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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Where were you?

I was in my bedroom, in Bangkok, on the phone to America. How about you? I know you know what I am talking about. It's all anybody has been talking about in this hemisphere for the past week: Where were you on 9/11?

It's been hard to escape the coverage of the 10th anniversary of this momentous event. At the time people said, “Everything will change, nothing will be the same.” In some respects that is true and in others it is blatantly obvious that for those of us living in the West things have not changed much other than removing our shoes at the airport and carrying an up-to-date passport when traveling between Canada and the United States.

There have been changes but just not the ones we typically think about. 9/11 has changed lives- ask people in Afghanistan and Iraq how it has changed their lives- surely they have been inconvenienced by more than just long lines at the airport.

When I first started to think about the question: How did 9/11 affect me personally?-I thought, “Not much.” I was living half a world away and did not experience the trauma of watching the towers collapse repeatedly on television news casts as many people in North America did. Note: another good reason not to own a TV. I may not have shared in the collective trauma, I knew no one who died in the attack either directly or indirectly, but the repercussions of the heightened fear of terrorism did affect me.

Ten years ago I was working in a DNA research lab at Mahidol medical school on the Ton Buri side of the Chao Praya River in Bangkok. I was at the lab learning how to run DNA sequences for a research project I had proposed to the authors of a book on Thai prehistoric archaeology. I had gone to the authors with a proposal to study the mitochodrial DNA of early skeltal remains and compare them with modern Thais to once and for all put an end to the discussion about the origin of the Thai people. Thais are an amalgalm of many peoples that have moved through the landscape over the centuries but I believed that they would be able to trace their genes back to the earliest known settlers through this mtDNA project.

At that point in my research, on that fateful day in September, I was just about to go to a research lab in Jakarta where I would learn how to do mtDNA extraction. It was the only lab in South East Asia at the time that was doing mtDNA extraction and they had agreed with my Mahidol backers to teach me the methodology to bring back to Thailand.

After 9/11 I was leery of going to a predominately Muslim state known to be a fostering ground for some terrorist groups. I stayed home, safe in Bangkok and redirected my studies to less dangerous field work destinations in the North East and Northern provinces of Thailand.

Staying in Bangkok meant I met the man who would become the father of my children and led to involvement in a writers group which brought about my career as a freelance journalist. So all in all- 9/11 changed my life. I wonder how many of us can look back on that event 10 years ago and describe such a line of decision making that affected our current state of being so dramatically.

There is so much more that could be said about this anniversary but I am emotionally overwhelmed by the full on coverage of it. I don't want to listen to 911 calls from the towers. I don't want to hear air traffic control. I don't want to prick my ears with the heart wrenching voicemail messages left by loved ones who leapt to their deaths from the towers. It was overwhelming 10 years ago and half a world away and is no less traumatic 10 years later.

My only hope is that the wars are at an end and fledgling democracies in the Middle East have developed roots and leaves by the time the 20th anniversary of 9/11 roles around.

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