As always in the Caribbean many of the channels were US based and being on the same time zone were coming to the end of their breakfast news sessions. The news out of New York was of a fire in one of the World Trade Towers. I switched from channel to channel and thought I was watching a recording of a plane entering the tower. I was wrong, I was watching live the second plane hitting the tower. The other was already aflame.
The conference was not due to start for another hour and I was transfixed to the television watching as first one then the other tower collapsed. I headed to the conference rooms and saw the crowds watching the screens in the lobby. At the first plenary session we held a moments silence. The sessions went on as planned but no-one’s hearts were in it. The next night was the big party of the conference, and we partied as best we could – we partied very well – but it was more resistance than enjoyment.
And as the conference drew to a close there was an issue. Airspace in the US remained closed and so many of the delegates, Caribbeans included, needed to travel home via the USA. I had already planned to remain at the hotel till the Saturday and was on a British Airways flight via Kingston, but instead of some relaxed solitude I found myself with over half the delegates from the conference still hanging around.
I was not born before the “What were you doing when Kennedy died” day so have no memories of that. I was crystal clear on my memory for 9/11. I had been working with the St Vincent and Virgin Islands Governments on coastal resources for a year or two. I had secured funding to attend a conference in Jamaica and was going to present a paper with the BVI government on the work. We did the paper, I organised my travel. The BVI government then stopped the travel of my counterpart and I was left to present the paper myself.
The Conference was the first Urban and Regional Information Systems Association or URISA conference in the region. Basically they were the professional organisation for GIS people in the USA. I knew some of the delegates from working in Barbados, my old friend Vijay whom I once trained in NRI was there from Guyana, along with a bunch of people from the US, Canada and throughout the islands plus a few Europeans and the odd South American.
The location was the Wyndham Rose Hall hotel just east of Montego Bay. Heading from the airport along the coastal highway it was like being in the US itself – and apart from the Rose Hall Plantation House on the hill above the conference centre, there was a smattering of resort hotels along the run.
The first couple of days of the conference went according to plan. We had the boss of the largest GIS software company giving the plenary session, we’d had a few good events and the silly things conferences did like have luncheon meetings and meet and greet sessions had gone off without too much embarrassment.
I’d been in Barbados a month or two beforehand attending a meeting for some climate change work and knew the Bajian who convened the meeting, and the two Canadian consultants who had designed the training programme. All three were at the conference and this Tuesday morning I found myself with one of the Canadians and we had a great hour or so over the melon and frazzled bacon putting the world to rights about what GIS could do for life in general.
I returned to my room in a good mood. The conference was going well; I was telling everyone how I was to become West Indian in the next couple of months as I took up my new posting in BVI, and I went into my room to run through my presentation for the afternoon session. Absent mindedly I turned on the TV and settled at my laptop.