9/11 Remembered: In Indonesia and Bali

9/11 Remembered: In Indonesia and Bali

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(On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Tales Told From The Road ran stories from its readers and other sources about their experiences traveling in the days surrounding 9/11. Over the coming days we will re-run many of those stories to commemorate a day in the history of the United States and the world that will long be remembered.)

“9/11 Remembered: On Indonesia and Bali” By Dorothy Aksamit

Dateline: Jakarta, September 11, 2001

“Something terrible has happened.  Come and watch television”. Trembling and on the verge of tears my colleague from New Zealand rushed me out of the dining room to the lounge of the Darmawangsa Hotel where we were attending “Indonesia 2001” tourism conference.   I tried to imagine the calamity: probably a bomb in Jakarta.  It took several seconds of TV viewing and my colleague saying, “We must leave immediately. It’s going to be World War 3,” before I began to comprehend.  And even then it seemed like a re-run of a terrible movie, one where Godzilla would appear at any minute.  With the mix-up in jetlag time, I’m still not sure if I saw the second tower explode in what was now real time or in that other time, the time that came before.

(Darmawangsa Hotel Photo)

I returned to the dining room in a daze and listened to the speaker extol the expected wonders of the coming tourism season.  What had seemed the normal course of events half an hour earlier now seemed topsy-turvy bizarre.  I was too confused to say anything and no one informed the speaker that a major tragedy had just occurred.  I quickly returned to my room and spent the next 12 hours glued to CNN.  As the lone American writer I became the recipient of condolences from the Chinese editor, proffered with a formal bow as well as travel agents from Poland, Czech Republic and India.  But the reporter from Saudi Arabia, with whom I had shared the front seat of the bus on the tours around Jakarta had disappeared.  The following day a moment of silence was observed in the general meeting. No one realized that worldwide tourism had already been affected.

Would this be my last trip to a country I had thought of as my second home for 10 years?

With airports shut down and travel information scarce I felt compelled to go on to Bali as planned.  In Bali I quizzed Australian tourists but got responses such as, “O, that thing that happened in NY.”

I called home and then decided that this might be my last trip to Bali and I would go ahead and take the cruise I had booked on the Bugis schooner, the Ombak Putih.  Although I had traveled the islands of Indonesia for almost two decades, in those days the islands had to be earned through time, sweat and an occasional leach.   What would it be like to race with the wind in an air-conditioned cabin with private bath?

Comfort added an unreal dimension to my cruise.  On other trips I had watched shooting stars on the deck of a ferry from Kupang to Sawu, where the charming flutist held the flute with one hand…while the other roamed gaily through my backpack and on the overloaded fishing boat from Sumatra to Nias a long wooden statue kept me separated from the crowd. Adrenaline had fueled those adventures but now I was suspended in a twilight zone living the new phrase:  “Heightened alert”.

The tropics became painfully vivid with bluer blues and greener greens and staged village performances, which of course I usually dislike because I had seen the “real” thing, became heartbreakingly poignant.

The last night I slept on deck searching black holes surrounded by complacent stars.  I longed to relive my Indonesian odyssey, sailing forever to endless islands, but the trip ended and a journey into the unknown began.

By the New Year I announced my first resolution:  “Keep traveling”. My craving for positive encounters far outweighs the threat of a random terrorist attack.

In Sumbawa, three Islamic high school girls dressed in white from head to toe, offered their condolences and in Vera Cruz that February I saw a Mexican tourist in a T-shirt with the American Flag covering his chest and in China in April, a man on the train whispered that it was the dream of every Chinese to live in America.

With the world spinning further out of control chance encounters in far-away places help to illuminate the other side of the news.

Dorothy Aksamit was a travel writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area when she submitted this story which Tales Told From The Road published on September 16, 2011.

When she passed away in May of 2019 she was fondly remembered by her fellow members of Bay Area Travel Writers.

Dorothy’s daughter, Inga Aksamit, continues her mother’s tradition of memorable storytelling.


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