Monday, July 31, 2006

HALA!

My friends, I'm not dead yet! And in fact I am very much alive! I apologize for not writing sooner, but the government here has frozen land lines, and internet and cell service continue to be erratic. I am only now able to log on, this Monday morning, 4 days after the 7/27 attack on Southeast Asia, which as you know resulted in the collapse of the Petronas Towers. Fatalities believed to number in the thousands.

Obviously, the situation in Malaysia, and indeed throughout Southeast Asia, is rather complicated at the moment. There is even talk of possible martial law. I will post updates when I am able.

In the meantime, you have no doubt wondered what happened to me after I posted my last entry to this site from the 36th floor of Tower II, at exactly the same time the first plane hit Tower I. Naturally, I immediately evacuated the building, and I made it all the way down to the ground floor and was only a moment from leaving the building when I spontaneously decided to follow a team of emergency responders back up the building. They were en route to assist survivors of the attack on Tower I who were evacuating the injured building via the Sky Bridge that joins both towers on the 41st and 42nd floors.

You must understand, after the first the plane hit Tower I, naturally the first thing I thought of were the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York City. But I also knew from working on the documentary with Anita, that unlike the World Trade Center, the reinforced core of the circular shaped Petronas Towers in tandem with the 18 concrete columns that form the shell of each Tower, meant the super structures could and would sustain the kind of damage that occurred on 9/11.

So, I did not for a moment think that the surreal events of September 11th would so perfectly repeat themselves. And I was so confident in the integrity of the structures, and so fully satisfied of my own safety, that I did not think it reckless to return and help others.

But as it happens, I am not lucky to have made it out alive, and only alive but for luck. Fortunately for me, the second plane did not hit Tower II while I was still on or near the Sky Bridge, but many others were. By that time I was over in Tower 1 assisting a rescuer navigate a gentleman in a wheel chair downstairs via the stairwell. Unfortunately when the first plane hit tower 1, it blew a fireball down the elevator shafts, and so we had to walk down, step by step.

So when the second plane hit, we had just reached the 27th floor of Tower 1, and to be honest we wouldn't have even know a second plane had it Tower 2 if we did not immediately after hear the awful tearing sound of the Sky Bridge collapse between the two buildings, taking with it so many souls. It took us over an hour to get downstairs, what with other people evacuating and heading down, and other rescue teams heading up.

I can tell you that I'm no hero, I wanted to drop that wheel chair right then and there and flee, but I did not. And as a result we had no sooner made it out of the Tower when I looked up and saw the building collapsing above me. I had to run for my life, and I'm not even sure if the rescuer or the man in the wheel chair were able to get far enough away from the tower or the falling debris to have made it to safety themselves.

But here I am, and for all intents and purposes I am fine, shaken, perhaps lost, but alive. The amount of coffee I have had to drink in the last three days also has not helped matters much, I might add.

You may already know from various news reports, I am one of only a handful of Al Jazeera employees that made it out of the Towers before their collapse. Journalists being what they are, my colleagues most likely chose to stay and report on the events enveloping them rather than decamp and lose a story.

So, tragically, if one had not begun to evacuate Tower 2 after the first plane crashed into Tower 1, it would become all but impossible after the second plane effectively sheared Tower 2 in half, destroying the Sky Bridge, not to mention elevator and stairwell access between the 35th to 45th floors. I'm to understand that everybody who worked on or below the 35th flr got out safely, but those above 45 were irrevocably doomed.

Since I haven't heard from Anita or Daim by now, I think it is more than likely neither escaped before the second plane hit. They were, after all, attending a staff meeting that morning @ the sixtieth floor office of Al Jazeera. Of course, the only reason I was not with them was because I had been assigned the task of occupying an interview subject on the 36th floor until what we anticipated would be their late arrival.

What is one supposed to do or say to these facts? That I am indeed one of the fortunate ones? If I am so lucky, then why has this experience left such a profound effect of disappointment upon my soul? It must be, I think, because this so called gift of luck is coupled with the knowledge that all my colleagues are dead.

I'm not sure now what happens with my job, either. There is no office here, no broadcast studio and what few AJI employees remain can hardly be said to make up a staff. I suspect I will either be released of my obligations and return to New York, or that Al Jazeera will transfer me to another broadcast center, perhaps in London or Qatar.

And yet regardless of the current chaos, I absolutely do not want to return to New York, at least not right now. For I believe that if I don't stay to see this through to the end, I will return to New York a casualty instead of a survivor. It is clear to me: I belong in Kuala Lumpur, at least until I, my employer or the Malaysian government decides otherwise.

Naturally we are all asking who is responsible for this deed. I don't know what they are saying in the States, although I've heard that nothing points to Al-Qaeda. Still, many other theories abound. Most point to Kashmir militants in northern India as being the perpetrators of this terrible act of terrorism, but if that is so, why did they also attack Indonesia and Malaysia? It makes no sense.

Then I've heard some truly whacked out conspiracy theories floating around here as well. For instance, just recently Debenhams, a British retailer, shuttered their 100,000 square foot Malaysian flagship department-store that served as an anchor to Kuala Lumpur's Berjaya Times Square shopping site. Now some of the deeply paranoid people here are now asking if management back in the UK possibly knew beforehand of the impending attack, and maybe that is why they made sure all their employees who were British nationals were long out of the country before July 27.

Personally, I don't think there's any merit to the story, of course. It's too surreal to be true. But then repeating the events of 9/11 five years later on the other side of the world is also pretty surreal, so I'm not sure how reliable I can be the judge of anything these days.

Still, it's amazing how many people here think that British secret agents are somehow responsible, so maybe there's something to it. I overheard one conversation based around a theory that the events of 7/27 were hatched out of an awkward strategy to put the broken pieces of a long broken empire back together again. Yet I cannot fathom the possibility that such a plan could actually be considered, much less carried out. But if Bush can lie the American public into war in Iraq, then I suppose anything really is possible.

In the meantime, it may come as no surprise you that in these dark moments I have sought and found some small solace in the Qur'an. I brought an old copy with me but had not leafed through it since I got here, well since I was a high school student, actually.

Funny –if I can use that word– how the spinning axis of the world, abruptly pushed askew, has by chance effect made this Muslim Nation of Malaysia its white-hot center. It makes me think that if I possess any luck at all, it is because I am now lucky to have such comforting passages to help me find my own center again. Does that sound clichéd and trite? Well, pardon me for saying, but I find that there is actually something quite reassuring in such triteness right now, and I am very happy to have it.

btw, the American office has asked me to write a personal account of my experience for possible posting to the international website as a human interest story. My miraculous survival is newsworthy, apparently, but you must know that this was not the big break I was hoping for.

and Terry: thanks for calling my parents. I spoke with my mom and dad earlier this morning and they told me you called. glad you did.

And T., Jasp, Annika –thank you all for your prayers!

OK, assuming I continue to get WiFi, I'm going to post a local news article for you lot–

s