We welcome our new ACB members - recent arrivals from the U.S. - Chris and Natalie Loschiavo, who, with their two children, survived the unexpected flash floods that seriously damaged their home in the village of Hotton in Wallonia this past July. As new arrivals on a two-year assignment, they will forever remember the enormous kindness of strangers, when the floods took over. This is their inspiring story.
Chris, this photo shows your family in sunnier times in Hawaii in 2019. We are now speaking on August 1, 2021. How did you get here?
I am an American Army Engineer Officer, in the military since 2005. I arrived in Belgium on a two-year assignment in April 2021 to serve as the U.S. Army’s Exchange Officer in the Belgian Army’s Motorized Brigade at Marche-en-Famenne, in Wallonia. Natalie and the children arrived two months later in June from our previous duty station in Monterey, California.
While settling into our new life, the last thing on our minds was the thought of a flood in July - but we count our blessings. Being part of the larger military family, we receive amazing support that meets our needs. We are still temporarily in a hotel room, waiting for the reconstruction of the house we are renting. Our landlady has been like a mother to us. She and total strangers, without hesitation, waded into 3.5 feet of water, helping with rescue work for up to ten hours a day. We are forever grateful.
My previous overseas assignments include Afghanistan (3 tours) South Korea (1 year) and Germany (18 months.) In Afghanistan, I saw much hardship, but I was also on the receiving end of real generosity and kindness that comes naturally to the Afghan people – much like the generosity and kindness shown to us by so many Belgians.
Both your careers certainly prepared you to deal with a crisis like this - to jump into emergency mode?
Yes, we met in the Army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) seventeen years ago – and went on to marry in 2009. Our careers - mine in the military, and Natalie’s as a Registered Nurse in Neo-Natal Intensive Care – involve unexpected experiences that truly test one’s resilience. Natalie is mid-way to completing her doctorate degree in nursing, with a concentration in Psychiatric Mental Health, focusing on long-term effects of trauma.
How have your two children risen to the occasion?
Gehrig (9) and Giada (6, born in Germany) are very alert and wide-eyed at this new situation. We raise them to be brave, resilient and responsible. They are both handling the upheaval exceptionally well and are eager to begin school in our local area in September.
What are some fond memories of growing up in the U.S.A.?
Chris: I was born in Sacramento, California – but my family moved a lot. We lived in Memphis, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Chicago, and back to Memphis -all by the time I was 9. In Chicago, my father would take me to Wrigley Field to watch my beloved Chicago Cubs. Baseball and Wrigley Field are my “Field of Dreams.” But I call Memphis “home” (mom is there) and I love its heritage - the Blues, Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley, and American BBQ! In my early military career in North Carolina, we regularly jumped out of airplanes during our training for combat. That is also a time that I will never forget.
Natalie: I grew up in Washington State – in a small town called Roy near Mount Rainier. Unlike Chris, I lived in the same house on ten acres of land from infancy until I left for college. During a very peaceful childhood, attending our local Science and Arts school, my parents included lots of sports, summer camp and church events in our free time. While Chris and I have decided we will retire in North Carolina, Washington State will always have a place in my heart.
What big lessons did you learn from your Wallonia flood experience?
Chris: We realized that a lot of “things” don’t matter – we got out unharmed, our children and our much-loved dog are safe. We experienced amazing kindness from new friends in Belgium. We retrieved some of what was important to us – much to the credit of our landlady, who stayed behind and led the way, carrying many of our things up to safety on the second floor.
Natalie: One takeaway for me is that when I see people who need help in the future, rather than saying “let me know if I can help” I want to step in and just help. We had strangers walk into our home and garage and jump in to move and clean items, offer packing, cleaning supplies, bring food and water – unexpected, so meaningful and so much appreciated.
What are three things that you like about Belgium?
- The beautiful blend of old-world architecture and modern design. Everywhere we turn, the view is more beautiful than the one we just saw.
- The kindness and accepting nature of Belgians.
- Of course, Belgium has the best beer and frites in the world!
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Photo: We spoke with Chris and Natalie Loschiavo on August 1, 2021