Finishing up my morning shower before heading to work at our first post at the US consulate in Hermosillo, Mexico, I heard the phone ring. "Good grief. Who's calling in sick today?" I asked myself. By the time I had slipped and slid across the tile floor, passing the other bathroom where I could still hear my husband's shower roaring, the caller had finished the message. I pushed play on the machine (remember message machines?). Ryan's father's voice filled the kitchen. "It's a sad day in America," his voice broke, "Turn on the television. Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center. We just wanted to make sure you were okay. Please call." I looked up and locked eyes with my husband who had just walked into the kitchen wrapped in a towel. I handed Ryan the phone and picked up the remote. There it was, the NYC skyline billowing smoke.
The day was to continue as usual. The consulates and embassies around the world would be open. It was a demonstration to whoever had done this, that they could not, would not bring us down. It was a show of strength, by God. Business as usual.
But, there was nothing usual about it.
I will never forget facing hundreds of Mexican visa applicants. The majority had ridden all night in a bus for their appointment so they had no idea what had happened to us. Most had spent almost a month's salary on an interview for their family to get the chance to visit the US, a country someone so intensely wanted to destroy. It was better when they didn't know what had happened, when nothing was said, when I could attend to business and focus my mind on the person speaking to me. Those who did know, approached the window quietly, eyes downcast, "Lo siento mucho, Señora," they said, their eyes filling with tears. I walked away from the window several times that morning trying to collect myself. My mind listing friends who lived in NYC and DC, my senses heighten to danger, my heart exploding into pieces.
When we got home that afternoon our doorbell started ringing. Our Mexican neighbors, people we had met only 2 months ago, came to our door, tears streaming down their faces, arms opened wide to hold us. For weeks following that day, visa applicants came to my window with the same tears.
Today, living in Belgrade, Serbia, I am surrounded by people who know tragedy well. Their bombed buildings are still standing. And yet, today, people here are going to the Red Cross to donate blood and hundreds of kilos of clothing for people in need to commemorate the lives of those who died on September 11, 2001. Their partner, the US Embassy, is shuttling employees and their families to do the same. I can't donate blood, so yesterday, I filled a van with clothes donated from American families for Serbian families in need. Today, at the International Women's Club of Belgrade, I made a new Serbian friend and closed my eyes and prayed during a moment of silence.
What always impressed me most about my time in Mexico was a comment by one of our neighbors. He said, "I never knew Americans could be so nice until I met you." Granted, we like to think of ourselves as a nice people, but we are nothing special. We're just regular folks. But when we opened our front door on September 11, 2001 to our Mexican neighbors who held us and cried with us, we opened our hearts as well.
I guess, in a way, we were "fortunate" this happened to us on our first tour overseas. We left Mexico, determined to meet and know people of foreign countries. We want people to know that most Americans are nice.
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