Witnessing 9/11 from Overseas by Kristoffer Mininger
After lunch we had an hour of free time before getting back to our farm duties. On this particular day James and I had gone down to the dried-up lake bed to check the sheep for maggots. It seems odd now that this was something we did in our free time.
After the break, James ran into town to borrow some carpentry tools. I went down to “the slats” to check on a sick cow. I was tossing fresh straw around the floor when Mimi, a Swedish volunteer, appeared and said, “Yank, your country is at war.”
“Colin told me to tell you to come up to the house to listen to the radio. Your country is being attacked or something.”
I finished up at “the slats” then took the shortcut through the woods back to the house where my boss, Colin, was waiting for me in the kitchen. He was chatting with the postman about what a tragedy it all was. I had no idea what they were talking about, but my stomach was beginning to feel a bit queasy. When Colin saw me enter the room he excused himself and told me to follow him. We climbed the back stairs which 100 years earlier had been used exclusively by servants when the place had been owned by a wealthy English family.
We reached Colin´s bedroom, a room which was always kept locked, leaving the volunteers to dream up all kinds of stories about the perverse things our boss got up to in his secret little hideout. He turned the key and we entered an unbelievably filthy room. There was a dirty mattress with no sheets in one corner. A pile of filthy farm-stained work clothes filled another corner of the room. The most shocking thing, however, was an old black & white TV on the floor at the foot of the bed. This was shocking because we, the dozen or so volunteers living on the farm, were led to believe there was no TV in the house.
Whenever a volunteer brought up the subject of “why don´t we get a TV?” Colin would go into his anti-TV rant. There is to be no television viewing on the farm. TV is bad for you. TV rots the brain. And so on. So we volunteers made do with listening to the radio during meals and reading two or three-day-old newspapers that a farmer down the road used to give us when he stopped in for an occasional cup of tea.
The moment we entered the room Colin gave me a look that said “I´m trusting you with this secret, you´d better not let me down…” I was 25 at the time and the television was definitely older than I was. The reception was horrific and you had to constantly play with the wire coat hanger that was being used as a makeshift antenna. We sat on the mattress and listened to reporters talk about how terrorists from the Middle East were the most likely suspects as images of the World Trade Center towers burned in the background. Live CNN coverage of the events taking placing in New York had replaced the originally scheduled Irish programming. Then news came in that there had been an explosion at the Pentagon. And shortly afterwards, the first tower collapsed before my eyes in static-y, blurry, jumpy black & white. A half hour later the second tower came down. Colin and I watched all this in complete silence, in total disbelief.
That night at the dinner table my housemates, volunteers from Italy, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Australia and other far corners of the world, wanted to know what was going on. They´d been out working all afternoon - planting trees, repairing fences, chopping firewood – and had just heard from Mimi upon entering the kitchen that something terrible was happening in the U.S.
Halfway through dinner Colin walked into the kitchen carrying the old black & white TV. He explained, all the while keeping his eyes on me, that it had been up in the attic for years and that he had been under the impression that it didn’t work. But, he continued, when he had plugged it in upstairs, miraculously, it came to life! The volunteers bought this story hook, line and sinker.
We spent the entire evening around the kitchen table watching the Irish RTE News reporters comment on the day´s activities while replaying the video of the second plane crashing into the South Tower, followed by videos of both towers collapsing over and over and over again.
At 10 o ´clock that night a local journalist called asking if there were any Americans at the farm since the place had a reputation among the locals for having lots of foreigners coming and going. I refused to take the phone. I was in the country illegally, having outstayed a 3 month tourist visa by over a full year, and didn’t want my name in the newspaper. The next day she arrived at the farm anyway, determined to interview an American about the previous day´s tragic events. She tracked me down in one of the sheds where I was milking our cow Elsa. I answered her ridiculous questions and then I gave her a fake name.
After she left I spent the rest of the day in the kitchen watching RTE News. In fact, I stayed glued to the TV for the next several days. I witnessed Bertie Ahern, the president of the Republic of Ireland, calling for a National Day of Mourning. On Friday, September 15 all shops & businesses in the country (with, ironically, the exception of some US multinationals) closed for the day to show their solidarity with the victims of the attacks, costing the Irish economy a loss of 250 million pounds sterling. I also learned that there was an Irish passenger from nearby Cork, Ruth McCourt & her four-year-old daughter Juliana, on United Airlines flight 175 which smashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
The television stayed in the kitchen for about 2 weeks after 9/11. Then, when Colin tried to remove it (presumably to sneak it back into his bedroom) the volunteers staged a revolt. They had tasted television again after a long absence and it now seemed like something they couldn´t live without. A vote was taken and the TV was moved to a relatively unused living area upstairs which had an old out-of-tune piano in it. I lived in that house for another 2 years and, after that room became occupied by that old black & white TV, I can only remember two occasions when that piano was ever played again.
To get your very own copy of Syndicate Product #13 send $3 to:
SPCHQ (Syndicate Product Covert Headquarters)
PO Box 877
and don´t forget to check out: www.syndicateproduct.com