The phone rang. “Something terrible has happened in America!” The voice on the other end was Marcela Goldstein’s, the wife of Jorge Goldstein, a Messianic Jewish leader in Buenos Aires and the director of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, where I was teaching. “Turn on the TV,” she implored me. Not being a Spanish speaker, I logged onto the Internet.
The first article that came up was something about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center. Above the article, however, in big, bold, red letters were these words updating the original article:
UPDATE: A Plane has Just Hit the Second Tower
My brain would not receive this as reality. For the first twenty seconds or so I was sure I was watching a trailer for a new Spielberg movie… only it was in writing. When reality took hold of me, I shared the news with Brandon, a student from the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry that was traveling with me. We turned on Spanish television and were horrified as we watched person after person jump from the burning towers. We were horrified.
To this day I don’t know what the news coverage was like in the US on that morning, but in Argentina they were intent only playing the gruesome scenes over and over again. We spent the rest of the day watching the news and reading online in English through the Internet—all the while in stunned disbelief.
A Strange Feeling
That night I went to teach my class and I felt strangely embarrassed. As an American, I was used to being a member of the strongest nation on earth. We helped other nations, but didn’t seek help. We were not used to being in this position. Even the very school I was teaching in would not have been in existence without funds from generous Americans. To this day I don’t know if it was pride, arrogance, humiliation or honest patriotism; a love for my country.
There I was, staring at fifty Argentinian students and I felt weak, ashamed and embarrassed; I could not shake this strange feeling. I felt like Mike Tyson must of felt, who was once thought to possibly be the meanest, toughest heavyweight of all time, when Buster Douglas, a nobody, knocked him out. America had not been knocked out, but we were knocked down and in the midst of my standing eight count in front of a room full of non-Americans, I was shamed.
I am not saying what I was feeling was right or wrong, justified or disgusting, it just was what it was.
The apartment where we were staying was next to a train. Every morning at 5 a.m. the trains would begin take their passengers to their destinations. When the train would pass our flat, it felt like an earthquake. The noise was unbelievably loud and the building shook. Then, this would take place every thirty minutes until we got about of bed.
On September 12th at 5 a.m., when the train arrived, having dreamt all night about the tragedy, I jumped out of bed, sure that we were under attack from Muslim terrorists.
I gotta get Home!
The next day Brandon and I realized that we might be stuck in Buenos Aires, as all air travel within and to the US had been suspended. This was killing us because we desperately wanted to be with our families. And not just that, we wanted to be with Americans. We wanted to grieve with our countrymen and comfort them. We wanted to help. And we couldn’t even get home.
We started making phone calls. We reserved seats, without actually paying, on an Air Mexicana flight to Monterey, Mexico. The plan was to fly to Mexico, rent a car and drive to Houston—about 500 miles. We had friends in Houston and we would figure out how to get home after we arrived.
Fortunately, it did not come to that—a crazy plan. As it turned out, my flight, which was scheduled for Friday night, September 15th, was the first flight allowed from Argentina to the US. Arriving at the airport and seeing other Americans for the first time since the attack was emotional for all of us, though we did not know each other. But like me, they just wanted to get home—to hug the members of their families, to cry, to grieve and express outrage. In the absence of our families, we found solace in each other. On any other day, we would have been strangers. That day, we were fellow Americans—brothers and sisters.
Coming Up… The Trek home