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September 10, 2006

September 11, the day I remember

By sameh abdelaziz


It is five years since that day!

I still remember every moment, word, move happened on that Tuesday morning. I do not consider myself the type of person that usually remembers details; my wife can prove this easily except for that day.

I was attending a management training class, the type of course where you attend as a sort of recognition in a big company, or because your boss likes you. If you learn something new in the process, it would be an added bonus. It was our second day of a full week. A five star hotel, plenty of food, and a curriculum covered with games that turn us the managers, into grayed hair kids. It was a wonderful time and there was no reason to suspect that it will be any different from the day before or the rest of the week.

8:46:40: Flight 11 crashes at roughly 490 mph (790 km/h or 425 knots) into the north side of the north tower. Our company handles all information technology functions for three major airlines. One of our management team gets a phone call then walks out of the classroom, when he came back he looked pale, he mentioned that a commercial airplane hit the world trade center. We ran out to the lobby, the TV was on, the news was just coming out, nobody expected it to be anything but bazaar accident. We hung there for a while glued to the TV screen.

The instructor followed by some of us started going back to the classroom; we were still talking about the crash. The manager responsible for the airport systems was still in the lobby talking on the phone.

9:03:13: Flight 175 crashes at about 590 mph (950 km/h) into the south side of the south tower banked between floors 78 and 84. By this time, several media organizations are covering the first plane crash; millions see the impact live.

One of our colleagues still standing by the TV runs in and delivers the news. We run back to the lobby, the picture of the airplane hitting the south tower broadcasted repeatedly. All the faces are twisted in disbelief; couple of the managers not far from where I stand started talking about the possibility of terrorism act. A third joined the discussion and mentioned Middle Eastern terrorist as a suspect. He said, "We will never understand how much they hate us".

I suddenly noticed that I am standing alone, may be couple of eyes fell on me and then turned away fast as I intercepted them. The eyes belong to two of my colleagues. Deep down inside I wanted to believe that they did not mean to look at me. I look Middle Eastern as they come, dark hair, tanned complexion, and Muslim, but I am one of them!

At 9:20, CNN refers for the first time to a foul play, 'AP: FBI investigating report of plane hijacking'. The circle discussing the Middle Eastern hatred becomes even larger, trying to talk in a very low voice. I could not understand if the low voice meant for me not to hear, or out of respect to my feelings.

By 9:25, the first so-called terrorism expert was on TV talking about Muslim vendetta against the west and the possibility that the two crashes linked to a Muslim organization. Standing alone felt very awkward, I moved into the ring. I said, "Assuming it was hijacked, what type of American pilot would do something like this?"

My voice was shaky and I think everybody around felt it. There was silence for few seconds before one of them said you are probably right. The manager who started the conversation about the Middle East smiled to me, I always liked that person probably he did not mean anything, I smiled back.

At 9:30, we asked the instructor to cancel the class, some of us specially the ones responsible for Airport systems had to go back to work. I work on the reservation side.

I tried calling my wife several times; she was going to the hospital that day for a checkup. There was no response, left voice message.

I left the building; I was the first to leave. I drove very fast to the middle school where my older daughter is. I wanted to know if it might be better to take her home.

The woman standing in the administration office was so professional. She told me that they informed the kids about the crash but did not provide any speculation. She suggested not taking her out of class. I asked directly if she thinks that other kids might do anything that would hurt her feelings. She assured me; I thanked her and ran to my car.

On the way to the elementary school where my second daughter goes, I heard the news about the south tower collapse. I felt scared. I still remember the attacks on Denver's mosque after Oklahoma bombing. I was living there at that time.

There is no way a terrorist would ask an American pilot to crash his plane in the world trade center and he would do it, what would be his incentives if he will die either way. I remember hearing my voice alone in the car "NOWAY".

Once again, the administrator in the elementary school told me I should not worry. They did not inform the kids about the crash. I stood for few seconds in front of my car in the parking lot trying to decide where to go next. Without making a decision, I drove. News on the radio was coming out. The Pentagon hit. In the air there is fourth plane missing. Air traffic shut down all over the country. The president is in route to a secure location. Evacuation is underway in New York and DC.

I was in front of my home, although I never made the decision to go there, I entered, turned on the TV. My wife was not there yet, and no messages. I sat down, hundreds and hundreds of pictures were going through my mind. There was sadness setting-in for the first time deep down.

It cannot really be terrorist act.
It is impossible, three airplanes hit three landmarks within the hour all by coincident.
It must be terrorist act.

Who would be able to pull off such a thing?
How many thousands died?
How many lives altered forever?

Hundreds of people jumping from the north tower, reports said. What in heaven would be your feeling to jump from 1,368 feet high?

The phone rang; it was 1:30. My father was calling from Egypt. He was concerned; my mother took the handset from him she was crying. They know I travel for my work from time to time, they were afraid I might be in New York or Washington DC. I told them we are all fine, the kids are at school and I already talked to them. I said my wife was at work. I had to lie.

I remember the kids coming back from school, trying to explain to them what happened, what twisted human nature would do something like that. I remember my wife telling us how people were looking at her wearing headscarf as she was in the hospital she did not know then what happened, but nobody was mean to her. I remember telling them no religion in the world teaches such actions. I said we the Americans, regardless of religion color or dress code would be one hand. I remember.

I remember America speaking with one voice in a way I never heard before. We were hurt, but we were very proud people. There was no Democrats or republicans only Americans.

The whole world was Americans, this was the headline of many international daily publications on September 12, and we all trusted our leaders and felt strongly that out of the tragedy greatness is in the making.

What happened in the last five years, to have a president with 29 percent approval rating, a congress with 18 percent approval rating, and 69 percent of the people believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

What happened since then?

That, I do not remember!

Submitters Bio:
I am an Egyptian American born in Alexandria. I immigrated to the US in the late eighties, during this time lived in many places in US and Europe. I work as an IT manager and love it. I love to travel, it makes me feel young, and it awakes in me sense of adventure and curiosity. I love knowing people from different cultures; it never fails to amaze me how we all live in our little worlds that never meet. History is my second amazement, it always differ depending on who is winning, that leads me to my third hobby, politics is it history or human nature that is the culprit?