I’ve tried and failed to write about 9/11 so many times over the years. Words still fail me. I can’t believe that it has been ten long years. Where do I start?
As irrelevant as it may seem all I can do is tell my story of that awful day. I’d only been in Quito, Ecuador for a couple of weeks. I spent the fall semester of 2001 studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador at the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito, campus Cumbaya through Michigan State University. I’d just settled into my classes and life with my wonderful host family, los Caleros. In fact, I’d spent the previous week on a mini vacation in Atacames on the Pacific coast near Esmeraldas with my host parents. They simply wanted to get to know me better. Nothing could have prepared me for the horror of that beautiful Tuesday morning.
I had just woken up and was preparing for the day ahead at USFQ. As I was getting ready in my bedroom, my host Mom, Adriana, yelled for me to come quick. She’d been watching TV in her bedroom as she was getting ready for the day. She watched on TV as the first plane hit the first tower. I thought that it was a horrible accident as many other people did at that point.
After eating breakfast and catching a bus to the USFQ campus, I headed to class. It was there that I began to hear rumors of what had happened in New York and Washington, D.C. I wouldn’t learn the entire story until I had a chance to eat lunch at a small café near the university. There I sat transfixed to CNN Español.
After making my way back to the university for afternoon classes I couldn’t believe the chaos erupting in the hallway housing the study abroad office. USFQ hosted several students from the United States that semester. Unlike me, most were from small liberal arts colleges on the East Coast. Many knew people who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They were seeking information and assuming the worst.
We later had a meeting regarding the attacks and someone placed a huge TV in the lobby of the university. I remember crowds gathering there trying to catch any new piece of information. As soon as possible I headed back to my host parents’ home. I needed reassurance.
Watching the news with my host Mom, it became clear just what had happened. It still doesn’t seem real. At that point I called my parents in Michigan and spoke to my little brother. I simply needed to talk to my family.
9/11 faded into the background of that semester, but it was never completely out of mind. I admit that I thought about what I would do if my plane back to Michigan was hijacked. I also thought about who I would call. Traveling back to Michigan on December 22, 2001 was an adventure all its own.
It was then that I fully understood the impact of what had happened. I saw soldiers in the airports, new security measures were in place, and anxiety was everywhere. In my adventure home, I somehow missed the fact that the incident with the shoe bomber occurred the very same day. My parents would tell me that after the fact. In retrospect, I am glad that I didn’t know.
Early in 2002 I boarded yet another plane. This time my destination was Caceres, Spain where I was to spend yet another semester studying Spanish through the Office of Study Abroad at Michigan State University. I tried to come to terms with the changes taking place in the United States and the fact that I felt less safe as an American. It didn’t work. Some things I experienced in Spain stay with me to this day.
I travelled as much as possible throughout my semester in Spain. Naturally I ended up in southern Spain, which Muslims occupied for over 800 years. In 2002, there were many Pakistani and Afghan immigrants throughout that area of Spain. It was not hard to imagine Muslims occupying that area of Spain.
Later in the semester an anti-Semitic group posted disturbing fliers all around Caceres, angering our large contingent of MSU students. I’d never been exposed to anything like it. I can only imagine what it is like now. If people expressed such blatant hatred openly, how much hatred lay hidden behind closed doors?