Often during days of remembrance for great tragedies the first question asked is “Where were you?”
This day is no different. I invite all to tell me their tales. Where were you when the Towers were hit? When they fell?
In return, I shall tell you my tale, unique by perspective only.
You see, in spring of 1998 we moved from the US to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. When we moved there, we purposely chose to live in an area that was locally populated, not the Expat area. We wanted our children to have a true to life experience when it came to living in a foreign country. We were the only expats living out in Mirdif at the time and we loved it. For several years we lived a quiet life enjoying our Expat status and the sights and sounds of a foreign nation. Mosques surrounded us and the calls to prayer sounded five times a day. As much a part of our lives as the sound of church bells ringing at a nearby church. It became the backdrop to our lives. We were not afraid.
But, on September 11, 2001 our sense of safety was shaken to the core. I had gotten up, like I did everyday and turned on my computer to meet a friend online for our morning IM chat. Immediately she asked, “Are you okay?” I paused and kind of laughed to myself. “Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Her response took the breath from my lungs. “Because a plane just flew into the Twin Towers in NYC. Go turn on the t.v.”
I immediately signed off and ran to the living room. I turned on CNN and watched in horror as they spoke about the first tower being hit. As I watched the second plane hit and my knees went week. They began to banter about the word terrorism. In a panic, I picked up the phone and called our house maid/nanny who’d taken our children out to a local grocery store to buy some candy. Suddenly the neighborhood where we’d felt safe seemed a dangerous place to be. The mosques around us started chanting over their loud speakers and the words America and Americans were interspersed with Arabic. I know logically that they were calling people to prayer…to pray for our people and our nation, but in the moment it seemed almost sinister and frightening. The children arrived home with our wonderful housemaid (we loved her like family and that’s what she was to us). I hugged them and her and then told them what had happened. We all watched the news together. I cried as they talked about the lose of life. Then…then news of the Pentagon being hit…and my knees buckled. I sat on the coffee table and wept. As a Veteran, my heart ached for the men and women at the Pentagon. They were my brothers and sisters in arms. Then the news that another plane had been taken and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. I prayed for those people too. We watched the news all day. They grounded all flights within the US, including International flights. Those words sent a shock through us. For the first time since our adventure began we had no way of going home.
That night we stood out on our steps and looked at the sky above our gates and spoke in soft tones about the days events. We heard the mosques chants echoing around us and we clung together, comforting each other. The next day the embassy called with a request that all Americans bring their passports and come to the consulate for a meeting. We attended the meeting and listened as they tried to reassure us that we were safe in Dubai. One person brought up the fact that the Bin Laden family owned the construction companies doing all the work in Dubai. They told him that’s the Saudi Bin Laden’s and have no connection to Al Qaeda. Then someone said “Well, what about the picture in the paper today of Osama Bin Laden sitting on the beach? He was sitting in front of the Berj Al Arab.” The man from the consulate kind of laughed it off. We were all scared and no amount of reassurance was going to keep our families safe especially when the news stated that terrorists flown from Dubai and some financing had come out of Dubai.
There is more to what happened over the days following 9/11 but this exercise was to tell you where I was.
Now, if you are so inclined, tell me your tale…
It was Sarah’s first day of preschool and Dustyn had a preop appointment for surgery he was having on Friday. My sister came over to watch Sarah and Casey while I took Dustyn to, guess where, Walter Reed in DC. We left and he looked scared about his surgery so I turned the radio off!! We talked almost the whole way there. I no idea what was going on. We were almost to the gate when I saw a bicycle cop ride past us while sitting at a red light. Normally, this isn’t odd but he wasn’t looking ahead of him, he was looking up into the sky. I thought that was weird and turned the radio on and thought “Oh my ever lovin’ Lord!” Well, we get in the hospital and everyone was watching the tvs and on the phones. No cell phone then so I’m trying to use the payphone to call home to tell them not to take Sarah to preschool. It took an hour to get through on the phone. All of my family is at my house, except for me, Dustyn and Tom. Tom was still active duty and was at a school in Quantico. We finished our appointment up and left DC with every other single person in DC at the time. It was crazy. The drive usually takes 45 minutes. It took four hours. At the time we lived right outside of Ft. Meade near NSA. All the roads I needed to take to get home were closed!! I had to go past my house by a half hour drive back. I finally get home and try to get a hold of Tom. The phone is busy for hours. Quantico had blocked all calls. So Tom finally called me the next day. We were only about 20 minutes from BWI at the time too. When you live close to an airport, you kind of get use to hearing the sound of planes flying over. When they grounded all flights and there were no airplane sounds was spooky. There was an eerie quiet in our neighborhood and it was made worse by no one being outside either. Well, that’s my story.
Thank you for sharing your story, Cindy. How scary! Glad you were all safe during the turmoil.