On the 11th of September 2001, we returned from a miraculous day wandering, eventually barefoot, through a jungle in the Mexican Yucatan, led by a Mayan girl to waterfalls that tumbled down steps gouged into smooth bowls in the soft limestone. Between the trees enormous blue crabs scuttled. At last, exhilarated, we found ourselves in the girl’s hut, a circular house with a palm frond roof and an earth floor and, bizarrely, satellite TV. As I politely handled bracelets and necklaces the girl and her mother had made, bright seeds and pods strung on wire, I was distracted by an image of furious violence on the screen; a skyscraper being pierced by an aircraft blossoming a fireball and smoke. I thought it was something from a James Bond film that I had not seen before. But my partner seemed alarmed and something about it did not look like a film.
As we were driven back to the hotel we had left the day before, we talked about this incredible thing we had seen, having learned from the driver that it was an attack on New York. We picked up a hitchhiker, a man in his fifties, an American. We asked him if he’d heard the news. He told us that he had, and that two of his children were in the towers.
Back in the hotel we located a TV in a corner of a lounge. We turned it to CNN and watched the news, trying to make sense of what was happening. Other guests, a Mexican family, asked for the sound to be turned down because it was disturbing their game of cards.
Over the next few days we exchanged emails with our family and friends back home. Amidst the calm and the heat of the Yucatan, hysteria and fear poured at us from those communications. American airspace had been closed down and the airplanes of the carrier that had brought us to Mexico were grounded. We talked about whether we should try to get home; whether we would even be able to get home. None of it felt real.
We decided to continue our holiday, daily hearing more from the UK of the terror and fear there. Around us everything was serene. A Mayan woman described in the guidebooks the tourists carried, a woman who stood in a particular square holding a bright parasol, took us, with others, into the homes of local people, poor people. People who, having little, had crates of Pepsi that they used as a sacramental fluid in their religious rituals. Our guide had the demeanour of a saint as she told us about the lives of her people, and of the terrible civil war that had recently ravaged their land. Afterwards, we asked her if she had heard of the attack in New York. She had. I asked her what she thought of it. She said she was sorry for the loss of life, but that the Americans had brought her people a lot of harm, and to so many others in Latin America. She felt that this was something they had coming. What they were suffering now others, vastly more than had died in New York, had suffered. She asked me: Why is their suffering more important than that of these other people? She said that she hoped it would make the Americans open their hearts to others, to use their power more responsibly, to be kinder…