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"Where was I?"

Whenever a significant event occurs in history, one of the first questions we ask ourselves, and our friends and family, is "Where was I / where were you when _________ happened?" Sofia Javed, a Where I've Been user, has kindly allowed me to post her most recent blog entry, "Where Was I?", in which she describes two monumental days in history that changed her life, and the world surrounding her, immensely.
"I will always remember where I was at the two moments in my lifetime when my country changed forever.
Sept. 11, 2001
When planes flew into the buildings in New York City and Washington, D.C., I was on the other side of the planet in Chirchik, Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is a former Soviet republic in Central Asia. Chirchik is a small urban town just outside of the country’s capital, Tashkent. It was the first place I lived when I arrived in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer. During pre-service training, I lived with an Uzbek family in a run-down Soviet-style apartment building that was surrounded by identical, run-down buildings.
One day after hours of trainings in language, culture and safety, two other volunteers and I went to have dinner at a neighbor’s apartment downstairs. After dinner our Uzbek hosts went to the living room to watch television, and the three of us stayed in the kitchen sipping tea from little bowls and indulging in English conversation.
It was around 7 or 8 p.m. The teenager in the host family yelled from the other room, “Hey, come and see, America is on television!” I dismissed it, thinking it must be Britney Spears or some cheesy action movie that narrowly defines our society for people around the world. My friend went to the other room to check it out. I remember hearing her response. “Oh... my…God…” And then, “OH MY GOD!” I raced to the other room and saw her eyes glued to the dinky little television set. The picture was fuzzy, and the colors were faded. But there it was: CNN showing planes flying into buildings, over and over again. The English caption said, “America under attack.”

The audio feed was in Russian, which we didn’t know. Our hosts scrambled to translate the news from Russian into Uzbek, and the three of us called on our few weeks of language lessons to translate the Uzbek into English. This much was clear: something terrible was happening. I went upstairs and got my short-wave radio. We sat in the kitchen where the reception was best. My friends and I stayed up almost all night listening to whatever reports we could find in English. There, in a tiny apartment in Chirchik, Uzbekistan, we listened as the world was changing. Our hosts made us tea and listened with us.
Nov. 4, 2008
In Chicago, my hometown, the masses gathered in Grant Park to celebrate the impending election of the nation’s first black president. But I wasn’t there. I was in a house in New Castle, NH, where another group of people gathered to celebrate something else.

For the past 18 days, I had lived in that house with 10 teenagers from Israel—five Arab Muslims and five Jews—and two of their teachers. They had come to the U.S. for a peace program run by Friends Forever, a New Hampshire-based organization that promotes peace through cross-community youth work. I was the group’s site manager. The 13 of us had spent two and a half weeks in total togetherness, as we completed a schedule packed with public speaking events, teambuilding activities, community service, dialogue workshops and more. The program encouraged the young people to look past their differences and recognize their similarities. For 18 days, they were one group rather than the two groups they had been for generations. They climbed a 3,500-foot mountain together. They visited synagogues, a mosque, a Baha’i community center and a Cherokee tribal council meeting. They ate together, traveled together, sang and danced together. When conflicts arose, they worked through them together, calming the tensions with dialogue and reasoning. It was amazing.

Nov. 4 was the group’s final night together in the U.S., and they decided to make dinner for themselves and some of the program’s supporters. That night some 30 people gathered in the house for a home-cooked Middle Eastern feast: grilled chicken and beef kabobs, tabbouleh, almond rice, a variety of deserts and more. After dinner, the kids gathered around the piano and sang, in Hebrew and Arabic, “Peace will come upon us and upon everyone.” Later that evening, after the guests left, I sat with the teenagers and listened to them reflect on their Friends Forever experience. They were tired of the situation in Israel, and they wanted to know that another life is possible. They had come to the program because they were ready to take the first steps toward a better future.

The votes had been tallied, and the crowds in Grant Park cheered for a man who had promised the world change. I wasn’t there. I was in a home in New Castle, NH, cheering for 10 teenagers who had promised themselves the same thing."
(source: Tokoni)

Katy Lynch

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"Where was I?" + travel