The e-mails starting coming in the day after the attacks. At first it's just to see if everyone is OK. Mass contact lists from high school, from college, from circles of friends. After that, I start receiving people's experiences and reactions. Inspiration messages. Predictions by Nostradomus. Petitions for peace. One e-mail that lingers in my mind is from a schoolmate living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, who came home to find a cashed check on her stoop — it had drited down from a company on the 79th floor of Tower One.
I feel touched as I experience my country pull together, even from the bottom of Africa, 8,000 miles away. Watching people queue to donate blood or to volunteer at the site. I feel moved watching other countries pay tribute to the loss of the Americans. Feeling proud to be an Amercian even though I don't feel any significant sense of patriotism. I'm deeply moved watching a news item on TV about local school children here in South Africa, sending a message of condolence and sympathy for the children of the United States. I go out to our local flea-market on the weekend with friends, just to escape for a few hours. I stop as I see a small memorial erected there amidst all the stalls of African curios -- it's an American flag with lit candles underneath. I pause to look, feeling shivers up my spine.
I takes me several weeks to emerge from my depression. I wonder how my friends and family in the States are feeling. Are they depressed as well? I feel very disconnected right now. And yet I feel relief to be so far from home. Relief not to be caught up in the anxiety. Relief not to be dealing with the devastation first-hand. Relief to have some kind of perspective.
And strangely, I feel safe. I'm not worried about being hijacked while driving, or having someone break into the house while sleeping, or being held at gunpoint, which account for the normal level of anxiety of living in Jo'burg. Not that I'm usually overly-anxious — after a while, you find a comfort zone within the fear. But you're always somewhat alert, mindful of what's happening around you. You feel it in the way your body relaxes when the plane lifts off from Jo'burg International, or you go away to the bush for the weekend. In the back of my mind, I've always been comforted knowing there was a patch of safe soil at home if things got too rough down here. And that's what's been lost for me, I think. There is no safe harbor to retreat to anymore.
It's strange to realize that because I've been in South Africa for two years, perhaps I know what it's like to live in America right now. But the stranger realization is that now perhaps my American friends know what it's like to live here.
Top of Page
I was watching Ichiro and the Seattle Mariners play on NHK, Japan's quasi-public broadcaster, when my wife called me from upstairs and told me to change the channel. Did so and immediately saw smoke billowing from a World Trade Center tower. Didn't think at first that it was the result of a terrorist attack. Don't know exactly when reality set in, but I'm sure it didn't take long.
I eventually saw the towers collapse at the home of a fellow foreigner. Can't say I was shocked, because I wasn't. But I did feel helpless, anxious and ANGRY.