Unfortunately yes, I have seen a fire before. June 14th 2017 when Grenfell’s tower burnt down in the middle of the night. It was a hot evening, in the middle of Ramadan, the tower was situated in my old street where I had lived for 7 years. It was only council flats. It’s ironic that in the collective mind Notting Hill is mostly associated with Hugh Grant, Portobello Market and the pastel-coloured houses of Westbourne Grove; because Grenfell Tower was a 23-storey building poorly maintained, without any fire alarms, without any fire doors and whose facade was covered with highly flammable material in order to hide its ugly exterior from the inhabitants of the luxury buildings next door. In Grenfell tower it was not apartments for the wealthy but for the poor; They’d been trying for a long time to warn the local town hall (in vain) that one day the unspeakable will happen.
It was after a short circuit in a fridge or freezer, I can’t remember, the flames spread from the fourth floor and blocked all the apartments above with a wall of fire. In 45 minutes as if it were covered in fuel, the tower was completely ablaze, smothering all of it’s sleeping inhabitants inside. The first people present on the crime scene were the Muslims who were coming back from the last prayer. They rushed inside, knocked on the doors to wake up and alert, then it was the firefighters’ turn, some of the occupants got out on time, most of them were trapped. The scenes that followed are from a horror movie and I don’t want think about it. While this was happening, I was sleeping in my new apartment in another neighbourhood. When I arrived very early in the morning, the tower was still smoking. The neighbourhood was silent, people were crying and looking at the sky. We rushed with my boss and a few people from my workplace to help, nothing had really been organised. The survivors had simply been put together in a school gymnasium. When we arrived with food and water, there were men, women, children in pyjamas, sometimes barefoot. They weren’t hungry, they were desperately looking for a way to charge their phones with the hope of listening to a familiar voice that may have survived. It was just awful. The days that followed were just as appalling, all the walls were covered with posters with photos of missing persons. Everyone knew a victim or a survivor. We don’t know exactly how many died in this fire, they say 72, I can swear there are more than 100. Today we still mourn the tragedy, the black tower is still there, people come to leave a word, a flower, a thought. 3 years later there security to prohibit tourists from taking photos of this strange monument to the dead.
But why try to capture suffering?
Berlin April 4th 2020.