I'll never forget where I was the day the world changed. September 11, 2001 was an ordinary day at my Belgium High School. St. Roch was buzzing with who was dating who, what tests were that day and of course, what the new(ish) exchange student was wearing/doing/eating/breathing. Those days I was quite fascinating to everyone around me and to be honest, being the attention whore I am, I loved it. It wasn't until I noticed people seriously staring at me that I finally asked, in my broken French, what was going on. One of my friends told me the US was bombed. As I'm trying to figure out what A) she's exactly saying (have you seen Lost in Translation?) and B) trying not to freak out, I see the "Principal" coming towards me.
I should tell you that I was the only American exchange student at my school. There was a Mexican and Canadian student that were also there with Rotary, but I was the sole American. After I was pulled into the Principal's office, I was told that something very bad was happening and I needed to go home. At this point I don't quite get what's going on, let's be serious, who really could understand the gravity of the situation or impending events? I got off of the bus, practically ran home and walked in to see the television on, and the images of the first tower being hit. You should know that foreign tv doesn't really edit. They don't sugar coat it. I saw everything. I saw every grusome event over and over until it was burned into my brain.
Obviously at this point, I had already tried to call my parents. Unfortunately, so was the rest of the world and the phone lines were not working- at all. I e-mailed them frantically trying to get SOME word that they were ok, even though I knew that they were in Washington State far, far, far away from the tragedies unfolding before my eyes. But when you're that scared and something that catastrophic is happening to your country, rational thinking isn't exactly on the forefront of your thought process. I finally received an e-mail later that night that was no where near the comfort I needed. I was alone, in a foreign country, without (at that point) real friends or family.
It was 3 days before I heard my mothers voice.
The aftermath directly effecting me, along with a number of other exchange students, was strict curfews, cancellation of our Rotary trips and a general suggestion to tell everyone we were Canadian. I can say that my family and I were not personally effected by the tradgedy, but I know others who were not so lucky.
One Wednesday about a week after the attacks while walking to meet other exchange students for our weekly "get together" at le carre´ I had my first Anti-American encounter. It's like they can smell us, or just heard us loudly talking? Either way, one woman came up to me and expressed how sorry she was for me and my country and after saying thank you, two steps later someone else told me they were glad and all American's should die. Yep. That happened. Complete strangers.
The year went on, and things got back to "normal" but one thing is for sure. I will never forget my experiences, where I was or what happened next. I will not forget watching the news everynight to see the progress, or lack there of, and the continuation of effects from the attacks. I will never forget the pictures of people jumping out of building, bodies or anything the televisions decided not to edit. I will never forget being so scared. I will never forget how many people risked their lives to rescue those in the attacks. I will never forget all of the heroic images. And I will never forget how proud to be an American I was after seeing my country pull together and let the world know that we are fighters. We are Americans.
I will never forget.