Human perspective on disaster in Bijlmer, in documentary by Omroep Zwart

Still, when Nathifa Elshot (37) hears a plane flying low, she is quiet for a while. “I check myself: do I hear a crazy sound? Is something wrong?”

Elshot, other sufferers and interested parties gathered in Bijlmerbios on Sunday evening for a viewing A hole in my heart, the documentary by the new TV station Zwart, about victims of the plane crash in Bijlmer. The young broadcaster – including co-founder Akwasi – is organizing a discussion. Outside the cinema, the sound of low-flying aircraft can be heard several times an hour.

It was “emotional” for Elshot to watch the documentary, she says. She is the co-owner of Bijlmer Bookshop and is at the screening to sell books. Elshot was seven at the time and lived near the affected apartments. “I started crying hard at the first scene,” she says with a laugh now, gesturing with tears streaming down her cheeks.

On October 4, 1992, exactly thirty years ago this Tuesday, a Boeing 747 cargo plane crashed into the Groeneveen and Klein-Kruitberg apartments in Bijlmermeer, Amsterdam-Zuidoost.

In the film, Akwasi (34) – himself four years old during the disaster – visits fellow sufferers who, as a child, contributed to an initiative by his primary school principal: a book with children’s drawings, texts and poems. The entries are about sadness, grief and questions like: ‘where is my girlfriend, is she in the hospital?’ The collection’s title, after a contribution from a then twelve-year-old child: A hole in my heart.

Invisible stories

Over the past thirty years, the perspective of those who suffer, including many children, has been too little, say creator and creator Akwasi Owusu Ansah and director Olivier S. Garcia, while drinking tea on the terrace before the screening of the film. Garcia: “The story is bigger than the disaster.” It is about ‘invisible stories’ in general, and about ‘collective trauma processing’.

Also read: ‘When I close my eyes, I feel the heat again’

In the weeks after the disaster, little Akwasi was “inconsolable,” he says in the post-show discussion. Akwasi and hundreds of others moved from Bijlmer for similar reasons, the documentary shows. Because their houses became uninhabitable or because they did not feel safe in the neighborhood. The social disruption of Bijlmer, for example, came on top of the 43 recorded deaths and dozens of injuries. In addition, it is still unclear how many undocumented migrants died.

Double ramp

This social disruption makes the event a “double disaster”, says Karim Khamis (33), himself three years old during the disaster and known for the latest VPRO series. Pumice stones in the Lobby. He stands outside and talks to friends and residents Rowan Polanen (31) and Jet Nuchter (30). Khamis: “The disaster accelerated existing plans to demolish apartments. There is something wrong with Bijlmer, was the common opinion, and it was due to the design of the apartments. But the existing problems like crime and lack of cohesion were exacerbated by the policy, empty buildings turned into ghost apartments.”

Additionally, Sober may “still be angry” at how “the media” then reported it. She talks about unjustified ‘pathologizing the neighbourhood’. That is why she – and her many other residents – finds the commonly used term ‘Bijlmer disaster’ harmful. “Like my neighborhood was a disaster.”

Also read: Creator of the series ‘Disaster flight’: ‘The government saw the victims of the plane crash as statistics’

The negative spiral is broken in a powerful way with the documentary by the TV company Zwart, says Khamis. The human perspective was “underexposed.” The book of children’s drawings humanizes the disaster “at last again.”

And that is exactly what Omroep Zwart is aiming for with its first documentary, says Akwasi. “We hope to continue the conversation. It’s healing.”

During the discussion, Akwasi is asked a question from the audience. In the documentary, Berthold Gersons, former head of psychiatry at the AMC hospital, says that it is a misunderstanding that you have to ‘process’ a trauma as if it is gone afterwards. “It sounds strange, but I want to say: protect the hole in your heart.”

Also read: How Bijlmer is portrayed in films and series: With the camera on safari in the Bijlmermeer

The questioner from the audience: “In that scene you react with surprise, have you thought about it much?” Akwasi: “It is a process that takes time. Hopefully in twenty years I will think: I still feel a hole in my heart, but now I know how to deal with it.”

A hole in my heart can be seen on NPO2 on 4 October at 22:10.

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