Ida takes a sip of tea, “I feel lucky” she tells me, her face reliving the memories of her night in Paris.
19-year-old Ida Wehberg was in the French capital during the Islamic State attacks on Friday 13th November 2015. A concert hall, restaurants and even a stadium were targets for the attackers. A year and a half on, Ida recalls the memories that haunt her today and how she dealt with her emotions through her love of music.
Ida took a gap year before going to University and was working in a local café in her native town of Oslo. “Everyone had gone to university we just needed a break from the boring life,” so, joined by her best friend booked a long weekend trip to France.
On the Friday of the attack, Ida’s shopping spree took longer than expected. Instead of going clubbing which she and her friend intended to do, they chose to visit a nearby Italian restaurant. Asking her about the atmosphere before the attack she said: “it was good, there were many French locals and really good vibes!”
Then it started. At first, a friend from Norway texts her, then a flooding of information on their social media. “First we couldn’t quite understand it, this is OK nobody is reacting, but then my friend from London called me and I realised something more was happening.” Ida told me she “felt trapped” and had many questions on her mind. Should we go outside? Should we stay where we are? She said people in the restaurant were slow to react. Ida asked the manager of the restaurant if he had any idea what was going on. Laughing in reply, he said ‘I make pizza that’s all I know’. Ida felt nervous, uncomfortable and didn’t know what was going on, so decided to leave the restaurant.
Upon returning to the hotel she ‘wanted to cry but I didn’t know if I could because I was so shocked.” My mum and dad were tense because I was in Paris, and “had lit a candle for me” hoping that I would be safe. It was only until later I understood how much it affected my family and friends.
“You never expect it to happen when you are there.”
A terrorist attack was the “last thing” on Ida’s mind when she booked flights to the capital. That same year 7th January 2015, Islamist gunmen forced their way into the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and opened fire, killing 12 people. She was aware of the attack earlier that year on satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo but Ida did not expect anything to happen when they were there. It was the last thing on Ida’s mind, she tells me she is a nervous flyer and was more worried about the flights than a terrorist attack.
Ida, although not directly involved, was greatly affected by what happened. “It was a 15-minute walk away, it’s hard with the distance you think it’s far away but its closer when you look on a map.” She was re-considering going to University in London after the attack, “what happened stuck with me.’ She still gets scared of minor things in her day to day life that mentally take her back to that night. “I still get scared if the tube stands still in the tunnel. I went to the women’s march and I was scared about that because I was scared they would take advantage of the huge crowds.” She looks into my eyes and tells me, “I try not to let it stop me,” and I believe her. She still decided to come to London to study and writing the song ‘We are human” was a way of her trying to take control of the situation. Although it is not published, it was something she created for herself personally to understand in her mind what happened.
When asking her about the attacks that have happened recently, like the Berlin Christmas markets she said it “makes her go back to that time,” in Paris you could feel everything in the city and there was so much tension. “It was a ghost town.”
In disbelief she tells me it was central Paris, pre-Christmas spirit, yet nobody was outside, “literally no one” and if they were, they were in cars, but there was no traffic. She understood what the city of Berlin was going through, that it is not just the people who are attacked but the city itself, and you feel more deeply with people and the city when you go through a similar experience.
Ida leans in a little, telling me she is better expressing herself through song or lyrics. In Paris “I’d seen these posters saying ‘we are human’, and it just stuck with me.” The moment Ida was back in her home in Oslo, the melody came instantaneously and she wrote the entire song “We are human” there and then. The song is remarkably powerful “I saw the lights go dark in a broken town … with our love and strength we fight for those who didn’t get to come back home tonight.” It creates such a profound effect on the listener and gives insight into what Ida experienced, the desolate Paris that she herself witnessed the day after. Ida tells me the song helped her to deal with her emotions and made her question why those people did what they did.
“What happened to the child you have inside?”
“Do they every cry?”
– If you have been affected by situations like this and feel you need to talk to someone contact, samaritans.org who are happy to listen. –