September 12, 2012
Sometimes, it’s hard to even remember what the world was like before September 11th, 2001. For me, the door to the world of international travel had just opened up and then it was suddenly slammed shut.
In 2000, I’d left a dot.com job when I saw the impending bubble getting ready to blowup. I didn’t get any stock options but neither did my co-workers who stayed until the bitter end. I spent the better part of the year living in a $100 VW van in the Pacific Northwest and then after hitting a triple double-diamond jackpot – twice on the same slot machine – I decided to get out of the United States and see the world. Before that, I’d only seen England, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas and the USA. When I returned well into the second half of 2001 – I could count Myanmar, China, Laos, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia on my travel map too. I’d spent months sleeping in Southeast Asian guesthouses, eating banana pancakes, and meeting dashing and romantic international backpackers who were free and loose with friendship and love.
The only reason I left all of that was because I was out of money. Completely out. I had to borrow the $10 to pay the airport tax in Bangkok and a silver smuggler I met in the smoking lounge in Taiwan offered to give me $20 if I carried a bag of silver into Canada for her. That $20 got me back to my VW van and there I was in Portland, Oregon on the morning of September 11th. I was house sitting for a poet friend and sat down to watch the Price is Right but when I turned on the TV there was only this damn police drama – that turned out to be the AlQueda attacks on the USA.
America went berserk instituting it’s own form of the Taliban with radical Republicanism and the Patriot Act. I sold my van and had enough to get to Hawaii and I’ll never forget the fully armored and heavily armed military security patrolling through San Francisco International Airport as I caught my one way flight to Hawaii with $100 to my name. I’m thankful the military martial law went away, but so did the rights of travelers from all over the world. The TSA and airline security have never gone away. I still have to partially disrobe every time I travel by airplane.
That free and easy travel of 2001 went away too. From that point on, everyone had to think of terrorism and terrorists and the Nick Bergs of the world (decapitated on video for the world to see) and bombings in Casablanca, Madrid, London, and Mumbai. The media never let up, they’ve never let us relax and the governments have responded just the way the USA responded – with fear, xenophobia, overwhelming security, and in some cases – harder visa laws. Many of those little guesthouses I stayed at in the Muslim part of Thailand and Malaysia went out of business and the ideas I’d had of traveling to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have still not come back though when I see people like Dave Stamboulis do it in Pakistan - the desire returns a bit.
I wonder if I would have been so freaked out upon my rather traumatic arrival in Morocco in a pre-911 world? Honestly, I don’t even remember what I thought of Muslim, Islam, Arabs or anything related to 911 before 911. I could lie and say I do, but the coloring of my mind has been so complete and total that it would be a lie. Sure, I’m now married to an Arab, I have a large Muslim extended family, I live in a Muslim country, I even had to officially convert to Islam to marry my wife – we have an daughter who is half Arab and will presumably be Muslim (though we will see what she chooses for herself someday). And I’ve been gone from the USA for almost four years – seven years in Hawaii before that can almost not be counted as being in America…
Almost 11 years since I left mainland America – it was October 1, 2001 when I went to Hawaii. I’ve spent brief periods on the mainland – but honestly – I feel like a complete stranger as we still struggle to get the visa for my wife and head back to the USA to see what it is like. We’re not going to Hawaii straight away – we’re going to try living on the mainland and I am nervous as hell about it. I’m not sure that me and my Muslim Arab wife are going to be able to fit in…going back to America might be the scariest journey of all.