By Francis Quamina Farrier
THE World Trade Center Twin Towers in downtown Manhattan, New York City, were well known to me. Their construction which commenced in the early 1970s was shortly after my first visit to ‘The Big Apple’ in 1969. I liked being a tourist in New York City, taking in the sights and sounds. Looking at the locals going by — always in a hurry. I also liked attending plays and musicals on Broadway and Off-Broadway.
Touring around, not only Brooklyn, but all the five boroughs of the city of New York was what I did. I was impressed with much of what I saw. I was truly impressed and in awe of the Empire State Building, which was the tallest building in the world at that time. I had seen it in a few movies, including King Kong.
When the World Trade Center twin towers were completed in 1973, they replaced the Empire State Building as the tallest structures in the world. At that time I was unaware that at least two Guyanese worked on their construction; I met and interviewed them after the tragedy. On my many visits to New York City over the decades, I went past and even entered those two awesome buildings. On one occasion, I had to do business at a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank which was in one of the towers. What I observed on the printed pass was the time and floor of my purpose within the building which meant, I supposed, that if I were to be approached by a security person somewhere else in the building, I would have some explaining to do. All that was before security was anywhere as tight as it is at present, internationally. Being the producer of my Radio Programme Series, “The Eighty Plus Club,” I received an invitation through the Guyana Consulate to attend a programme, “Serving Senior New Yorkers,” which was hosted by Mayor David Dinkins and held in the forecourt of one of the Twin Towers.
Then came that fateful and tragic day: Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Where were you when it happened? I was travelling in a taxi from Sisters Village on the West Bank of Demerara, having just done one of the most amazing recordings for my Radio Programme Series, The Eighty Plus Club. The radio was on in the taxi. While crossing the Demerara Harbour Bridge on the way back to Georgetown, the unexpected news from New York interrupted the usual morning music. It stated that the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, New York, was attacked by two commercial jet aircraft and were on fire. I was in shock. A very close relative of mine worked in a building very close. Later, there was the report of the attack on the Pentagon; I wondered whether I was dreaming. How could such an attack happen in America?
Actually, I was scheduled to travel to New York two days later. Of course, all international airports in the United States were closed down. My arrival was delayed for four days until the Saturday after the tragedy. As I exited the plane and headed to immigration, I had this feeling of trepidation. I was correct. The immigration officer was a white gentleman, maybe in his mid-50s. “I don’t know why you people want to come to America,” he said with an unwelcoming tone as he took my Guyana passport. I was not annoyed because I had already wondered whether the immigration officer who would process me had lost a relative or friend in the 9/11 attack. Maybe that immigration officer did.
The next day, Sunday, I was at the home of a Guyanese friend who had organised a prayer service at which about 25 other Guyanese had gathered. We prayed for the victims and their loved ones. We sang uplifting and inspirational hymns. The host made a pronouncement which I have always remembered: “The world would never be the same again.” We later viewed an open air Memorial service on television which was held at the awesome Yankey Stadium. Among the performers was Bette Midler, who sang “You are the wind beneath my wings.” Her performance brought tears to many eyes. Then there was a rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” in which all in the stadium joined in with gusto. It was awesome. Here was the ‘national anthem’ if you will, of the Civil Rights Movement in America being sung not only by African Americans, but by Americans of all colours as well. It was an emotional experience knowing that over 20 Guyanese also perished in those terrorist attacks, both at the Twin Towers and at the Pentagon.
Two weeks later, I was invited to the home of a Guyanese widow of a 9/11 victim and interviewed her for the VCT Evening News back in Guyana. She played the voice-mail recording of the message her husband had left on her phone as he, unknowingly, awaited his death. “Hello dear, I’m trapped in the World Trade Center.” His voice was calm. As she said in the interview, “…as per GDF.” Later, the Guyana Consulate in New York held a Memorial Service to the memory of the 25 fallen Guyanese. What a Guyanese mathematician later told me, is that per capita, Guyana lost the most people on 9/11.