9/11 Email from an Eyewitness

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A friend and colleague migrated to the United States with her family on March of 2001. She was in New York on September 11, 2001 at our company's New York office during the terrorist attacks. The office had a view of the WTC towers. Here's her recollection of the events that day in an email she shared with our group of friends a few days after the terrorist attacks.


Thank you for all your notes of concern and good wishes for my and my family's safety. I appreciate them all, especially as the situation here is growing more and more uncertain everyday with the Taliban and the US exchanging threats of war. I was half expecting something to actually happen last Tuesday, it being a week after. Without meaning to, I took exactly the same train I took last week, and was in my seat in the office at roughly the same time as last week. I couldn't help it, but I kept looking out of the window, over where the World Trade Center used to stand. This incident has really made a huge impact on my sense of security.

It was eerie how, from talking with friends and colleagues here, many seemed to have had some sort of premonition of what was to unfold that day. In my case, I was thinking of bombs as I rode the elevator to my office at 8:15 that morning. I was thinking how easy it was to bring a bomb and detonate it in our building as the security is really lax. I was also thinking what
it must be like if a bomb did go off - what mayhem would we experience. My sister, on the other hand, was feeling things have been unusually quiet these past months on the newsfront and wondered what big event would happen soon. Another friend was thinking about Iraq and how they might retaliate against the US given that the news that have been hugging the limelight at
that time was that a US spy plane had apparently been shot down by Iraq.

My day started our normal enough. I was plowing through my emails and reading through the headlines of the Philippine Star and the Inquirer when suddenly a colleague who sits nearby jumped up and announced that there was an explosion at the WTC. As his announcement was not loud enough nor did it sound panicky enough to me, I didn't even bother to react. I remember thinking it might have been just false alarm or maybe just a small accident.

I couldn't remember how it actually happened that I looked out of the window, but I did and what I saw gave me the goose bumps. There was a huge hole on one of the WTC towers, and so much smoke was coming out of the building. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Then someone said that a
plane had apparently hit the WTC. I remember thinking, what a terrible accident - and to think it was a very clear day. I called my sister immediately - she was at home that time - and asked her to switch on the TV as there's been an explosion at the WTC. Then I went back to the window and just gaped at the billowing smoke coming out of the WTC tower, still trying to make sense of how an accident like that could have happened. And then someone said that it's a terrorist attack. I dismissed that comment maybe because I didn't want to believe it.

As things started to settle down and I went back to my seat intending to work, I heard moans and groans from everyone in the office. I stood up and saw this huge ball of fire that seemed to come out of the second tower. I rushed to the window and just gaped, horrified at how a second accident like that could happen. Call me stupid but I was still not prepared to think it
was a terrorist attack. Then someone started to narrate how he saw this plane go straight into the second tower with no hesitation. He noted how the plane was not even wobbling as if there was something wrong with it. That's when I accepted the fact that this was indeed a terrorist attack.

I was on the phone with my sister every few minutes, checking in to let her know how I'm doing, at the same time trying to learn from her what is being reported in the news. It was from her that I learned a few minutes after that second plane rammed into #2 WTC that the pentagon has also been hit. Everyone else in the office was either talking on the phone with someone else or simply watching the WTC.

And then, as things started settling down again, another horrified moan came from the people near the window watching the towers. When I turned to look, I saw #2 WTC was crumbling down. Some people had started to cry, I simply stared in shock as I kept on muttering to myself "Oh my God!".

As the shock wore off a little, many of us wondered whether there was a bomb that exploded apart from the plane crash. We were too confident that the WTC could withstand such an impact. And as we were milling around discussing, #1 WTC exploded and crumbled too. I ran to the window saying
"Oh my God!" out loud and trembling with fear. This time, I could not help the tears that came and I called my sister. Then I called the train service to check if there were still outbound trains to . I felt so trapped when they told me all train services out of Manhattan have been suspended.

We couldn't do anything the rest of that morning except to watch the news - a manager here managed to get hold of a TV and installed it in his office. I would sit in my chair, call my sister, pace around, talk to my colleagues, watch the news. By lunch time, we decided to go to church and while walking on 5th avenue, you could see the white smoke covering the skyline of
downtown Manhattan. When we got back from church, someone from the office said that they had opened up train service and I hurriedly went with someone in the office to the train station to see if we could catch a train to .

The streets were packed with people walking, and the train station was so full of people and police. We managed to get on a train that was so full there were people standing in almost all free space inside. When the train finally crossed the stateline to Connecticut, I was a little bit relieved. It must have been the shock but my head was aching, and I could not sleep in
the the train. Everyone in the train just looked so sad.


As a footnote, I felt the power of the internet that day. Only a few minutes after that first plane hit tower #1 and we were still unsure what exactly happened, ABC news already had a picture and a story on its Home page.

And a final footnote, there was something the priest said in that mass I attended that fateful Tuesday that has stayed with me. He said there is no sadder person in this entire universe than God himself. He who made all things in His image must be weeping at seeing what we are doing to


The Evolution of Igorot Tapestry Video

A couple of good and longish videos on the recently held SMSSAFF Reunion in Chicago was posted in Youtube by user Maltreb0044. The first video below was on The Evolution of Igorot Tapestry that was taken during the cultural night. The second video was taken on the Saturday Eucharist that honored the Missionary Teachers to St. Mary's School of Sagada. If you look real closely on the second video clip, you can actually see me on the line to receive Holy Communion. Hope you enjoy the videos as I did.


A Taste of Sagada right here in Chicago – Part II

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Continued from A Taste of Sagada right here in Chicago – Part I.

Cultural Night – the TOMA Song

The cultural night also featured a well thought of fashion show that displayed the evolution of Igorot tapestry which was very well received by the American audience. A re-enactment on how the Igorots first met with American missionaries was done through pantomime, and then came one of the more emotional moments I’ve experienced in the reunion – the singing of the AY TET-EWA AY TOMA SA? (Is that really a bedbug?).

I believe I’ve sung this song once or twice a year during my elementary years. It’s a marvelously funny song about the bedbug (toma), and it entails having a leader sing a question, and the audience sing back a response. The first 2 lines goes like this:

Leader: Ay tet-ewa’y toma na? (Is this really a bedbug?)
Audience: Tetewa ay toma sa. Dake-dake’y toma sa ya kadak-kelan ay toma. (Yes, that’s really a bedbug. That’s a huge bedbug and it’s the biggest bedbug ever.)

And it goes on with a series of about a dozen or so questions, and the answers sung to each question is attached to the answer of the earlier questions and so every answer sung by the audience will end with the declaration that yes, that’s really a huge bedbug and it’s the biggest one. EVER! It’s similar to the “12 days of Christmas” and that other English song that goes “There was a tree, the finest tree that you ever did see…”. To me, the TOMA song is way more special.

To someone like me who is used to singing the song almost every year while growing up, it brought back warm feelings of early years in Sagada. I remember a particular December evening in the 1980s – most likely during the lantern parade, that a young guy and gal – in their first year in high school, dressed up in traditional Igorot attire, standing before the Sagada community gathered around the town’s basketball court, and leading the TOMA song with such fervor that I remember it so well after 20+ years.

I learned during the conference that the song was written by Dr. Henry Scott, a teaching missionary himself, in the 1950s, and that it was meant to be a humorous adaptation of one of the more hated animals in nature. I’m thinking how it is a reflection of Sagada humor – blunt, frank, and embarrassingly funny sometimes. Somehow, I tried to have my sons enjoy the singing as much as I did to no avail. I guess it’s again a reminder that my Sagada upbringing is several planets apart from their Manila / Chicago-suburb experience. (Even my wife who grew up in neighboring Tadian doesn’t care that much about the TOMA song.)

Igorot gong-playing and dancing followed after the TOMA song. Members of BIBBAK – Illinois, who performed at a Baguio high school reunion earlier in the evening, also performed a Benguet dance. Towards the end, the tables and chairs were pushed to the side, and the audience was invited to community dancing. Plenty of them obliged. The evening ended after the dancing, with farewells being exchanged since some of the attendees were catching flights or driving home early that Sunday morning. For me, the reunion would officially end the next Monday morning when I brought an aunt who was catching a red-eye flight back home to Denver at the Chicago O’hare airport.

A note on the missionaries – Manang Marie, who I briefly chatted with after the cultural night shared her thoughts about honoring the missionaries through the preservation of the Igorot culture. She’s right. In a way, it took a group of outsiders to help the Sagada Igorot folks appreciate, understand, and take efforts to preserve their Igorot culture. These SMSSAFF reunions is not just about your typical high school gathering – in a highly inter-connected world where local traditions are slowly replaced by global trends, there is great value in being reminded that God has allowed us to be born in the place and culture we were in. We all have a past and a background and knowing such certainly keeps us from getting lost.

I started this reflection with a reference to memories of food from childhood years. The whole reunion experience for me was a different kind of food – a somewhat spiritual nourishment type that kept me grounded to my roots, and was a refreshing reminder of where I came from. I don’t know if I would be able to attend the next SMSSAFF reunion that is being planned in Toronto on the summer of 2013. Attending or not, I’m still glad I got to have a taste of my old hometown of Sagada right here in metro-Chicago, the city I now call home.


A Taste of Sagada right here in Chicago – Part I

In Disney’s RATATOUILLE movie, the unsmiling and dour-faced food critic named ANTON EGO, tasted a dish that suddenly transported him back to his childhood days. His countenance changed as he gamely savored the dish he was giving a critique on, and the warm childhood memories that accompanied the dish showed dramatically in his facial expression. He actually smiled, and proceeded to devour the rest of the dish with childish joy. In our family, we call such an experience a “ratatouille moment”. It is that warm, wonderful, indescribable feeling you’d get when you bite into food that reminds you of a great dishes from the past.

Welcoming Alumni, Family, and Friends

On a different scale, being part of the 5th St. Mary’s School Sagada Alumni Family and Friends (SMSSAFF) Conference that was held in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge was a drawn out 3-day “ratatouille moment”. My wife and I joined the host committee on Thursday, August 4, as alumni, family and friends started arriving to register for the event. We met relatives and friends from Michigan, Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York and Illinois – there could be more states represented, and I believe there were those from Canada, but those states mentioned were what I remembered.

My wife and I didn’t graduate from St. Mary’s School (SMS) in Sagada – but my mother-in-law did. So did my dad (batch ’56), my mom (batch ’65), and my 3 older sisters who belonged to batch ’87, ’88, and ’90. Two of my brother-in-laws were also graduates of SMS. I was supposed to be a member of batch ’92 – but I was shipped to Manila for high school and missed all the fun. Still, I didn’t feel left out. The St. Mary’s tradition runs strong in my family and during the reunion, I somehow felt like I was representing my parents and sisters as they were not able to attend.

Anglican Mass and SMS Missionaries

The reunion / conference was held in an episcopal church also known as St. Mary’s. The Anglican church service on Saturday morning was the first time I’ve attended in years. (My family now have affiliated ourselves to evangelical, non-denominational churches in more recent years.) It was the same traditional hymn mass I remember from my Sagada childhood with great fondness. Members of the alumni served during the service, and the hymns were also handpicked by them. At the end of the service, when the attendees started singing the SMS hymn to the tune of O Danny Boy, I felt a tinge of regret that my family members (my mom especially) who were supposed to be there were absent.

Saturday evening was cultural night. The theme for the conference was about honoring Sagada’s teaching missionaries who were from various Anglican dioceses across the United States. These missionaries served in Sagada’s St. Mary’s school in the early 1900s and stayed in Sagada until the 1960s. In the photo slideshow which started the evening, there were images of SMS alumni who eventually settled in the US, visiting these same missionaries during their later years right here in their home country. I can only imagine what those missionaries may have felt like.

Having stayed here in the US since 2006, I cannot imagine sacrificing comfortable living here and going to a strange mountainous land in the Far East to spend time with a group of people and culture that is too foreign from the one you’re used to. And after all the hard work and time spent, you actually get to see the fruit of your labor by having some of your students get to visit you back in your home country. Indeed, a theme that I’ve heard from the older alumni during the conference was of thanksgiving – the alumni are thankful to those brave teaching missionaries for the opportunities that it has provided the students and their families not just in their lifetime, but also for the next generations to come.

CONTINUED here... A Taste of Sagada right here in Chicago – Part II


Sagada Missionaries Honored

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sagada MissionariesThe 5th St. Mary's School Sagada Alumni and Friends Foundation (SMSSAFF) Conference held in the northern Chicago suburb of Park Ridge honored Sagada's teaching missionaries. During the final night of the conference last August 6, 2011, a cultural show was held in honor of the school's missionaries. It started with a photo slideshow of the missionary honorees, and included a fashion show, a skit on the arrival of the missionaries in Sagada, and performance of Igorot dances. Earlier in the day, a church service was held in St. Mary's Episcopal Church where the conference was held.

List of Missionary Honorees (from the SMS Yahoogroups mailing list):

1. The Community of St. Mary Nuns: 1917-1967 [Sagada Mission which includes SMSS]
2. The Rt. Rev. Robert Franklin Wilner: 1923-1955 (Philippines); 1945-1946, 1949-1950 (SMSS)
3. The Rev. Ezra Diman: 1932-1970 (Philippines); 1932-1938, 1948-1957 (SMSS)
4. Miss Helen Boyle: 1941-1945, 1947-1965 (Philippines); 1947-1950 (SMSS)
5. Deaconess Evelyn May Ashcroft: 1941-1945, 1951-1969 (Philippines); 1951-1952 (SMSS)
6. Richard and Jean Morgan: 1949-1951 (SMSS)
7. Olive Bird Tomlin: 1950-1955 (SMSS)
8. Mr. John Randall Norton: 1951-1954 (SMSS)
9. William Henry Scott: 1954-1993 (Philippines); 1954-1957, 1959-1963, 1970-1993 (SMSS)
10. Hazel F. Gosline: 1955-1966 (SMSS)
11. William Richard Hughes: 1956-1959 (SMSS)
12. The Rev. George Clinton and Mary Jane Harries: 1956-1969 (Philippines); 1956-1962 (SMSS)
13. The Rev. Archie C. Stapleton: 1959-1969 (SMSS)
14. Anne Fox- Miller: 1966-1969 (SMSS)
15. Ms. Anne Davidson: 1970 (SMSS)
16 Ms. Janet Eason: 2005-Present (SMSS)

Of the above, it is only the late Dr. William Henry Scott who I've personally interacted with. He used to visit my grandparents in Nangonogan. I've used some of his books as reference for papers done during my college years. I actually saw him walk the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman in the early 1990s, but as a teenager concerned with rather banal stuff, I didn't bother to have much conversation with him. That's a huge regret really - it would have been nice to pick the mind of not only one of Sagada's teaching missionaries, but an authority in Igorot history as well.

The presentation "Sagada to Chicago Welcome, SMS Teaching Missionaries Slideshow" is posted in YouTube. Watch the presentation below:

A photo gallery on the SMSSAFF Cultural Night is also available courtesy of Roel Marchadesch. Click on the photo below.

Sagada 5th SMSSAFF Conference in Chicago - Cultural Night Photos