September 11th, 2001 in Zimbabwe

September 11th, 2001 in Zimbabwe

We were at afternoon tea on a terrace of the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe, Africa when our safari guide, Mark, quietly told us, “A jet plane just flew into one of the World Trade Center’s twin towers. It’s 8:46 am in New York.”

Our hotel room TV carried a BBC feed as we watched the second tower invaded by another jet plane seventeen minutes later.

04cj26It felt like a grade B movie.

The images were surreal.

My safari mates and I met up an hour later for dinner. Servers and buffet staff looked at us with pity and concern. They knew we’d be going back to a country at war. What they didn’t express to us was how our lives were changed forever. Zimbabwe was involved in their own civil war—black against white, neighbor against neighbor. They had a unique perspective on how life could change quickly.

Scheduled to fly back to the bush in two days, we were dining on some of the most unique foods I’d ever tasted…eland, impala, various wild foul, and more…yet the conversation continued to return to Who, Why, What Next?

Someone floated the idea we might be traveling to one of the safest places currently in the world, Botswana. We didn’t know how difficult it would be to fly out of Zimbabwe.

Two days later….

“Give me all your cash!” Mark discretely demanded at the airport so he could bribe officials. “Keep quiet and don’t mention any luggage.”

In a fourteen by fourteen foot waiting room we left five other Americans, not traveling with us, and flew to Botswana. They would live there until the Johannesburg airport opened again. It would be days before the backlog of passengers returning to the USA was 15dd07croppedcleared. A soda machine and junk food dispenser were their only sustenance.

Mark whispered, “The packages are tucked away in the airplane luggage compartment,” as we walked the tarmac to the twelve seater plane. Our authentic tribal spears were safe from inspection.

CD_SS06cropped_sOnce in flight to Vumbura, Botswana we discussed the question: Do we dwell upon current events, or  immerse ourselves in the wonders of the wetlands?
We chose a compromise. Mark would update us daily from his wireless world radio. We would focus on our trip.

The signs of the Vumbura airport landing strip welcomed us to the dirt and gravel runway.

We shut out the world as we photographed the wetlands of Africa. We were thrilled to glimpse the shy sable antelope, a bathing elephant, lionesses grooming one another as they woke from their daily sleep before the evening hunt began, and many other wonders.

We created wonderful memories. But our return two weeks later to the USA is another story. We were forever different from our friends and family who lived through the aftermath of 911 in the USA as we returned to our country now at war.

911 blog collage



  1. Shanna Groves
    Sep 12, 2013

    Jan – Your words and images are breathtaking. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and painful story.

    • Jan Lazo-Davis
      Sep 12, 2013

      You are welcome. I give photo credit to Dan Davis, my wonderful photographer husband. He is so talented.

  2. Amy
    Sep 12, 2013

    This is the first time I’ve read your writing, I believe. We met briefly at the HACWN Super Saturday with Cecil Murphey and ate lunch together–just a brief time, and yet I feel so connected to you after that time and through this writing. On 9/11, I was in the United Arab Emirates far away from the events in the US also, and even further away emotionally from my husband of six years–an Egyptian who said, “This is what happens when the US gets involved in countries and places they don’t belong.” His initial lack of concern for my feelings pushed us even further apart. I was horrified he thought we “deserved” what happened. I think being abroad changes one’s perspective in some small undefinable way. The Emiratis couldn’t have been kinder, however. So many reached out to the Americans to reassure them of our safety in Ras Al Khaimah, where we lived. In some ways, my husband came around, in others, the event changed our relationship forever. 9/11 always reminds me of the simmering undercurrent of unrest–like what you described in Zimbabwe–that suddenly exploded. It took years to rebuild Ground Zero, but it would never be the same. When I tried to rebuild the landscape of my marriage, it wasn’t the same, either. We erected a structure of friendship where love once stood proud.

    • Jan Lazo-Davis
      Sep 12, 2013

      You get it! Feeling out-of-sync with those sharing a common experience.

      The pity non-Americans have for us surprised me. I have found it to be a common feeling in many areas abroad where I’ve traveled.

      I also feel a connection with you. I am glad we could gather for lunch. Hope to see you in November if you can make the HACWN conference.

  3. Jane Tucker
    Sep 12, 2013

    Beautifully said, Jan. What a different perspective on events that consumed our nation. To stand outside the chaos and observe provided you with unique insight.

  4. Jan Sykes
    Feb 12, 2014

    I too was out of the country on 9-11. I was in Israel. Like your experience, those around me told me they too were “American” on that day. And, like Amy, my husband revealed his true colors when I got home days after the event. The whole country held their loved ones tighter. My husband stepped BACK when he greeted me at the airport. He needed to be “faithful” to his girlfriend. Yep, 9-11 changed us all….

    • Jan Lazo-Davis
      Feb 12, 2014

      I guess it’s in us to recognize bad and 9/11 was bad. Sometimes truth revealed is best. I am sorry you also had to deal with such a sad result from this event personally.

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