Food is a delicate topic across the globe – especially for those of us who have just stepped into a new environment. Names, smells, flavors, even entire food items don’t match with what’s in one’s memories.
Me: “What exactly are Pop-Tarts, Joe?” *
I stood in front of hundreds of small blue boxes that all looked the same. I knew the brand, but the product depicted on the box looked unfamiliar. On first sight, they all looked the same, but they weren’t. I read “strawberry” on one box, “raspberry” on another, “chocolate fudge” on yet another one.
Joe: “You’ve never had them? Well, they are usually for breakfast. It’s pastry with a filling. You can either eat them right from the box or, which is what I would recommend, toast them. They are pretty American.”
Me: “OK, I’ll think about it. Don’t look too healthy, though. Besides that, I don’t have a toaster.
Joe: “Fair enough. You don’t miss all too much. And yeah, there are healthier options out there.”
We continued our round through the aisles. The cart was still empty. When we passed the tea section, I was taken back in time.
I was studying the tea boxes. The aisle was much quieter than the rest of the supermarket. I was looking for a specific type of tea – Earl Grey, my favorite. I had picked the least expensive one the first time around, but couldn’t get comfortable with this brand’s taste.
“Florian?” I heard a woman’s voice calling. At first, I didn’t realize. Why would someone call me? I didn’t know anyone in here. But the voice came closer and sounded familiar. I heard it again. I left the tea-world and turned around. Who was that?
A familiar face came in sight. I was surprised. What are the odds that I would meet someone I know in a supermarket in a town that was still new to me.
Me: “Hey, Kathy. That’s a surprise.”
Kathy: “I know. Nice meeting you outside the classroom. I’ve just stopped by to get some essentials. I don’t really like this kind of supermarket. The lighting is so bright, which makes me uncomfortable. And they don’t have a good variety.”
Me: “It’s a bit confusing, I agree. But I found some bread that looks familiar.”
I fished a rectangular package out of my little basket.
Me: “See, that’s bread I can relate to. It’s not exactly what I’m used to, the taste is still a bit off, but it comes pretty close.”
Kathy: “I hear you. When we lived in England, it took me a while to adjust, too. No worries there. It will get easier.”
Me: “It’s something about the smell. It’s hard to describe. I’m more used to the smell of freshly baked goods. Here, it smells like a chemistry lab.”
Kathy: “You know? There are much better places to shop for food. There’s one a bit closer to New Haven. It’s a bit more expensive, but they have dedicated sections for food from around the world. I go there to find cornish pasty for Frans. I’ll have to send you some links.”
Me: “That would be nice, thank you.”
“Excuse me.” The polite interruption by another shopper reminded us that we had blocked the teas on display.
Kathy: “Uh, before I forget. I just talked with Frans about this. We would love to have you over for lunch or dinner one day. He’s out with Sikorsky a lot at the moment. But it should be better in March.”
Me: “Wow, that sounds great. Thank you, I would love that.”
Kathy: “Great, I’ll keep you posted. I gotta go know. It was nice bumping into you here. Have a nice night.”
Joe pulled me back into the present.
Joe: “Over here are all the coffees. Can be a bit overwhelming at first.”
Me: “Don’t worry. I’m not into coffee anyway.”
We continued our trip through the vast resources of the supermarket.
Joe: “Soda. That’s familiar to you right?”
Me: “Yeah, different name, but the world is pretty Americanized in that area. But you’ve got quite a lot of options here.”
Joe: “Ha, just thinking of something… Root beer. Do you know what it is?”
Me: “No, I mean, the name rings a bell, but never tried it. I don’t even think that it’s sold in Germany.”
Before I had a chance to ask for more information, Joe continued.
Joe: “Never? Whoa, that’s gonna change – today! It’s a soda, you’ll love it!”
We continued our shopping spree and arrived at the checkout counters with a cart that was filled to its brim.
Joe walked to one of the mini fridges positioned in-between the checkout counters.
“That’s still on me,” he said to the clerk, handing him a bottle. “He’s fresh from Germany and never had root beer before. I thought what would be better to make him familiar with the country’s food than to let him try root beer.”
After he had the bottle back in his possession, Joe passed it over to me. “Enjoy, Flo. I’m excited to find out what you say about it.”
I had learned of some typical American foods and had been familiarized with procedures in here. It’s always the little things that make the difference. How to weigh fruits and vegetables properly, what’s a decent cereal option, how to operate the self-checkout system, and how to get all the stuff home, to name just a few.
Thanks for making the transition into my new environment so much easier. The safety net just got stronger.
To Be Continued…
* Disclaimer about dialogue and some details in this post: Not accurate, but that’s how the situations felt for me and how I have them in my memories.
After two weeks in my new surroundings, I was finally able to step into the Quinnipiac community. The beginning classes alleviated the doubts I had begun to develop. Let’s go for a “pub crawl”…
Looking out of the window, I had a bad feeling about the day that was awakening. Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, began with snowfall. I was looking forward to my first exposure to Quinnipiac campus life – I wanted to get started. But the triage of text, email, and voicemail message around 2:20 p.m. confirmed my fears.
“Quinnipiac will close at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21, because of the snowstorm. All classes scheduled at or after 5 p.m. are cancelled.”
Me to snow: I hate you, do you hear me?! Go away and leave me alone!
Snow has been a bad kid this winter, but it allowed for the semester to begin three days later.
First contact is always the most difficult part. I approached the glass front that hid room number 253 in plain sight. My pulse accelerated with every step I made.
As I came closer to the door, I saw people sitting inside. *
It was quiet inside the room. A quick “hi” here, an acknowledging nod there, but everyone seemed to be waiting for the professor to enter and give that relieving introduction.
But things warmed up quickly…
I removed my headphones and a conversation faded in. It was taking place in the room on the other side of the glass wall that I was facing. The topic was sports. The computer’s clock told me that it was time for me to leave the computer room and join the gathering in the room next door.
We were only three. The two conversationalists kept going. A warm “hi there” greeted me in-between two topics. I followed their arguments, trying to learn more about American sports.
The minutes flew by. Once in a while, Joe paused the conversation with the professor. He turned his chair around and faced me. Determined to let me in on the secrets of American sports, he explained what they were talking about.
Eventually, the sports talk group grew. Instead of trying to follow the conversation between two people, I now had to deal with three people talking about a phenomenon I didn’t understand.
“Hey there,” she said, trying to break through the sports barrier. I turned around and replied, “Hi, Kathy.”
Phew. Nothing against a bit of exposure to American sports, but several small dosages seemed to be more effective than a single big one.
Kathy sat down, retrieved here laptop from her bag, and said, “sports, don’t they have something else to talk about?”
While the sports talk picked up where it had left of when Kathy had interrupted ever so friendly, she pressed a button to turn on her laptop.
With a smile, she asked, “How was your week, Florian?”
The startling beep sound that revived her MacBook was the starting signal to a warm conversation. Now it was an active place with a sports conversation going on in one part of the room and a “normal” conversation dominating the other side of the room. Both coexisted in harmony.
“All right,” the professor eventually said, “I think it’s time to get started. His relaxed voice called everyone’s attention to the desk with the impressive backdrop of four flat screens. Class began, but the warmth stayed. The topics changed, but the feel of the conversations and the atmosphere did not.
“Do you need a lift home?” asked Kathy after class had ended. Before I could start answering, Joe chimed in, “No, I’ll take care of him.”
“Oh, that’s great,” Kathy replied, “you are a good friend, Joe. But if anything comes up, just let me know.”
We walked out into the winter night, arranging for a group project meeting on the way. We hadn’t even reached the door when we had found a consensus. So the topic changed once again.
“If you need a lift to the supermarket, Frans and I would be happy to help you out,” Kathy said. “That’s lovely, thank you,” I replied, “but Joe and I are headed that way right now.”
If I had doubts about the path I had selected, they were gone. I was in a safe environment, surrounded by good people. Quinnipiac had built a safety net underneath my high wire. Thank you, guys!
To Be Continued…
* Disclaimer about dialogue and some details in this post: Not accurate, but that’s how the situations felt for me and how I have them in my memories.
The past few posts must have painted a gloomy picture about this adventure. It’s time to leave the dark side and take a peek into better times.
“Let us rent out the cameras first,” he said, walking down the hallway that separated the cafeteria from the eating area in the Student Center on Quinnipiac’s Mount Carmel campus. *
“Then,” he continued, his voice fastening, “I’ll get you home.”
Looking at the person that was walking next to me, I remembered the first time we met.
Just a few weeks earlier on the remote North Haven campus.
I opened the door to the conference room on the upper level. I counted five people, but one person stood out from the rest of the group.
The program director was typing on his laptop.
Going counter-clockwise, three young women followed.
He sat at the top of the table, leaning in the office chair. A denim-colored baseball hat covered his short hair. Inspecting the hat, I read the letters N and Y. Intertwined, they displayed the Yankees logo – I knew that. It felt like a mismatch that he had decided to match the baseball item with a white Rangers jersey. I hadn’t yet come across someone wearing items from two different teams, and two different sports, simultaneously.
I didn’t memorize his name that day, but I remembered the face the next time we met.
“Sounds good, Joe.” I replied.
The equipment checkout counter was located dangerously close to a specific office.
“Hey Joe! Hey Flo!” A deep but joyful voice interrupted our waiting time. While the student in front of us kept checking his equipment, we turned around and in sight came Professor Hanley.
Hanley: “What are you up to?”
He leaned comfortably in his armchair, a laptop sat on a small stand. There was no desk in the office, but a couch hugged the wall opposite our program director.
Joe: “Just renting out cameras for our broadcast projects. What are you still doing here?”
Hanley: “Paperwork, meetings, you name it.”
“Excuse me,” said the student leaving the checkout area while trying to balance camera case, tripod, and mic.
Joe went through the then still confusing renting process first. He ordered “the same stuff as that guy”, which made the young woman behind the counter disappear.
A few minutes later, Joe grabbed two bulky cases from the counter and said, “I’ll be in Hanley’s office.”
I followed suit and ordered “the same” one more time. The woman disappeared again, so did Joe.
While waiting for my equipment, I heard the fast conversation from the office across the aisle.
Sports – what else would they choose as topic for their conversation. I lent one ear to them, while the other one focused on the counter.
After I had signed the checkout agreement, I hefted the Panasonic HMC 70 and the tripod, along with my backpack to the office door, and peeked inside. The conversation kept flowing.
Hanley, stopping the sports talk: “Come on in, Florian.”
I walked into the small room carefully, placed the equipment next to Joe’s, and sat down next to him on the couch.
Hanley: “How are you doing?”
Me: “Doing great. Joe’s been a great help. I’m getting much more comfortable in the new environment every day.”
Hanley: “Great to hear. Make yourself comfortable.”
And from there, they continued talking a language I struggled to understand.
Baseball here, football there, hockey in-between. I tried to follow, tried to pick up the lingo – or at least bits and pieces of it to start with.
Time went by, the two of them kept going, interrupted by friendly laughter here and there. Twice or thrice, they focused on me, pausing their discussion to explain what the issue was.
More than an hour after I had set foot into the office, sports talk released us back into the real world. I found it fascinating that I had just witnessed an hour of sports talk between a professor and a student.
The atmosphere in there was snug and comfortable. I wasn’t used to this. But I sure liked the embracing warmness the Quinnipiac community was sending my way.
To Be Continued…
* Disclaimer about dialogue and some details in this post: Not accurate, but that’s how the situations felt for me and how I have them in my memories.
Frustrated I was, but giving up isn’t my thing. I picked Whitney & School as the target for my second attempt to grab one of those motorized fugitives. I had fifteen more minutes of walking in front of me when I left home at 2:15 p.m.
Well, where exactly was that bus stop – to the left of School Street or to the right? Aha, that looks like an actual bus stop over there. That one was an easy pick. I felt that I was on track now.
But I was kept waiting. The minutes passed without a single bus approaching. No, that’s not correct. There were busses, but they were coming from New Haven. I counted two in the 30 or 40 minutes I spent waiting at the doorsteps of Hamden’s city hall.
An old “friend” lingered a couple feet to my right. The buzzing traffic vein Dixwell Avenue looked peaceful from here because the continuous flow of cars was regularly put to a two-minute sleep by the traffic lights.
The bus that stormed down Dixwell Avenue and turned right onto Whitney Avenue – turning its back one me – seemed to laugh me out of court. I could almost see its tongue sticking out toward me.
I was baffled. Where did that come from? I thought the bus goes just all the way on Whitney Avenue? Well, maybe my information was wrong. I waited some more, but decided to change plans eventually.
Hello there, Dixwell Avenue. Long time no see. I’m far from being opposed to utilizing my feet to get from A to B. But with just a few hours under my belt, Hamden was already testing me.
I was walking on the sidewalk on the left side of the street – the only one there was. I stopped my pursuit for a bus stop whenever I had passed a road sign, and turned around to see what was on it. No bus stop sign anywhere on the street.
Little did I know that my hunch to follow this street all the way back to the supermarket was doomed from the beginning. The bus used only a small portion of the street, but that would be another story.
I reached the bus stop at Whitney and Skiff eventually. What other options did I have? The waiting entered another round. I was anxious. I was already way behind my schedule. Guess I won’t be sleeping in a comfy bed this night.
If it weren’t for the sweat-pants-wearing fellow to my right, I would have loved to shout out to the world one seven-letter word: f-i-n-a-l-l-y! But I behaved and restrained the joyful jump to my mind.
I got off the bus thirty minutes later, the familiar façade of New Haven’s Union Station in sight.
The seaside breeze hit me hard when I made the left onto Church Street. High above the ground, I crossed the railroad tracks underneath.
Entering the furniture store about fifteen minutes later, I felt right at home.
Having had the opportunity to approach unknown people just earlier in the day, it felt easier to walk up to the yellow-shirted man standing at the computer terminal in the middle of the sofa area.
Me: “Excuse me. I’d like to order some items with your pick and deliver option.”
Coworker: “Sure. I was about to get out of here, but let me see.”
I did notice the annoyed look he gave me, but he seemed to have arranged himself with the extra work once he had logged back into the system.
Me: “Thank you, here’s the list of items I need.”
I handed the A4-sized sheet over.
Coworker: “That’s weird. Is that the bed you wanted? I get some weird listing for it, like four different parts. That doesn’t look right.”
Me: “Yes, the name is correct and the picture looks about right.”
Coworker: “Let me punch in all the other items first.”
The minutes passed as he worked the keyboard.
Coworker: “Well, that’s all. Let us check again if I got everything right.”
We went over the listing shown on the screen; all was there except the bed.
Coworker: “I’m at a loss regarding the bed. But then, I’m not from the bed department. You know what we do, I’ll leave it out, give you the order as it is right now, and you go over to the bed department, where they will be able to finalize everything for you.”
He handed over three different sheets of paper, and said goodbye.
About twenty minutes later, the final problem was sorted, and I had completed the main task for the day: buying furniture.
I satisfied my stomach through a quick stop at the cafeteria, got a few smaller items from the store, and decided to take a cab home – too exhausted to try my luck with the bus once again. I knew how to get on the bus, but still had no clue where exactly I had to get off in Hamden. Since it was dark already and I had two huge bags with me, I postponed this final battle with the bus system to the next day.
I arrived back home at 8:15 p.m. – six hours after I had started this trip. But I couldn’t quite call it a day.
Another thirty-minute walk to the supermarket was necessary to get some food and – most importantly – water. So I hit once again the sidewalk of Dixwell Avenue. I returned at 11:20 p.m.
When I had the provisional bed for the night set up, I glanced around. Whoa, this place looked empty and lonely. I was on my own – finally. After all the fighting to get to this point in my life, I had finally arrived. Yet, I was surprised by the suddenness and the fact that I missed home more than I would have ever expected. Although I had seen it coming for months, I only began to realize what it meant for my life.
I was free, and that made me jump for joy. But I was just in the middle of a huge turn-around of my life. Was I doing the right thing? I mean I was even struggling with using a thing as simple as a bus. I was constantly nervous, unsure about how to complete the next step. And I was on my own, completely alone. How would I be able to cope with what was yet to come?
I wish I would have know that going abroad meant turning my life upside down.
The parking lot looked like the identical twin to the one I had seen just a few minutes ago. Why is everything so huge here?
Walking past deserted row after row, I prepared for the task at hand. I needed a bus pass because I had no change in my pockets. And this supermarket was the only source for such passes that I could find.
I started my round through the aisles. Yeah, it’s a supermarket. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. But the differences laid dormant in the shelves. The chemical smell that emanated from the bread aisle irritated me. Ugh, what was that smell? I passed bagels, white brad, English muffins, Italian Bread, rye bread, cinnamon raisin bread, and burger buns. The optical impressions changed, but the smell didn’t.
I hoped to find alternative options in here once it was time to shop for food. But for now, I had another objective. I couldn’t find anything that looked even remotely similar to a bus ticket – off to another round and another one.
A sparkle of hope glimmered behind the checkout counters. They were selling something over there. I could see lottery tickets and phone-credit cards. I took my courage in both hands and approached the coworker who was just a few feet away – idling as it appeared.
Me: “Excuse me, sir,”
Coworker: “Yes, how can I help you?”
Me: “Where can I find the bus tickets, please?”
Coworker: “Right over there.”
He gestured directly to the area that had awakened my interest.
Me: “Thank you so much.”
Coworker: “You’re welcome.”
The first little success I was allowed to have. I walked over and added myself to the line. Reminder to myself: I need to ask for a 30-day bus pass. Don’t screw that up, please?!
The line got shorter one by one. My pulse accelerated in tune to the steps I made in direction of the counter. I need this bus pass to get to New Haven. You can do this. Why am I nervous? It’s a bus pass I’m trying to purchase. I wasn’t trying to get something complicated like a life insurance policy, or an expensive and life changing sports car, or an illegal drug. It was highly illogical to be so excited about this.
Finally, the last customer in front of me finished their transaction. It was my turn. I made the last two steps toward the counter.
Coworker: “Hey, what can I help you with?”
Me: “I’d like to purchase a 30-day bus pass, please.”
Phew. I had almost tripped over the 30-day part, but I hadn’t. I had made it. See, it’s easy, no big deal.
I smiled when I left the store. It had taken me an hour and a half to get to this point, but I had my first accomplishment. Yeah…
The bus stop was easily found. But it didn’t have a schedule. Well, I knew that a bus should pass by this stop every twenty minutes or so. So it shouldn’t be too long.
I waited, and waited, and waited some more. Nothing happened. I had an idea: Instead of waiting here in the freezing cold, I could just walk down Whitney Avenue. There should be more stops along the street, right?
I walked for fifteen minutes, but I could neither see a bus nor another bus stop. There must be a bus stop somewhere, come one… I kept walking. My stomach began to protest. So did my feet. All right, that’s it. I turned around and walked all the way back to the bus stop I knew. Whitney Avenue felt like a road to nowhere – an endless strip of asphalt that was about to swallow me up.
As I came closer to the intersection where I had found the bus stop, I made an unpleasant discovery. It had been 45 minutes since I had first reached Whitney Avenue, but I hadn’t seen a single bus. But when I looked to the horizon, a large blue vehicle came into sight that looked an awful lot like one of those busses that serve the area.
How am I supposed to catch this one? There’s no bus stop. The website says stops are clearly marked by a road sign. There are none – anywhere. Said I and watched the bus rushing down south and past me. How nice!
Looking after the vehicle, I realized that I had enough. I walked home and arrived there three hours after I had begun this frustrating experience. I just wanted to get to New Haven; that’s all! The positivity boost from the supermarket had been obliterated; thank you, bus!
Nsawam Road is a major traffic vein in Accra, Ghana. The burning winter sun made the waiting period onboard the rusty but trusty Tro-Tro difficult. With temperatures around 90 degrees and a humidity level of 80 percent, the traffic jam just a mile from Kwame Nkrumah Circle, a major traffic hub for the downtown area, was a frustrating experience. Exhaust smoke sneaked through the wide holes where one would usually find windows. The air inside the van was increasingly difficult to breath, but for Dennis Ampadu, this is home.
The Quinnipiac senior sat comfortably at a small table in the Mount Carmel cafeteria. His hair was short and pitch-black. The stark-blue Chelsea soccer jersey made him stand out.
“Just being able to walk dusty roads,” he said while putting his cup of iced coffee down, “have exhaust smoke in the air, that kinda exposure gives you a certain type of feeling that brings you home.”
Studying in the U.S. has been the goal for Dennis Ampadu ever since high school.
“I wanted the exposure,” he explained. “I wanted to get out and go somewhere different. All over the world, we know that America is a great country. America is known for a lot of advanced technology and producing a lot of well-educated people. So it wasn’t out of the norm to say you wanted to study in America. I knew I would be getting a good education.”
Applying to universities abroad was a stressful experience. Besides taking the SAT and picking the right schools to apply to, the search for good scholarships defined his search for the right university.
While advisors during that time usually recommended to find locations where the climate wasn’t too drastically different from what Ghanaians are used to, Dennis had set himself deviating priorities. He wanted to see a realistic chance of being accepted by the school. The support through a good scholarship was a decisive element as well.
He chose Quinnipiac without having set foot on the campus, a risk he was willing to take.
“One of the reasons why I came here – to Quinnipiac in particular – was because of the scholarship,” he said.
“It was nonchalant,” he said about his reasons for giving Quinnipiac the advantage. “I didn’t care too much. I was more interested in the exposure of getting outside of Ghana than anything.”
Nearly five years later, Dennis is closing in on the completion of his Bachelor’s degree. Majoring in biochemistry, the young Ghanaian embraced the additional year to minor in mathematics and take some extra biology classes.
He decided to go this extra mile to get the most out of the experience, and receive the best possible preparation for his future.
Quinnipiac is “a great school,” he said. “Teachers devote time to you. And so you are able to get the best out of them. The educational system here is rigorous. It saps everything out of you. It’s very intense. It’s instilling a habit of work ethic. You have to constantly be working at what you wanna be good at.”
“That’s one thing that I’ve learned being here in the U.S.,” he continued, “that you can achieve anything as long as you keep working.”
Studying at Quinnipiac has elicited a development. “You have to study. I’ve realized that you have to study. I’ve had to consistently put in effort to achieve good grades, which I wasn’t used to doing. But I’ve learned that, I’ve developed a sense of work ethic. Quinnipiac has helped me to develop my confidence as a person.”
When talking about his future, Dennis straightened up as if searching for a thought to begin with. He hesitated and said that it was a “huge question.”
“My plan is to go home and do med school,” he added. “Depending on how well I excel, I’m going to apply for a residency outside. I wanna switch up and go to Europe.”
The exact destination for his residency is still in the works, but if he finds the time to improve his French skills, he would prefer to work there because his family background is partially French.
Afterward, the immediate goal is to help the family.
“I wanna be a doctor,” he explained. “My dad is setting up a clinic and I wanna be able to – at some point – support him.”
Family is important for him. “Home is home,” he said. “I miss a lot of things about home.”
His pitch-black eyes lit up while he continued to talk about his family and spending time with his high school friends. After taking a sip from his iced coffee, he continued.
“I miss speaking my mother tongue. While I was in high school, we just came up with words that are not even like the local language. It’s not even recognized by our parents, you come up with a dialect amongst your friends, you all understand it. It’s just weird things like this that I miss.”
It took three and a half years before Dennis was able to head back home for Christmas 2012. But the benefits from studying at Quinnipiac make it worth the effort.
“When you really get to know someone here,” he explained, “it’s a genuine relationship. I feel that the friends I have made here,” he paused for a few second and knocked on the table before continuing, “will be lifelong friends because it is a very important time of your life, you’re realizing a lot of things about yourself, what you’re capable of (and) what you’re not capable of.”
The confidence he developed through Quinnipiac lets him think about long-term goals as well.
“I have bigger goals in terms of what I wanna do for the medical establishment,” Dennis said with a smile.
While the details are still in the works, the dream he has is already clear.
“I want to see that somehow our medical system worldwide has been impacted in terms of there is healthcare available everywhere in the world, and available at an affordable price.”
Quinnipiac was the right choice for him. They are “producing a lot of good students,” he said. “Most of my colleagues got into very good PhD. schools. They are doing very well right now.”
“I didn’t regret it, you know,” he said about his decision to choose Quinnipiac. “It worked out really well for me.”
I still remember the small black tube TV that I had running in my room on Sept. 11, 2001. I had just returned home from school. With lunch behind and homework in front of me, I was about to turn the TV off. But the smoke-filled screen sparked my interest.
“World Trade Center hit by plane,” was the announcement the news channel kept repeating. They were speculating about what had happened. Was it an accident? But how could a plane get even anywhere near a skyscraper? No one knew. But I was hooked. I pulled a chair and watched.
I still remember the shock racing through my body when I saw the live footage of the second plane crashing into tower number two. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It didn’t take long now – as far as I can remember – before the word terrorism appeared for the first time.
I was eighteen when terrorism did not just change everything about life in America, but also worldwide.
I remember that I had trouble getting to sleep that night. Everyday school life was disrupted. The principal spoke to all students in the schoolyard the day after the attacks. Regular class topics were dropped. Instead, we talked about what happened, trying to make sense of the events.
Over 3,000 miles, the wideness of the Atlantic, six hours of time difference, and a language barrier couldn’t change the fact that this Tuesday would become a day I will remember for the rest of my life.
A day to remember it must have been for one man especially – Rudolph Giuliani, the then mayor of New York City. Germany’s Spiegel Online – the web-daughter of the magazine Der Spiegel – titled on Sept. 20, 2001: “Rudolph Giuliani. The President of New York.”
They referred to him as Rudy the Rock, and said he could have become President of the United States with ease. How could a man who was known for his zero tolerance policy and his relentless way of pushing for his political agenda without appearing to be caring for the ordinary people turn into what they defined as comforter of the nation?
The article seemed to be on the hunt for nicknames for Giuliani. From “the President of New York”, to “Rudy the Rock”, to “comforter of the nation”, to “Chief of Debris” (original wording: “oberster Trümmermann” – which, quite frankly, made me stop reading and think about this odd word choice), and “the hidden President of the United States.”
It’s a warm article that puts a personal story to the horrors of 9/11, a success story in the midst of all the sorrows.
They explained convincingly how Mr. Giuliani was able to change how the public looked at him.
“While President George W. Bush spent the day up in the air for safety reasons,” the article read, “Giuliani stood with both feet in the debris field and gave his first press conference.”
They take readers along Giuliani’s dangerous tour through Manhattan, from having to flee a collapsing building to running for his life on the streets as the cloud of debris and smoke closed in on him.
In contrast to the “scared mouse” (the way the article cited a New Yorker bus driver referring to President Bush), New Yorkers couldn’t imagine to get through this crisis without their “Rudy”. “Four more years” was thus the slogan to be heard wherever the mayor appeared.
Even Ed Koch, former mayor of the city and strong critic of Giuliani, turned, as the article put it, into a cheerleader for the man who could have made a run for every political office in the world after 9/11.
It’s an emotionally challenging read that succeeds in covering the attacks objectively. The confusion of the immediate aftermath comes through.
“In what appeared to be parallel attacks on quintessential symbols of American financial and military power, hijackers flew jetliners into both towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and, less than an hour later, into the Pentagon, outside Washington.”
After starting the piece with this clean fact-oriented paragraph, they moved on to a descriptive passage that reactivated the pictures in my head I saw over 12 years ago.
“The 110-story towers at the World Trade Center soon collapsed in a horrific storm of flying glass and rubble. The largest of several smaller buildings in the World Trade Center complex, a 47-story structure that had been set ablaze by debris in the morning, gave way in late afternoon.”
Uncertainty was the key word for those early hours after the planes had crashed, and the article covered this uncertainty. Mayor Giuliani is quoted to have said that he could confirm six deaths, but would know that much more would follow.
After going through statements from President Bush, which already turned the focus to the future by talking about bringing those responsible to justice, the name Osama bin Laden appeared for the first time.
There was no evidence at that point, and no one seemed to have had a chance to realize what had just happened. But American officials interpreted a denial by “Afghan’s hard-line Taliban rulers” as a “defensive measure”.
Woven into the following parts of the article are personal stories. We hear from Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who lost his wife Barbara that day. He recited what must been the final minutes of her life, which she was able to spend on the phone with him.
By braking off stories of personal loss and trauma with factual paragraphs about the disruptions of life in the area (e.g., subway disruptions, free train rides, primary elections being put on hold), it is easier for the reader to deal with the hardship.
Another one of those personal stories comes from Barbara Geanne Mensch who knew she was “watching people die.”
In-between all the confusion and emotional stories, this article also recreated the events of the day. They broke it down to the simplest steps and analyzed which plane was used for which attack.
The ending of the article is a clear sign to the world and the people responsible for the attacks: We are stronger than you. They outlined the pride people associate with both New York and the country as a whole and lauded that the day had brought the best of New York to light – noble and decent people.
Die Zeit, a highbrow weekly based in Hamburg, Germany, came out on Sept. 13, 2001. In a series of briefer articles, they give us another angle on the events.
“We grieve with (you)” is the headline of an article that opened with an outlook into the future. Will 9/11 be the tipping point in history toward World War III or Huntington’s clash of civilizations?
Not necessarily, they concluded, but nevertheless a possibility after this tragic Tuesday.
“In the midst of the debris of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” they wrote, “died the illusion that we could have safe firewalls, behind which any state or people could find absolute safety. We experience the end of all safety. Globalization has reached terror – and the dangers on earth are strong, if not stronger than all the calamity that could descend upon us from space.”
But the tragedy renewed the ties between different cultures. “In these hard times, we can call out to the Americans: We grieve with you. And we share your resolve to hunt down the perpetrators of this crime.”
They closed, however, with a warning that we should not jump to conclusions. Tolerance and democracy need to survive such attacks. We must not trigger the feared clash of civilizations.
Jane Kramer, European correspondent for The New Yorker, contributed to Die Zeit as well. “Nicht bei uns”, which means as much as “Not with us”, “Not near us”, or “Not here (at home, in the U.S.)” was the headline of the piece where she told us that she was on the phone with her daughter while it happened. She was watching the news coverage on TV; her daughter was in New York City.
Yet, Kramer said, it felt like they were both in the same location, a place she called “not here in the U.S.”, and a place characterized by disbelief that America had been targeted.
The first issue of The New Yorker, which came out on Sept. 24, 2001, paid special tribute to the events that had shaken the world. Most visibly, the cover was all black – or so it appeared to be on first glance. But a closer look revealed the dark silhouettes of the Twin Towers.
Contents-wise, the section “The Talk of the Town” was dedicated to the attacks in full. Contributions from John Updike, Jonathan Franzen, Aharon Appelfeld, and Amitav Ghosh were among the stories that give us a view on how 9/11 was covered a week afterward.
“It seemed, at that first glance,” wrote John Updike, “more curious than horrendous: smoke speckled with bits of paper curled into the cloudless sky, and strange inky rivulets ran down the giant structure’s vertically corrugated surface.”
His experience was marked by disbelief. “This was not quite real; it could be fixed,” he went on to say. But it became reality when the towers fell, and Updike instantly realized he had witnessed “thousands of deaths.”
He opened the question of how the city should continue from that point on. The passengers onboard those planes had been “turned into missiles.” Survivors were left “to pick up the pieces, to bury the dead, to take more precautions, to go on living.”
Similar to the closing argument in the New York Times, Updike closed with emphasizing the city’s strength. When the sun rose again on Wednesday, “ New York looked glorious.”
Jonathan Franzen shifted the focus to a fascinating point; he tried to see the other side of the story. He began with his own feelings and thoughts while watching the attacks on the screen.
“Besides the horror and sadness of what you were watching, you might also have felt a childish disappointment over the disruption of your day, or a selfish worry about the impact on your finances, or admiration for an attack so brilliantly conceived and so flawlessly executed, or, worst of all, an awed appreciation of the visual spectacle it produced.”
By trying to get readers to be honest with them, he prepared for what might seem hard to accept at first. But every story has at least two sides – so does this.
“Somewhere—you can be absolutely sure of this—the death artists who planned the attack were rejoicing over the terrible beauty of the towers’ collapse. After years of dreaming and working and hoping, they were now experiencing a fulfillment as overwhelming as any they could have allowed themselves to pray for. Perhaps some of these glad artists were hiding in ruined Afghanistan, where the average life expectancy is barely forty. In that world you can’t walk through a bazaar without seeing men and children who are missing limbs.”
He contrasts the reality of New York with the reality in Afghanistan, and makes us realize the scope of this tragedy.
Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld gave The New Yorker an international perspective. His powerful description of the daily fears in Jerusalem shows that there are parts of the world where tragedies happen every day and where the fear that had reached the Western world with 9/11 has been a constant part of people’s lives for years.
“For almost a year now, Jerusalem has been under siege. Not a day goes by without something terrible happening: a man stabbed in a quiet street, a bomb exploding from a watermelon, a booby-trapped car. Just weeks ago, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the center of town, injuring dozens of innocent people. Shrewd enemies, hidden from sight, are fighting in this city of stone.”
But even for people like Appelfeld, 9/11 had hit home. He stayed up all night, thinking about the country that had always had a special meaning for the people of Israel. “Now the loving father is united with his sons in a Jerusalem coffee shop, in grief over the evil that refuses to disappear from the world.”