Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remembering 9/11

So today is the 9th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the US back in 2001. It may seem like an odd post to talk about, considering this is a blog about Nepal, but there is a connection. Like everyone else in the U.S. I remember what I was doing that day, and it's possible I may have been one of the last people to know what was going on. At the time I was working for a company that arranged wholesale car rental services to Americans that traveled to Europe. I was part of our crew that was on shift to work European time, which meant late nights. I went to bed at about 7:30 AM that morning, and no one bothered to wake me up, until Kim stopped by sometime around 1:30 in the afternoon.

On September 9th I had just booked a package of ten flights that would take us around the world, the list of countries on that itinerary included; Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, India, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Turkey, and Greece before flying back to the US via Switzerland. Kim and I had been planning the trip for about a year at that point, and I had even moved into some dingy basement apartment and sold my car to raise cash for the trip.

Of course I wasn't even thinking about this as the events of that day unfolded. I went with Kim over to her Dad's house to watch TV, as I didn't have one at the time. That night was supposed to be my day off, but with air traffic shut down I knew we would have lots of stranded customers so I offered to go in to work. I arrived and spoke with some other people in management that had talked to the president of the company earlier, there was something like 2 million dollars worth of cancelled trips. That night I took a lot of calls from Americans stuck in Europe that not only wanted to sort out their car rental, most were just wanting to talk with someone back in the States, there were lots of rumors at that point still, and a lot of uneasy people not only at home but stuck abroad as well.

Our departure date was set for October 12th out of Boston's Logan Airport. It turned out that two of the conspirators, including Mohammad Atta had flown out of my home town of Portland Maine, and then one of the flights that hit the towers originated from Boston. This was a bit creepy, and made many people in our family uncomfortable about us traveling. After the initial shock of the event subsided a bit, there was still a lot of uncertainty, as everyone knew the world was about to change, but nobody knew exactly how. After a short discussion Kim and I decided that we would indeed go ahead with our travel plans, to the dismay of some people in our family. My dad, who was a chief in the fire department, just assumed I wouldn't be going.

There was also another thing that made people uneasy; we were passing through a number of Muslim countries, or countries like India who many thought could quickly become in conflict with Pakistan along with the US over what took place. To be somewhat fair to those concerns at least 4 places that we visited during our trip were the target of terrorist attacks in the years following our visit; Bali's Kuta Beach, Mumbai (you can see our hostel in some of the pictures of the 2003 bombing images), Dahab on Egypt's Sinai peninsula and Istanbul Turkey. We decided though that though these kind of events tend to turn countries and people inward, this was not the time or the solution to this kind of event.

The events of 9/11 colored so much of that trip. Tourism dropped plunged world wide that year, and every where we went we were some of the only tourists, and almost always the only Americans. Because of this many of the guest house and people that worked in tourism gave you a little extra attention, and when the fact that we were American came up it always got condolences passed on to us. I even remember a man in Fiji who couldn't speak English, he just mimed with his hands, one vertical and one horizontal, having the horizontal hand crash into the vertical one and topple it over. After this he hung his head and shook it to show sadness. There were also the uneasy moments, which were much less frequent, like seeing an Osama Bin Laden silhouette sticker on a pick up truck in Malaysia or a picture of OBL imposed on the burning towers on the shirt of some kid in southern Thailand.

The most memorable moment though was when we arrived in Jordan and went to our hotel in Wadi Musa we sat down to have tea with the hotel owner and some of his family as well as our fellow travelers. When the subject of our nationalities came up it went around in a circle; British, Argentina, and then us the two Americans. Upon hearing this one of the men at the table stood up reached across the table and kissed our foreheads saying, "Thank God you people are traveling again! We have all been so afraid that you all thought we were like Bin Laden." This happened in less dramatic fashion constantly. People everywhere are just people, with essentially the same aspirations and wants in life. People completely filled with hatred for other people are fortunately  a rare breed world wide it seemed.

That is the thing about actually traveling to places, is that you get to actually meet and talk to people and form informed opinions about places and the people there without relying on the distorted images that are fed to us through major media groups. While 9/11 was indeed a great tragedy, a greater one was that in the end, America has turned inward and we gave up some of the freedom that defined us as a country in order to achieve an illusion of safety. It has reinforced the notion that everything beyond the edges of the first world are scary and full of people that hate us "because we're free". A quick trip around the world and a little interaction with the vast majority of people out there will reveal that most people are just like us, and it's not such a scary place after all.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I'm a bit uneasy about paying special attention to this day each year. We had an infinite line of motorcycles rumble through town in the morning making sure everybody was on board.

    I think it has the good effects of honoring the lost lives and hopefully reminding us of the danger in legitimizing ancient (violent) text of any type.

    I think it also has a far greater effect of reinforcing the false fog of fear you speak of.

    The rumble of endless motorcyles was my annual reminder to fear the world. It didn't work.


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