I ever find myself at the site of a terror attack, I would know what to do. And with that, I hoped Chaphekar—even though she hadn’t given us permission to use her image—was, in some part, redeemed.
– Lisa De Bode