Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten years

I am not sure the exact plans I had for September 11, 2001, but I know they had something to do with finalizing our wedding arrangements. The big day was just four days away.
I was trying to convince Stephen that he needed to buy a new suit for the occasion, rather than wear the one he already had. A wedding, I thought, called for that. We had seen one at Century 21 and we were going to go down there later in the morning to try it on before Stephen headed out to Queens to teach his course at St. John’s University.
We woke up probably around 8am, because Stephen had to go move the car. It was one of those alternate side of the street days. It was a brilliant September day, full of blue sky and puffy white clouds. I remember that.
 “Did you hear the news?” the doorman said on Stephen’s way back in from moving the car. “A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”
I was still in bed when he came back to the apartment and turned on the TV. “Come see this,” he said. I was pretty comfortable in bed, and only listened for a few minutes as the television anchors tried to make sense of what was happening.
When I got up, the TV images showed smoke billowing out of one tower. It was an eerie sight, but we still had no idea what was going on. As we watched, a second plane raced through the other tower, right in front of our eyes. Like millions around the world, we watched the whole thing unfold on a television screen, although it was taking place just miles from where we were.
The phone lines were pretty much jammed most of the day, but we managed to speak to some key people: my brother, who had taken the PATH train to work on 33rd Street that morning just minutes before the first plane made impact; my mother and father, who wanted us to come to their house in New Jersey immediately; and our wedding caterer, who had gone to work because she had no idea what else to do with herself that day.
“If you want to cancel or postpone, that’s totally fine with us,” she said. The thought had not even crossed my mind. The wedding had taken so much time, energy and emotional investment to prepare, that the idea of delaying it for even 30 minutes was too much to consider.
“No, we’ll go ahead with it as planned,” I told her.
When my brother arrived at our apartment later in the day – I have no idea how much later – he told us how he had seen the second plane make impact from the windows of his office tower. He had walked through the streets, seeing what he could do to help, and had the idea that we might all want to donate some blood in case there was a need.
Together, we all walked to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, but there was nobody there who could help answer our questions about blood donations. By this time, the streets were all deserted and there was an acrid smell and a pall of smoke hanging in the air even where we were at West 66th Street.
I checked in with my friend who worked on Wall Street to find that she had made it home safely by taking the bus and then walking the rest of the way. She gave me updates on other friends, near misses, the guy who was supposed to start a new job in one of the towers next week, the other person who had a brother who was now missing.
We looked for a restaurant to eat dinner – the ones that were still open were pretty much packed. Mark Messier was at a table in an Upper West Side sushi restaurant. Bernadette Peters walked out of the diner where we finally ended up. We saw Howard Stern crossing Columbus Avenue. Funny how the celebrity faces still stand out in my mind, while a lot of the other details have now faded away.
Everyone has their story. We try not to think of it too often, though every year on our anniversary it’s hard not to remember the circumstances under which we got married. We’ve moved on now – far, far away – and, remarkably, life seems so much simpler, better, clearer, than it did at that point.

Monday, December 20, 2010

This was my year

My year in brief
  • Rang in 2010 in New York; 
  • Traveled to Yemen and went back in time several centuries; 
  • Spoke Italian to a Somali man, ate pancakes with Canadian maple syrup with Palestinian friends, ate Indian food served by an Ethiopian waiter, had Argentinian yerba mate with Lebanese friends; 
  • Had a run-in with a rowdy Saudi; 
  • Dipped my feet in the Gulf of Aden; 
  • Met the most heart-warming and hilarious children in displacement camps in northern Yemen; 
  • So proud to have a lovely girl in India share my name; 
  • Got used to the sound of the call to prayer, then traded it in for the sound of the noon gun from Citadel Hill; 
  • Learned to love fog, fiddleheads, Viola Desmond and news stories about roundabouts; 
  • Got worked up about the Gaza blockade, the Queen and the World Cup; 
  • Spent three days in Accra; 
  • Picked wild blueberries, raspberries and roses by the sea; 
  • Celebrated – from a distance – the first birthdays of Zahra and Romy; 
  • Watched beavers swim along the lakeshore and went to sleep to the sound of loons; 
  • Had a wine and cheese party to welcome me back to Yemen; 
  • Spent three days in Cairo; 
  • Was once again amazed by the resilient children of Yemen; 
  • Got goosebumps watching the release of Aung San Suu Kyi; 
  • Went to an 800-year-old hammam; 
  • Has never had a better answer to the question 'Where are you from?': so happy the answer is Nova Scotia.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ahmed, the collage-artist/peacemaker

Ahmed runs a newsstand just inside Bab al-Yemen, the main gate to old Sana’a. Business, he said, has not been going so well. No one wants to buy the glossy magazines he has for sale.

On a lark, he started to carve the magazines up, carefully cutting out the faces of Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama, and Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s autocratic leader.

To make himself laugh, he began pasting those heads onto picturesque backgrounds like the old city of Sana’a or the savannahs of Africa. He made a collage of what Barack Obama would look like as a Yemeni groom. Another features Angela Merkel, in traditional Yemeni dress, shaking hands with Mr. Saleh. His friends were amused.

So were the tourists who slowly began to discover Ahmed’s artwork. Soon they started to request collages featuring themselves holding guns aloft in front of famous Yemeni landmarks, or posing with Osama bin Laden.

Ahmed’s humorous handiwork has become the buzz of the expat community in Sana’a these days. Orders are pouring in for quirky collages to be sent far and wide as Christmas gifts and souvenirs of Sana’a.

Ahmed said he sees his work as a way of changing Yemen’s negative image among foreigners.

“My work makes tourists laugh,” he said. “They leave Yemen with a different impression than they had before.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Children of Yemen

An audio slideshow dedicated to the resilience, innocence and exuberance of the wonderful children of this country.