Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 in Uganda

I don't want today to get by without a few remarks about the tragic events that took place seven years ago today. My day was coming to a close when I learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, yet I learned of it only a couple of hours after it happened. I was in Kampala, Uganda, doing missionary work in the district of Kololo. After a long day of work, my companion and I walked into our flat where other missionaries were sitting, listening to the radio. This was odd - due to mission rules, we did not generally listen to the radio. They told us to put our stuff down and come listen. I couldn't believe the words that were coming out of the speaker. Two airplanes had been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center towers and another in the Pentagon, and we learned of another that had crashed in Pennsylvania. It was like a nightmare. This could not be real. Surely this had to be some kind of joke. Then our mission leaders called and told us we were not to go out the next day, but we were to stay home. It wasn't a joke, it was real.

But how could this happen? How could anyone possibly organize this sort of attack in the United States of America? I was scared. Here I was, an American, half way around the world and helpless. There are a lot of Muslims in Uganda, were we going to become targets? Before I go on, let me say that those who practice Islam in Uganda are good people. They were no extremists, and we were generally treated respectfully by the Ugandan people. I wanted to go home and go to New York to help with the clean up efforts, and help to find survivors in the wreckage. I wanted to find those responsible and take them out myself (I imagine a lot of people felt the same). I didn't want to go anywhere for fear for my life. Anger, fear, confusion, helplessness, and sorrow were only a few of the emotions within me. We stayed up later than usual that night, praying for the victims and their families.

I had a dream in August of 2000, that something happened and I was forced to come home early from my two year mission in September of 2001. When I got in to my flat with my companions, I thought this was the meaning of the dream and that we would have to go home early for safety's sake. Luckily, however, we were all able to stay in the mission field and finish our two years. But something did happen in September 2001 that was life altering.

The next morning, we went down and bought a newspaper, and for the first time saw images of what we had only heard about the previous night. Later, we went over to a neighbor's who had a TV and watched the video over some English speaking channel from Germany. The images were far worse than I could have imagined. We watched the towers fall, one after the other. It was terrifying that something like this could actually happen at home. We thought that tens of thousands had lost their lives. Although the final number was closer to 3000, that was no comfort. 3000 lives had been lost due to terrorists who hate our values and our freedoms. My sorrow deepened for those that died and for their families and friends.

Over the following months as I continued my missionary service, we kept our ears and eyes open, and were careful to be in on time and to be safe. Other than the occasional pranksters yelling, "Mzungu, Osama bin Laden is over here!", the remainder of my time in Uganda was uneventful, as far as threats or further violence. Once a few weeks later when it was raining, two Middle Eastern looking guys stopped and offered us a ride to get out of the rain. It wasn't raining that hard and we were a little hesitant to get into a vehicle with guys that looked Middle Eastern. But at the same time, we didn't want to make them mad and chance a drive-by. So we got in. It turned out good, obviously by the fact that I'm sitting here writing this seven years later. They explained that they were from Pakistan and that they wanted to show us that they were friends to America. They took us all the way to our destination, and we were left feeling that there was much good in humanity, and that those extremist terrorists were the exception.

Seven years later, it still seems like just yesterday. Those images and feelings are still fresh in our minds. Some wounds have not healed, some have - but even those have left a terrible scar and will always be a clear reminder that we must never take life for granted. We must never take our loved ones for granted. We must live life and love everyday.

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