Letter: Witnessing Sept. 11 from Republic of Georgia

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 12, 2021

My husband Will, son Robyn and I were living in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia on this fateful day where Will, as a USAID contractor, was working on an energy project. As Tbilisi was eight hours ahead of the U.S., it was approaching 5 p.m. office closing time.

Will’s office mate, David, had been desperately trying for at least 30 minutes to get on the internet one last time before shutting down, with no success. Internet access was generally spotty in this part of the world, but this was really odd. “Will, something’s going on, something’s not right,” he said. Finally he got through, the first picture being the sight of a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York, prompting him to yell, “We’ve got to get to a TV!”

Will immediately shut the office down, sent everyone home, ran across the street to our apartment, and told me to turn on the TV where we remained shocked and mesmerized like the rest of the world.

Suddenly we realized Robyn, 4-1/2 years old at the time, was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered he had gone down a lengthy flight of stairs, opened the door to the street, and was standing on the sidewalk, asking me, “Mom, where are the buildings?” Funny how a kid can’t quite comprehend that what one sees on TV can actually be thousands of miles away.

We were living in the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan in 1998 for the bombings of our U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, then in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1999 for the five explosions in that city — all the work of the fledgling new terrorist organization Al Qaeda, also responsible for 9/11 — so we were very aware of terrorism. But we didn’t make the connection at the time: it was just too big a leap from those overseas events to something this disastrous on our home turf.

We stayed up all night, Will returning bleary-eyed to the office in the morning and to an emergency meeting at the U.S. Embassy with all the other ex-pats on next steps.

— Will and Mary James