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Old 01-21-2004, 01:38 PM   #1 (permalink)
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flying on september 11, when the world crashed around me

Yes, I was flying from amsterdam to boston on september 11, and about two hours after takeoff, just past Ireland, we turned around and I was stranded with not much money for five days. Here's a slightly revamped account of what happened:

Flipping through the channels on my personal TV set, I pass the Skymap showing a small plane hovering just west of Ireland. Feeling as if I forgot something, I change back. I see the small white plane … but it no longer points towards America. The plane points straight up, slowly turning clockwise, to mainland Europe. A sudden burst of sweat breaks forth from every pore in my body, as if I were extremely embarrassed. Slowly I turn my head to the right, and look up and down the row of beige seats. Has anyone else noticed? I turn to my other side to repeat the procedure, when a Dutch woman’s voice announces, “All flight attendants to the front cabin please”. A few blue blazers with red linings come swinging by my face, moving to the front. Turning to look at the man on my left I open my mouth to speak, but I am cut short, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, we have been ordered to return to Amsterdam; there appears to be a slight mechanical problem”. Still looking at my neighbor, I see an expression that must reflect my own, his eyes wide and his jaw slack.
I have lived all over the world, from Ethiopia to Thailand, and never felt that I truly belonged to any nation. I had always assumed I was Italian by birth, but nothing more. I left Kampala, Uganda on September 9, traveling through Nairobi and Amsterdam, planning to arrive in Boston the 10th. Due to delays in Nairobi and Amsterdam, I arrived on September 15, six days after my departure. Northwest Airlines flight 37 to Boston had been in the air for two hours when it turned back at around 11:30 AM East Coast time.
Turning away from the shocked face of my neighbor, I walk down the blue aisle to the door marked “W.C.”. Knocking once, I slide the door open, and lock it behind me with a click. I look at myself in the mirror and laugh, “I can’t go anywhere unhindered, I don’t think I’ve had a trip in the last year that hasn’t been delayed a day.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be dumping fuel from the wings shortly, so do not be alarmed if you see what appears to be smoke pouring from our wings, it is a common procedure.”… I feel the plane descending rapidly, as my stomach rises to meet it. Looking across to the window, I see the deep blue ocean rushing up to meet my stomach. … Still ten minutes from Amsterdam, I look across to the window. I See a bald man in an outboard fight with his fishing line. … Flying just over the skyscrapers, I stare into the gray back of the seat in front of me, and grip the leather armrests. … My hands reluctantly slide off the damp armrests as the plane slows to stop. … I hear the clunk and hiss as the plane docks with the terminal, and see three blue uniforms rush on with Schiphol Security emblazoned on the back. Two guard the exit as one rushes to the cockpit. As I look to my neighbor again, he looks back, one eyebrow arched and jaw working. The pilot announces in an uncharacteristically wavering voice, “Aaah, ladies and gentleman, I have just been told the reason as to our return, aaah it appears that there have been two planes hijacked in America, which have crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers and US airspace has been closed. Aaah I am sorry for any inconvenience this will cause, and if you would please wait in the gate area, your tickets will be returned to you. Thank you for your patience.”
I stand in line, staring at the institutional gray floor. Looking up I see a man in a shabby flannel shirt and torn jeans, standing in a corner. His head is down, and he soon begins rummaging in his pockets. He pulls out a cigarette and lights up. After one puff, he slouches down and lowers his head again. I turn away, to see a man in neatly pressed khakis and red polo with a baby in his arms. Standing by him are his wife and two kids on the verge of tears. Abandoning his pursuit of luggage, he stomps off to a nearby KLM agent in a light blue blazer. Not comprehending his words, I hear only his high rushed voice as the agent sustains his verbal barrage. Trying to make a motion with both arms, the father lets the baby slip. As he bends down to care for the baby, the agent turns to flee. Feeling a hand on my shoulder, I turn back to see another light blue blazer beckoning me forward. My hand shakes as I pass over my travel documents, and I press it hard against the cold marble counter to subdue it. She informs me that I am lucky and I will be getting a room in the Hilton tonight.
I return to the hotel bar after my weak effort at scheduling a flight to Boston. I have no particular desire to fly anywhere right now. Sipping my drink, I watch the bar TV and begin to soak up the information of the attacks like a sponge. The bartender begins talking to me, the only customer at one AM.
“Wow, this is horrible isn’t it?”
“Ya,” but I don’t feel like those people crying in New York.
“As an American you must be feeling awful.”
“Actually, I don’t feel much of anything right now, I just wonder what will happen next.” I look up to see her reaction, and she looks back at me with pity. “Thanks for the drink.” I slide off my stool and move over to the couches around the lobby TV. I sit next to a man who introduces himself as a Canadian.
“Moments ago explosions began in the Afghan capital of Kabul, white house officials are…”
“So how are your travel plans looking?”
“Well I just have to go to England, but that’s closed right now. I should be out by tomorrow night though.” I nod my head and look back to the news.
I receive a call the next day from Mr. Gray, a member of the U.S. consulate. I tell him that I will be staying at the airport soon, but he invites me into his home. I check out of my room and return to the airport again, still bleary eyed from a restless night. The dark rain of Amsterdam does nothing to help my mood, but the weather conditions are worse inside. Stranded passengers lie all over the airport. Some attempt the line at the ticket counter, but many just try to sleep. Dutch reporters move about the airport searching for anybody who wishes to talk. I laugh; every story sounds the same, even mine. “Our plane turned around mid flight yesterday and we have been here ever since.” We are all short on money, and for the most part haven’t slept, eaten, or showered in the last day. Many respectable travelers live like refugees. They are silent, lying on the dirt-covered floor. They tend to be huddled in groups, conserving heat, food and space. They do not talk to you as you walk by, but only look at you - look at you with eyes deep and dark, but shrouded by a queer opaqueness. It is this same opaque cover that prevents them from speaking. They have suffered hardship, and closed up their emotions. I feel their empty stomachs, and not the tears of a family in New York. I too am a refugee, and am shrouded by an opaqueness like a fence, enclosing my emotions.
I spend the next few days wandering aimlessly around unexplored Amsterdam. I enter The Spanish Horseman, a well-known bar along the number two tram-line. A man jumps up to play pool with me and asks me whether I am an American. “Ya, I guess so,” I reply, not sure whether I want to be or not right now.
“I think it’s terrible what has happened, and I’m glad that you can find comfort in Holland,” He says while breaking.
“Thanks,” I reply, sinking two balls before surrendering my stick. Holding up his hand for me to keep the stick, he walks around the bar and brings back two drinks, handing me one. “Oh, you’re the bartender.”
He smiles at me and turns on the TV; of course, it is CNN, “European nations have agreed to a three minute period of silence to mourn the victims of the September 11 tragedy at precisely noon September 14.”
“Do you know if you can leave anytime soon?”
“No, not yet, I can’t even reach the airlines, eight-ball corner pocket.” I sink the eight-ball and he puts out his hand.
“Good game, and I wish you the best of luck in making it back.”
On my third day in Amsterdam, I ride the tram into town again, to begin wandering down another path. This tram takes me through Museumplein, breaking free from the regiments of buildings to a large green field surrounded by museums and the US consulate. I press my face to the glass, as I always enjoy this view, and see a crowd standing in the long green field by the U.S. Consulate. I feel my tram lurch to a stop as the doors pop open with a hiss. Hearing nothing except the clink of the flagpole, I get up and hang out the open door. Looking around, I see a man in a black suit with a briefcase standing still on the sidewalk. I see a mother standing by her Toyota with her children. I see a man with sparse white hair put down his newspaper and stand leaning on his cane. I see a young man with brown dreadlocks and a backpack stop talking to his friends and look up. I follow their gaze and see the waving spangled banner protruding from the walls of the Consulate, and the white pole extending up past it. I feel something rising inside me like a balloon that would carry me an inch off the ground. The creaking gears of the tram lurching into motion are quickly covered up by the sound of many hands clapping. I feel the balloon break free, shattering that opaque shield. Looking back to see smiles with tears running past them, I feel like I a child finding his house.
I deplane the first international flight back to Boston, and make my way through a dismally empty Logan Airport. At customs I wait in the last line, of many in the past few days, to pass into America. A large crowd stands behind the metal barrier, just inside of my sight, and, waving flags, they sing, “Ohh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” The balloon breaks free again, and sweeps away all remnants of the opaque shield.
Riding off in a taxi, “home of the brave,” echoes in my head; I see again, the old man with the white hair, the mother, and the teen with brown dreadlocks, and I smile.


If youve made it this far, thanks for reading, it was an emotional time for me.. and I just found this again so i put it up.
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Old 01-21-2004, 02:30 PM   #2 (permalink)
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thanks...

"I just wonder what will happen next"

A thought shared by millions worldwide, even to this day.
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Old 01-22-2004, 07:14 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Location: The capital of the free world??
Well that was some sort of a story, I´m glad it turned out all right. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 01-24-2004, 12:53 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Location: NJ
wild story, long read but worth it
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Old 01-24-2004, 12:51 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Location: Midlands, UK
Wow. That was a very interesting read. Thanks.
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Old 01-24-2004, 01:14 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Location: Grants Pass OR
Thank you for sharing that moment with us, your words stirred feelings in me that I had forgotten about.
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Old 02-21-2004, 10:44 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Location: too far from Texas
very touching story & an interesting perspective... definitely brought a tear (or twenty) to my eye... thanks for sharing!
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Old 02-21-2004, 01:23 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Location: Sweden
Thanks for the story
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Old 02-26-2004, 01:08 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Location: New York, NY
That really did bring me back. Thank you for sharing.
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Old 02-28-2004, 01:01 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Location: Portland
that was a great, rare read. thank you very much.
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