Finally, I want to emphasize to Americans that it is incredibly important that the civil liberties of Arab and Muslim Americans are upheld. It saddens me to see people persecuted and the United States must rise above persecuting what some might call suspicious-looking citizens, residents and visitors. We made a mistake with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII and we must not repeat the same mistakes.
While living overseas as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Congo in the early '90s, and during my current stay in PNG, I have always reflected upon what it means to be an American and how special the United States is. Living overseas inspires such thoughts. My prayers go to the victims and the survivors. God bless the United States of America and God bless all peace-loving nations and people of this planet.
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"Where were you when the towers came down?"
I had just arrived on a flight from Spain to Portugal to attend an American Club of Lisbon board meeting. Halfway through the meeting, the Head of the Portuguese-American Chamber of Commerce received a call from his office: "a commercial airplane has been hijacked and they've crashed into the Twin Towers" he exclaims. A few minutes later the Council General of the U.S. Embassy receives a call "The hijackers have also crashed into the Pentagon". Needless to say, the board meeting was adjourned and we all scurried away in each direction, mobile phones worriedly trying to make the connection with those back home — to no avail.
Both Portugal and Spain were with the rest of Europe as they honored the two minutes of silence two days later, and it was heartening to see these major cities come to a virtual stop, with cars pulling over on the highways, at precisely 11 a.m. Lisbon time/noon Madrid time.
That Friday, a Portuguese friend held a candlelight vigil on her balcony at midnight to coincide with the vigil held in America. A dozen or so of us — a mixture of Portuguese, American, Brits and others — stood together in silence as the candles flickered in the wind and the sorrow swelled up in our hearts.
The American Embassy in Portugal has a Warden Program (as do all European countries), which aims to keep American citizens advised on what to do in the case of emergencies and updated on ongoing Security Warnings. We had our first meeting after the attacks several weeks ago. The head of security thanked us for our participation in the meeting and applauded our courage for attending a meeting on Embassy grounds at such a precarious time. We continued to work towards compiling a comprehensive list of all American citizens living in Portugal and their contact information, so they can be informed of any urgent messages or instructions that the U.S. government might need to divulge.
I'd say the oddest thing about being over here — aside from the obvious of feeling deeply separated from my family and friends back home — is the severe contrast of sentiments amongst the Europeans.