9/11/2001 - the day the world stood still when the unthinkable and the unexpected happened.
The day which changed the whole landscape of international relations and security as we suddenly realized that we were faced with non-traditional threats, and we didn't really understand the whole situation, and we didn't really know as to the next course of action.
The whole world was shocked and everybody still remembers vividly the image of the planes crashing into the World Trade Centre, and how it crumbled in front of our eyes...
I will always remember that day. Not just because of its significance to international relations, nor because of those vivid images etched in my head, but, because we as a family were also affected by the whole thing at a personal level.
We were in London when it happened. We had just arrived two days before that, with plans to spend a short break in London, while Ayah was to attend a cardio conference in Washington D.C. We had travelled to London together - both of us, and the kids, accompanied by my MIL and SIL. Hanna was just 6 years old then, while Hasya 2 1/2, and Hilman had just celebrated his 1st birthday a day before that.
The plan was for us to spend 2 days together in London, before Ayah was to fly to and stay in Washington for 3 days, and he would then join us again in London for the last 5 days before we were to fly back to KL together.
On that fateful day, we bade Ayah farewell before he left our London apartment early in the morning to catch the tube to the airport. Never did we think that that would be the start of one the most anxious times in our lives.
Ayah was supposed to get on the 9:15a.m Vi*gi* At*an*ic flight which would have taken him straight to Washington. He called just before boarding the plane just to say that he was fine and the flight was on schedule. And that was that. And he said he would call me once he reached the hotel in Washington.
I was busy preparing breakfast in the kitchen later that morning, when images shown on TV of this building into which a plane had crashed, caught my eyes, and I remember running to the adjoining living room to turn the volume on to find out what exactly had happened. I called out to my MIL and both of us just sat there watching the image being repeated over and over again over BBC1 and we were trying to gather what was that all about. Not much was disclosed at that point in time, and we were glued in front of the telly watching the live coverage of the tragedy.
Imagine our shock when just as we were thinking that it was just an unfortunate plane crash, we saw the second plane crashing into the second tower while we were watching the coverage! And right then, we knew that something was terribly not right...
In the middle of the chaotic reporting and total disbelief amongst the media reports, we saw the flashes across the TV screen stating that it was a terrorist attack on the USA, and that all airspace and all airports would be closed, and all flights into and out of the USA would be diverted elsewhere and all lines of communication were also blocked until further notice.
I remember feeling very faint, and finding it difficult to breath for a good 15 seconds after reading the news flash, as my mind was immediately thinking about Ayah who had left the UK just over two hours before that! He was already somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean on the way to Washington, and he would be amongst the hundreds of thousands of flight passengers to be re-routed to numeorus airports all over the region.
I began dialling the numbers for Vi*gi* At*an*ic to find out where Ayah's flight was to be re-routed to, and all I got were engaged tones and computer-generated voicemails asking me to hold on or try again later. And THOSE were the only things I got from the airline company for the next 2 days...
Imagine my state of mind at that time - not knowing whether Ayah was okay, or where he was at that time - or whether there were more attacks being attempted or planned on more flights...And I had 3 small kids with me who were oblivious to what was happening, and I was trying my best to not show my anxieties to them. And I was also with a mother who was worried sick about his second son. My MIL was on her sajjadah almost throughout the entire waiting period...
It was only on the second day when we managed to call the airline and we were told that Ayah's flight had been diverted to a small town in Newfoundland, by the name of Gander, and they were waiting for clearance from the US authorities before deciding on whether to continue their flight to Washington, or fly back to the UK. And over the next 2-3 days, they kept changing their flight plans and schedule, and I was already feeling the strain of being in the dark and being treated like a yo-yo. One minute they would say that his flight was scheduled to fly back to the UK on that particular day and the next minute they would inform that the flight had been delayed, or had been given clearance only to fly to Washington, and the next minute they would tell me another thing. I was on the worst roller-coaster ride of my life... And all those times, there was no communication whatsoever between me and Ayah...
It was also on the second day that I received a phone-call from my biras who was in KL at that time to inform us that Ayah finally managed to e-mail him and he had asked him to assure us that he was fine, and there was no need to worry about him. E-mails were the only mode of communication available to Ayah then, and I, on the other hand, had no ready access to the internet at that time.
"NOT TO WORRY"??!!
THAT was like asking us to continue having our dinner calmly in the middle of a hurricane, I tell you.
Anyway, I was so relieved to get a little news as to his well-being, and for the next couple of days (i.e. 4 days after he left London) my biras who was keeping in touch with Ayah via e-mails, would be the one who would update us on how Ayah was doing in Gander. At least we knew that he was safe.
And after waiting for 3 days, Ayah finally managed to call us from Gander. And the moment I heard his voice, the strain just gave in and I broke down and cried like nobody's business...Unashamedly in front of my MIL. In front of the kids. It was more of uncontrolable sobs, I think.
I could somewhat sense the strain in his voice, too. He was the one who had been stranded in a middle of nowhere, with strangers, makan tidur tak terurus for days...But, he sounded calm and cheerful. I guess he was trying not to make his mom and his wife overly worry about him...
The days after finally being able to hear his voice were much easier to face, and Ayah managed to call a few times after that to update us on his flight plan. Even then we were disappointed after initial plans for him to fly back straight to the UK were postponed and later cancelled. Several times. Within one day.
Finally, after nearly 5 days of being stranded in Gander, Ayah's flight continued its journey to Washington, and from there, he took the next flight back which took him straight to London.
And never had I felt so happy to see my haggard-looking, unshaven, sunken-eyed hubby's face as I did that day when he arrived in front of the door of our London apartment that Sunday.
THOSE were the longest 5 days of my life. And I pray that I would never ever have to go through that again...
And everytime 9/11 comes, I would be reminded as to how lucky Ayah was, and how fortunate we had been. Even though we were amongst the hundreds of thousands of people directly/indirectly affected by the tragedy, and had gone through hell during those nerve-racking times, there were those who had perished, and their loved ones would never see them again...
May they rest in peace...Amin.