4 a.m. September 11, 2001

September 11, 2011

The Rarotonga night was hot and sticky. Viking Woman and I had long since kicked the thin sheet aside when the phone rang.

I stumbled out of bed, glancing at my watch as I made my way to the kitchen. 4 a.m. September 11.

Jeane Matenga was on the line. She was my boss at the Pitt Media Group, which runs the lone TV station in the Cook Islands. CITV does not broadcast 24 hours a day but someone from overseas had contacted Jeane and, after receiving that call, she’d driven into the office to fire up the station’s computers. Then she phoned us.

“Turn on your TV,” she said.

The television in our lounge was small and analogue. The reception was iffy at best and all the images had an orange tint because I was never able to figure out how to adjust the colour control.

But none of that mattered to Viking Woman and I that morning. As roosters crowed and stray dogs howled in the humid darkness, we watched in stunned silence as the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

This isn’t real, we said to each other later. This can’t be happening. This is Hollywood special effects. This is science fiction. This happens in other countries, in those barbaric places where strife and human misery and deadly attacks are a tragic way of life.

But this was not a movie. This was real life. This was real people dying in front of us as we stared, transfixed, at an orange screen while the tropical island stirred awake around us to greet a world that had just been changed forever.

We are West Coast Canadians and this was happening on the East Coast of America and yet I still felt rage at those who would let loose a bloodbath of this proportion in what I considered to be my backyard.

This was my way of life and my corner of civilization under attack and I was furious. President Bush, whom I’d always considered a buffoon, made a lot of loud noises about hunting down and punishing the perpetrators and I admit to pumping my first in the air and shouting the equivalent of “F**k, yeah!”

The ripple effect of those attacks reverberated across the world, even to our tiny hidey-hole in the South Pacific. With everyone suddenly very nervous to fly, and the Cook Islands economy based nearly 100 per cent on tourism, the government panicked at the prospect of lost revenue and ordered all departments to slash their budgets by 20 per cent.

That’s how Viking Woman lost her housing allowance. That’s how we were forced to return home.

But home no longer looked the same. We flew into LAX in late October to be met by squads of stone-cold soldiers carrying large weapons and eyeballing all of us as if we were potential enemies. We brought a small dog back from Rarotonga but, judging by the hassle that entailed, you would have thought we’d secreted Osama bin Laden himself up the poor thing’s arse.

I am not terribly worldly. I’m a simple man, content to maintain a tight focus. I have my family and my hockey and my movies and my photography and that’s all I need. I treat others with respect and expect the same in return.

I do not know, nor do I understand, what inflames people to kill each other. For what? To prove your god is better than my god? Does a god who would condone such mindless savagery deserve to be worshipped? We could debate this point for hours but I have better things to do with my time.

I, like all of you, will not be here long. Eighty years, give or take, if I’m lucky. I just want to live in peace, have some fun, be a good person, and then leave behind a better world for my children and my children’s children.

That seemed like an achievable goal until September 11, 2001. Now, I’m not so sure.


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