Ten years ago today, I was in my hometown in Brazil. On the morning of September 11, 2001, while getting ready for a relaxing day at the beach, I turned on CNN to catch up with the news around the world. That’s when I found out that minutes earlier a large airplane had struck one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Reporters were still debating what might have caused it to crash into the North Tower when the unimaginable happened: a second plane flew into the South Tower.
In the next thirty to forty-five minutes, before any sense could be made of what had happened in New York, reports of a passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon and another one crashing in a Pennsylvania field came in. As the media tried to gather and provide information in the midst of chaos, the world witnessed in disbelief the massive physical destruction and the massacre of thousands of innocent people.
Only one thing was certain: America was under attack and those planes had been used as weapons to kill and destroy everyone and everything around them.
I spent most of that day in front of the TV watching in horror the tragic events unfold. The images of the Twin Towers burning, of people waving for help from their office windows -some even jumping to their death- in desperation, and the final collapse of the Towers were just heartbreaking.
Even experienced journalists had a hard time keeping their cool. I still remember when, several hours into the coverage, a CNN street reporter lost her composure and burst into tears. It was too much to bear.
Friends and family kept telling me I was lucky to be safe at “home” in Brazil. Strangely, their words didn’t bring me much comfort and I felt profoundly sad and unsettled. That’s when it hit me: I was not at home in Brazil. Home is where your life is. Home is where you live and work and spend most of your time; where your house and your belongings are. Sure, I was in my home country, surrounded by friends and family, but my life was no longer in Brazil.
Being away from the US that day actually brought me grief and concern. Concern for my daughter in Los Angeles -a potential target of terrorist attacks- and for my friends and colleagues at the World Bank and the IMF, also possible targets. I wanted to be there with them during that difficult time.
Several days later, arriving at Dulles Airport after a longer than usual trip –our flight was rerouted– the Immigration Officer said, “welcome home,” as if confirming my feelings. His rather routine greeting had a special meaning that day.
For several days, I couldn’t help but look at the sky every time I walked around downtown DC. And it was with some trepidation that I got back on a plane, just a month later, on a business trip. But eventually we all had to accept and adjust to the new reality of the post-9/11 world.
This week, US intelligence agencies received information about a “credible but still unconfirmed” terrorism threat tied to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. And I happen to be in Brazil again this September 11, for the first time since 2001. This was not intentional, just a strange coincidence, and I’m hoping nothing will happen.
I still get emotional thinking about 9/11, even after so many years. On this 10th anniversary, my thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died and the heroes who helped save lives, many of them dying in the process. May they all rest in peace and may there never be another 9/11 anywhere in the world.