I walked into a restaurant with the rest of the IMF mission, and looked up at the TV screen, as everyone else did. It was lunchtime, and the restaurant was full. I couldn’t see what channel was showing, but the picture was dramatic. But, no one was gripped by this scene of a tower billowing with smoke the way one would expect of an action film. Only slowly did it dawn on us that this was no film, but live action. Then, we began to hear the commentary on CNN. The world knows most of the story of the attack on the ‘Twin Towers’ on 9/11. September 11, since then, forever associated with horror. The two buildings stood like a large number 11.
I was watching that TV screen in Nouakchott, Mauritania, a complex Muslim country in wet Africa, on the edge of the Sahara Desert; a city whose tallest building is a mosque.
As information about the attack flowed out, the locals in the restaurant started to murmur disapprovingly–Islamic extremism was not getting support. Heads were shaking, and hands going up to them, with words like ‘Jamais!’ (never). Mauritanians are generally gentle people, more at peace in the stillness of the desert.
Haunting images surrounding the loss of 2977 lives, including those of people who jumped or were blown out of windows to their deaths on the street below.
A few days later, I was due to travel back to Washington, DC, via Paris. Airports were in lock-down. Armed police were everywhere. Nerves were frayed. The thought of flying was not one that made me feel comfortable. But, what could I do if I wanted to get back to my family? I couldn’t swim the Atlantic. So, I flew.
When I got home, I heard about the chaos that had been Washington DC, a the horror and reality of the attack became clear. People rushing from offices and trying scoop up children, seeking safety in numbers and togetherness.
Fifteen years later, where are we? I’ve been to Manhattan many times since, even visited the site named ‘Ground Zero’. I’m not a lover of New York City: though I often enjoy a few days there, its scale and noise doesn’t do much for me. However, I admire people who strive to carry on with their lives while others strive to wrench that away with brutishness.
I’m not going to delve much into American politics, but let’s just say that the seeking safety in numbers and togetherness is not something I sense. Horrors abound and many of them caused by disgruntled humans. We’re an odd species that seems to revel in taking out our grievances by wiping ourselves out. That’s a scary thought for the day.