that this was the doing of 'September 11 2001 was just another chilly September day in Chapel Hill North Carolina. Or so I thought. I had just returned from a second trip to New York City to resume my senior year at Carolina. We were only just two weeks into the new academic year. I was still coming to terms with the fact that my departure from my sweet Carolina, the school, was around the corner and so I promised to be a more serious, studious and focused student. It was a Tuesday morning and my first class was at 9am. World Media class with Professor Lucilla Vargas. My routine, at the time, as is now, is to roll over to my remote control and turn my TV on once the alarm goes off. It was permanently tuned to CNN. However on this morning, I didn't do that for some reason. Not that doing that would have changed what would become the event of the day. But I've always felt that perhaps if I had stuck to my routine, I would gotten some 'telepathic' hint that this was not going to be an ordinary school day.
I don't remember exactly which bus route I took but my buss ride was short and quick. I made my way to Carroll Hall, walking as fast as a zombie, as I always did because I didn't want any one to stop me and exchange pleasantries. As I walked towards Carroll Hall. I noticed several people on their phones looking perturbed. It didn't click because that was the change over time for the 8 am classes so naturally there was more traffic in front of Carroll Hall. Then I walked into the lobby with the giant 'Situation Room' type 4 screen plasma screen 'television'. There was a crowd of students and faculty staff gathered. There eyes peeled to the screens and arms folded, they watched Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer, Aaron Brown, Paula Zahn and a host of others speculating on what had just happened. Everyone saying that perhaps it was a distressed plane, may be a small plane. No one was sure at the time because no one had their camera pointed at the Twin Towers when the first plane hit. No one was really expecting anything different to be happening that day, after all it was a mere election day. No one could plan to have the various tower cams on those New York buildings focused in on the towers. Naturally with something like this happening, which is the very bane of our existence as a journalism school, it was expected that there would be a lot of late comers to class. People trying to walk into their 9am class with the latest information, perhaps for Rich Landesburg's j-21 daily current affairs test. I don't know how long I had been standing there but it had been long enough for me to realize I was late for class. Just as I moved towards the left hall way, trying to get through the crowd of people standing and those watching with their heads turned around, I heard gasps and 'Oh My Gods' from people. I stopped dead in my tracks on time to see the second plane flying directly into the second tower. "JESUS NNE M O!!" was what came out of mu mouth. My two hands clasped over my head, my mouth widely agape. What was happening?Who the hell was doing this? Was it Armageddon, the end of the world? It was certainly the Apocalypse right in my face or could it be Rapture taking place? I prayed and confessed Jesus on the spot. My blood was cold because the next thing that came to my mind was that those were peoples children, mothers, fathers, brother, sisters, husbands and wives, hundreds of people, who just died before my eyes. I remember reciting 'Holy Mary', 'The Lord's Prayer' and 'Psalm 23' as if to make up for the years I had refuse to go to church. By now it was clear those were no distressed planes but hijacked planes that were deliberately crashed into the towers. I began to think, how could that happen? How many hijackers could have been on the plane? The only thing that I could remember was 'Delta Force'. Perhaps these people were armed and had an insider. I walked into class and the mood was somber. Professor Vargas did not have traditional class, but rather took the opportunity a a teaching tool for the class. The focus was of course the immediate assumptionOsama Bin Laden' and 'Arab terrorists'. It was a heated debate on stigma and stereotyping of ethnic groups in the media. Being a Pan-Africanist and one of the few continental minorities in the class, I was not going to let this opportunity to vocalize my opinion pass me by. There were several opinions in the class that ranged from the left to the right and center of the debate. I don't recall all of them, but in there somewhere I made it known that the policy of the American government and the naivete of the American populace to those policies was what fueled the animosity. I also said something to the effect of one man's terrorist is another man's hero, after all Mandela was declared a terrorist and the ANC a terrorist group. While I didn't whole heartedly feel this way, I had to play devil's advocate because I was just bored with the pro-American comments as some of the other students didn't care to speak their mind at the time. By the time the next class rolled around, Dr Bowers, the Dean came in, unrolled the projector screen and turned on the TV reception. He said there was no class and we were welcome to sit and watch the coverage. Meanwhile, I had dialed my Aunt Priscilla and her husband's numbers several times to no avail. They worked at a 'nearby' hospital and would go to the towers very often as I understood. Seeing as I spoke to her the night before, my heart was racing and pounding, my mind going to all sorts of things. Could our conversation the night before, on September 10th have been my last conversation with my dear Aunt. I began to panic. It was clear there wasn't going to be much teaching or studying, by now class was optional. My next class would be at 2pm with Dr. Dale McKinney, the white, once declared communist and outspoken Zimbabwean professor whose parents were missionaries. I then put on my journalist hat and headed to the Carolina Week newsroom as we had a show to produce on Wednesday September 12 2001. I has already seen a couple of my classmates carrying their tripods and cameras. I was like there was no way I could be useful if I didn't hear back from my Aunt. I called and paged, called and paged. Dr. Tuggle asked us if we had any loved ones that we had not heard from. Some people said they'd heard form such and such. I was in the back all sad and dejected, a tissue in my hand because hot tears were rolling from my eyes. I told him I had not heard from my Aunt. After a while I think the emotional cloud had rolled away and my rational side thought to myself; well Twin Towers is in the business district and Harlem is in the ghetto. Therefore Harlem Hospital could not possibly be as close to the Twin Towers for them to be in jeopardy. I went an mapped it out and alas it was a ways away. I had a 'duh' moment. I figured the reason they were not answering their phones or calling back was because they were deep in their necks in the ER attending to the wounded. I went and washed my face and carried my camera and tripod and cruised campus on my legs, in search for a 9-11 story to tell. You would think that I would remember exactly what my news assignment was that day. But between going to seminars, memorials, press conferences, sitting in debate circles in the Pit and crash editing for the show, crying on the phone to my then boyfriend and still worried about not having heard from my aunt, the later part of the day became a blur. The date and the event, however, are forever imprinted in my memory redefining my generation. I would do a story about how international students applying for visas month anniversary(can't find cached link) so to speak and we were on Spring break. We wanted to see for ourselves what had happened. I brought a camera along with me to tell the story of our visit to Ground Zero. It was a surreal moment. While my friends became visibly emotional, I fought back tears (as I am now) because I had to keep it in the zone of a story teller and not be a part of the story or make myself a part of the story. It was hard, and even though the end job was a bit sloppy and under par considering I had to shoot my stand up myself ( would be the scape goats and ended up at Ground Zero, 6 months later on March 11 with my friends Ndidi and Forreline. It was the 6thNdi and Fols helped push record) that piece remains one of my shining moments .
For me, 9-11 was the only other time, aside from the Olympics in the 80's, that I distinctively and whole heartedly identified with my 'Americanness'. It was no longer 'they', 'them' but 'us' & 'we'. I no longer wrinkled my nose at being called an American. I had to diluted the typical anti-western and anti-capitalist rhetoric that one tends to dose up on in liberal academia and Pan-Africanism and reeducate myself on Americanism and those values upon which this country was built. In the same way that being away from Nigeria has allowed me to aappreciate African culture, I learned to APPRECIATE America as well because truth be told its demise will mean misery for many and no shelter for the persecuted. There is a reason while there are more asylum seekers, more exiled, more economic migrants than there are in any other country. America beyond its inequities and fallability stands for so many things and I began to allow my self to see that. I had to learn to balance my American patriotism with my Nigerian heritage and not be a hypocrite in choosing one over the other when it seemed convenient. My faith in America being invincible came crashing down and I had to build upon my faith in God. I don't bother about Osama Bin Laden. While I wish he and his henchmen will get caught and skinned alive or burned like robbers on the streets of Lagos, with tires round their necks, I am certain that the justice that God holds for him won't be a very pretty one. Same with all those other culprits of crimes against humanity. Perhaps it ha dto take 9-11 to make me one proud American citizen.
In relation, one person pointed out that atrocities such as the Rwandan Genocide, where millions were killed trumps 9-11. While that is valid in terms of the number of causalities, there's a big difference between the two events and their aftermath. For one, and I am sure some one will jump on my neck about this, Rwanda was a failure in African leadership and action not America's fault or any other foreign power. Yes their involvement could have helped but the inadequacies of African leaders to unite in condemning the genocide and taking action is a bigger deal that the marines not landing. The same way that Nigeria was able to send ECOMOG to deal with the Liberia situation, is the same way that South Africa and neighboring countries should have jumped into action. Granted South Africa was dealing with their new democracy and political fragility so I imagine intervening in Rwanda was not a viable option. Another thing is that 9-11 and this war on terrorism cuts across a Global demographic and that's why it is very significant. While Hutus and Tutsi fought each other, Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are fighting against anyone who does not agree with their extremist ideology. That would include you and I, a majority or a fraction of the Hutus and Tutsi, South Africans, the western world and all that is civil. Even the poor masses and starving Africans, who have no responsibility to play in the predicament that the Muslim world is facing politically are not excluded. Remember that the Kenyan Embassy Bombings were also mastermind by Al-Qaeda and the people who died were Africans like you and I. So lets be careful not to dignify this horrific act by underplaying its true impact on global affairs and our day to day lives.
Click HERE to read comments on how many of you remember 9-11-2001. Those comments were great. Thanks for sharing and keep them coming. Once the somberness of the day had gone out of my system I'll be back to give you gist about the Malibu wedding, the Owambe and how I almost ran over a cyclist. Keep it clicked on this space :)