Monday, November 13, 2006

After Watching World Trade Center

After watching World Trade Center, I dug out my diary and read the entry for that fateful day. Back then I was volunteering with Raleigh International, building a 6-classroom block for a school in the sleepy village of Chunox in Belize.

It was a clear hot sunny day. I was on camp duty, cooking and cleaning and some light work around camp, a rest day actually. The gang was slaving away at the site as the project was slightly behind schedule. We were tasked to construct the roof, make windows and doors and paint the building. There seemed to be so much yet to be done.

Around lunchtime a local pulled over breaking the news to us. At first everyone was skeptical and thought he was joking. He turned on his radio in his truck. It hit us like a wall. We dropped everything and rushed over to the little store down the road with a TV to watch the news.

It was indeed happening. The 12 of us crowding in front of the tiny TV looking at the footage of thick smoke billowing from one of the towers. Then, followed by the footage of another plane flying low crashing into the other tower. And finally both towers collapsed, leveled. These images kept repeating on the tube with lightning speed commentary in Spanish. I saw the image zoomed and panned along some who jumped of the blazing towers. It was horrifying.

Everyone was extremely quiet during lunch. No one said anything. Perhaps the magnitude of such insanity had sunk in and we were just trying to make some sense out of it. What the hell was going on? How did it all happen? Who did this? Why? How could we actually watch this on TV for real, on a news channel, not a movie channel? The world was going crazy? But it made no sense. I was hungry but I was too sick to eat. I couldn’t sit still doing nothing after lunch, so I went to work at the site.

I remembered planning my traveling into Bolivia after that. I called the Bolivian embassy inquiring about the visa requirement for a Malaysian visiting Bolivia. The embassy officer told me that I would need a visa and how I would go about obtaining one. Before hanging up he asked: “Are you a Moslem man?”

Can you believe that? I did not bother to proceed with the visa application. I wondered if I’d ever get the visa if I said yes (though I’m not).

Everything changes after that terrible day. For example 911 is no longer a mere emergency number. It’s also how we spell terrorism and hatred now. Keeping a beard or wearing a scarf can be deemed making a radical statement. Fear and paranoia will be forever an integral part in our lives.

In the end, the movie fast forwarded to a thank you barbeque in a park on a bright sunny day two years later, organized by the two surviving police officers rescued from the rubbles, John and Bill. The movie shows Olivia, Bill’s daughter born not long after that fateful day already an adorable toddler, running around happily and innocently.

Perhaps that signifies a new beginning and hope…

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