Comic Relief

Photograph of African Owl Spirit sculpture

I have always thought of my story as the comic relief of 9/11. I was in Harare, Zimbabwe at the time of 9/11, and once I heard about what had happened I scrambled to get in touch with my husband in DC. We agreed that I was the one who had been expected to be at risk, since Mugabe was heating things up in Zimbabwe. The same day that the tragedies occurred I had delivered to me a 17 kg Shona sculpture called Owl Spirit, which I intended to take home with me on my flight scheduled for Friday 9/14, to arrive in New York on 9/15, Saturday morning . The flight was from Johannesburg, and we were told that the plane was still scheduled to go to New York, but the airport was a madhouse, three hour lines, going through luggage to be checked with a fine tooth comb. I tried to help the security agent lift my suitcase up on the table but she waved me off, announcing that she was young and strong - then looked flabbergasted when she realized how heavy the suitcase was. (I had been told that 17 kg was by no means the record for taking home sculpture in a suitcase.) We finally got on the plane, and after takeoff, a stop in the Canary Islands to refuel, directions to go back to the Canary Islands, that we could not land in New York, an hour later getting those directions reversed, some more flying, we finally arrived in New York, the first flight from Joburg in many days. The airport there was another madhouse, all the Washington airports closed, and after a few minutes I got in a taxi to go to Penn Station. There I had another problem - the escalators were going so fast I wasn't sure I would not drop the suitcase down the stair, but finally made it to the train and schlepped the statue home to DC.

On a more sober note I am struck by the comments I am reading about 9/11, about what a beautiful, clear day it was, because the weather was exactly like that on the Saturday I arrived. I looked to the south and of course still saw plumes of smoke coming up from the site, thus do have my own strong direct memory of New York at that time.

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