In fall 2001 I was living in Uzairue, a village in central Nigeria. The Sisters of Notre Dame had been living and working there since 1966. We were a community of nine sisters, mostly Nigerian with a few expatriates. I was working upstairs in my office in the late afternoon, and suddenly I heard local people gathering below. They informed me that they had heard on the radio that the United States had been attacked. The people continued to stream to our house into the evening. The date was September 11.
At first it was very hard for me to take in what had happened that day in New York so far away. I was able to pick up reports on the BBC, as well as the Voice of America. Still, though, I could not really imagine the scope of the event, or fully take in the ramifications.
Two weeks later I was preparing to journey across the country to visit our sisters in Enugu, five hours away in Eastern Nigeria. On the day before I was to leave, Sr. Annette returned from Benin City, a distance of an hour and a half, and shared with me a copy of “Time Magazine” which had photo coverage of what we now all call “911.” I tucked it in my bag to read on the trip, and set off early the next morning to catch the long-distance taxi (jitney style) to Enugu. I was sitting in the back of a station wagon crammed with nine other people and all their baggage. After we were on our way, I pulled out the “Time Magazine” and started paging through it. I was overwhelmed at seeing the graphic photographs, and the full horror of the attack on the World Trade Center began to sink in. Those around me could see I was touched and very moved. The magazine was passed around the jitney. Soon all were loudly wailing and mourning as would be natural in Nigeria when there’s a death in the family or a great tragedy. All of us, at that moment of palpable solidarity, were gripped by a profound sense of our common humanity.
That experience, to this day, speaks to me of the capacity of human beings to reach out and recognize their fellow human beings around the globe.