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The 9/11 scars, five years on
Stabroek News - By Oluatoyin Alleyne - September 11th. 2006
Imagine losing your daughter in a horrific tragedy and the only closure you are offered is a supposed part of one of her hands? This is the reality for Mahadai Dataram and her husband, Madan Rajkumar.
The couple lost their eldest child Anett Dataram and was offered part of one of her hands, without fingers, for burial. They refused the offer.
That was five years ago, but today like thousands of other families the memories of their daughter and the way she died is still fresh in their minds and they, along with their four other children, will grieve afresh for the 25-year-old who at the time of her death was making wedding plans.
Today they will join thousands at 'Ground Zero' where the World Trade Center once stood in New York. It was five years ago that the global television audience stood transfixed when planes crashed into the twin towers causing their subsequent collapse and killing almost 3,000 people. One person, a Guyanese, was killed when another plane flown by the al-Qaeda terrorists, crashed into the Pentagon in Washington.
Of the just under 3,000 people who perished in the World Trade Center attacks 25 were Guyanese, probably one of the highest per capita figures for countries whose nationals died in the catastrophic event.
Today, like many other Guyanese families, the family of Dataram is mourning their loved one. Her mother, speaking to Stabroek News from their New York home, said the pain is still there and while usually they would go about their normal business every year when the anniversary comes around the memories are once again fresh.
Among Guyanese who perished on that tragic date and for whom families will be grieving were:
* Former national middle-order batsman, Nizam Hafiz, who worked on the 94th floor of tower one;
* Accountant Anett Dataram, 24, called `Priya' formerly of 265 Patentia Housing Scheme and of Ozone Park, New York;
* Ronald and Kamini Singh, who worked at Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of one of the twin towers;
* Shiv Shankar of Richmond Hill;
* Patrick Adams, a former Guyana Defence Force senior non-commissioned officer who worked at Fuji Bank as a security officer on the 89th floor;
* John Charles, who also worked as a security officer at the WTC;
* Babita Guman and Sita Shewnarine who worked on the 97th floor for Fiduciary Trust in the southern tower;
* Joyce and Patricia Stanton;
* Navy Information Systems Technician, Kris Romeo Bishundat, 23, who is of Guyanese parentage and was stationed at the Pentagon when one of the planes crashed into the building;
* Vanavah Thompson who was assigned to Marsh USA and was last seen on the 73rd floor;
* Hardai Parbhu, 42, also called Chandra, who was employed by Avon Financial Services Group, Inc, which operated from the 92nd, 100th and 105th floors of the southern tower;
* Ameena Rasool, who worked with the Marsh and Maskan Insurance Company on the 98th floor of one of the twin towers;
* Ricknauth Jaggernauth, who had been employed at NXT Interiors on the 104th floor of one of the towers (formerly of Free Yard, Port Mourant and a resident of 164 Pennsylvania Ave, Brooklyn, New York);
* Shivonne Mentis who resided at Hollis, Queens and who worked with Marsh Enterprise on the 93rd floor in the north tower;
* Astrid Sohan, who worked with Marsh and McLennan in one of the towers;
* Sarah Khan, a 32-year-old mother of two who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 101st floor of the north tower and she lived in South Ozone Park, New York;
* Rudy Bacchus, a 48-year-old stockbroker who was attending an early morning Risk Water Conference at the Windows on World restaurant on the 107 floor;
* Amarnauth Latchman, who lived in Long Island and worked at the WTC complex;
* Pamela Boyce, 43, an assistant vice president for accounting of Carr Futures, which was located on the 29th floor;
'Her room remains the same'
Dataram said her daughter's room is still the way she left it when she left for work that tragic morning. "We don't have the heart to change it and we have a big house so we don't really need it" she said. She said she has brought a few of her daughter's belongings to Guyana as she visits her homeland every year and she will continue to do so until the room is finally cleared.
Speaking about the hand being offered to the family by US authorities, the woman said that there was nothing to prove to her that the hand indeed belonged to her daughter. "So if I can't be sure why should I accept it?" she asked. She said the authorities even offered to offset funeral expenses should she want to bury the hand but she once again refused. With the compensation she received for her daughter's death, the woman said she held a service in the US and one in Guyana.
Rajkumar and the couple's younger children were still in Guyana when the tragedy occurred but they have since moved to the US. He said every year they receive a letter of invitation from the office of the governor and the mayor to a memorial service at 'Ground zero.' Along with thousands of other relatives and friends they trek down to the location. A ramp has been set up and they would go down and lay flowers, photographs and other mementos along with others.
"We still talk about her sometimes. We can't forget. We still live in the same house she used to live," the man said.
"That [the tragic death of her daughter] is something I would take to my grave. It is hard for we as immigrants to come and make it so far for her to die like that. But we have to go on" the woman said.
'We have kept her apartment'
The brother of 42-year-old Hardai Parbhu, Kenneth Persaud, told Stabroek News that the family has kept the woman's apartment although no one lives in it. The man, who lives in Guyana, said that another sister, who lives in Canada, would visit the apartment from time to time and clean it out and spend some time there as she feels closer to her now dead sister. The man said that his sister would sometimes put on the answering machine with her sister's voice. Parbhu was speaking to her sister on that fateful morning and told her, "I think something is happening. I will call you back." That call was never made as the woman perished along with thousands.
Persaud, who travelled to the US twice for services for his sister, said that they have still not yet quite come to grips with the woman's death.
"We have been thinking about it all the time. Just recently the family met, we just sat down and reminisced. We really, really miss her," the still grieving man said.
He said it was even more difficult as they have never seen a body and as a result they can only keep memorial services from time to time, "but nothing to really bury."
He said it was only recently he turned out back to work because he was unable to cope with the tragedy of the death of his big sister who used to help out the rest of the family.
Like other families, memories of Parbhu will be fresh in their minds today.
'Enjoy your coffee dad'
These words will never stop resonating in the ears of Bhola Bishundat since they were the last uttered by his son, Kris Romeo Bishundat. He was cruelly snatched away from the family when a plane crashed into the Pentagon on that fateful day. He died just three days before his 24th birthday.
Speaking to Stabroek News from his Maryland home, Bishundat said five years later they still find it difficult to deal with the fact that their only son and the eldest of their three children is no longer here. He still remembers that day as his son was living with them. They had awakened and got dressed, but his son was leaving before him. As he went out, he said, "Have a nice day dad. Enjoy your coffee". When he heard of the plane crashing into the Pentagon he never thought his son had died but rather he pictured him helping to get persons out of the building. "He was also very helpful so I said to myself he was just helping people as he always did. But when I didn't hear anything from him late in the evening, I start to worry and then we were told he was missing." Unlike those who died at the WTC, Kris's body was recovered and he was given a full military funeral with his remains being laid to rest at the Arlington Cemetery, a military resting place.
The family is not going to allow their son's memory to die and over the years they have had several activities to remember him. This year they had a walk-a-thon last Saturday with the proceeds going to the Pentagon Memorial society. The father said he hopes to make the event an annual one. He said the young man had many friends and they still rally around the family and along with Kris' two sisters they would work to ensure that he is remembered.
"He was a fun-loving person, he always used to help out everyone," was how Bishundat remembers his son.
Kris was born in Guyana at Cane Grove, East Coast Demerara, but left for the US when he was just two and a half years old. The young man always wanted to be in the military and his father is glad that he fulfilled that dream before he was taken away.
Kris was the grandson of Mr and Mrs C Persaud and Santlall Persaud and the late Reowattee Persaud of Mahaicony Creek.
'No more frequent nightmares'
GHK Lall, who was in the vicinity at the time of the collapse of the WTC, experienced the tragedy at an up close and personal level. He recalls that for the first few months the "days were numbing and somewhat eerie" with "stares of suspicion" being felt and a "nagging discomfort [hovering] in conversations and exchanges."
He said while back then the nightmares of exploding planes and burning buildings were frequent; now they are months apart.
"And just when the memories were beginning to fade, the revelations in August about the latest terror plot in the UK [United Kingdom] only served to return everyone back to an unwanted place, and with all the associated baggage," he said.
"In five years since the fall of the WTC, my life has seen a series of movements; a narrowing of minds; a change in the way the routine is now conducted; some personal physical effects; and an environment characterized by distrust," he said.
But that is not all, for Lall certain respiratory problems seem to have worsened and while he said it could very well be age it could also be the intensity of the seasons. "Sometimes I ask myself if there is any linkage to the cloud of dust inhaled and ingested five years ago [when the WTC collapsed]," he said.
And what about all those security measures implemented since that infamous day? Lall said he is a frequent traveller and has had to make some adjustments to the detectors, searches, removal of belts and shoes etc. "The measures are more of an inconvenience than anything else, and I must confess to doing my own covert surveillance of other travellers."
He believes that the day that the towers went down, America's innocence perished in the pyre. "A trusting, wounded people withdrew and erected a protective curtain. It has been drawn against friend, colleague, neighbour, and especially the foreign born." Lall said he struggles to understand such a reaction from a generous, warm-hearted people while admitting that it is never comforting to be viewed through "a concealed telescope of assigned guilt."
But there may be some positive in such reaction as Lall said the awareness of being an outsider beyond one's immediate circle has enabled an even greater focus on things personal and local - as in Guyana. "At the end of the day, I have learned to be more patient, to be more tolerant, and to be more appreciative of the positives."
'America is back to normal'
Emile Mervin, who had gone for an interview nearby at the time of the attack, feels that five years after the tragedy America has "bounced back to the point where no one walks around literally thinking about another terrorist attack." However, Mervin said it does not mean another attack is not possible or likely, "given the ongoing releases of tapesâ€¦" but Americans, as well as foreigners living in America, have resumed normal living.
Mervin, who lived through the experience, posited that if the terrorists' aim was to disrupt America, they only succeeded temporarily and if the aim was to bring America to her knees, they failed. But one area that has definitely been affected by 9-11 has been the airline industry. Passengers continue to undergo some serious adjustments getting on board and being on board planes flying into and out of America.
"An area of more personal concern has been the profiling of people of Middle Eastern appearance. It is not a nice thing to use a broad brush to define a people in such a way, but the people who carried out the attacks were from the Middle East and lived at one time on American soil, so there will always be a measure of apprehension when people of a Middle Eastern appearance in American communities are viewed with suspicion or scepticism"
He said in New York persons are becoming accustomed to the police presence almost everywhere. "In the downtown Manhattan financial district security remains extremely tight, but business continues."
Mervin, not keen to give his personal experience, dealt with how life has been for a citizen living in the US. He noted that New York's subway system which transports about five million people daily has been the focus "of the federal, state and city's security honchos, because of devastating attacks by terrorists in other subway systems overseas." He said millions have been earmarked for security which, itself, has been beefed up and continues to be beefed up on New York's trains and stations. The latest proposal, he said, is to have buses equipped with cameras.
Still, the public has even been cooperative by following recommendations to report any suspicious person or package to subway personnel or police officers.
He said what he finds amazing is the fact that Americans from other states and foreigners continue to flock to what is now known as 'Ground Zero', the site where the towers once stood. "It is a must-see for visitors."
Romeo Bishundat, 23, a Guyanese, was one of those persons killed at the Pentagon on September 11. His funeral was held last week (October 18) at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo Credits: Dr.Odeen Ishmael - Ambassador of Guyana to the United States.
Click on thumbnail for larger picture.
Another Guyanese reported missing in U.S. terrorist attacks
ANOTHER Guyanese was yesterday reported missing and presumed dead in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
The latest victim was identified as Bhowanie Devi Khemraj,* (see footnote) Guyana's Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Odeen Ishmael told the Chronicle.
He said the information came from New York City authorities dealing with the recovery and other matters related to the terrorist attack on New York.
Khemraj lived in Jersey City, New Jersey and she worked in the World Trade Center in Manhattan which collapsed after two hijacked passenger aircraft slammed into it.
This brings to 25 the number of Guyanese who died or are missing in the terrorist attacks in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Ishmael said.
Twenty-three others died in the World Trade Center attack and one in the explosion at the Pentagon.
Ambassador Ishmael said Guyana's Consul General in New York, Mr. Brentnold Evans was trying to get more information on Khemraj as no other details were available on her. "This has taken us by surprise as no family member had contacted us about her being missing", he said.
Ishmael said Evans was trying to get an address and other details to see what help can be offered to her family to get benefits from New York authorities.
He said many Guyanese live in Jersey City and no one had reported that Khemraj had been missing.
He said New York authorities informed the Guyana Consulate in New York about her, adding "we are checking on it."
The 24 others missing or dead in the attacks are Patrick Adams; Rudy Bacchus; Kris Romeo Bishundat (killed in the Pentagon attack, was buried last week); Pamela Boyce; Annette Dataram also known as Priya; Sabita Guman; Nizam Hafiz; Ricknauth Jaggernauth; Charles Gregory John; Sarah Khan; Amarnauth Latchman; Shevonne Mentis; Marcus Neblett; Hardai Parbhu; Vishnu Ramsaroop; Ameenia Rasool; Sita Sewnarine; Shiv Shankar; Kamini Singh; Ronald Singh; Astrid Sohan; Joyce Stanton; Patricia Stanton and Vanava Thompson.
By Allison Butters
in New York
...long before the soul-stirring programme got under way, inside the church, the atmosphere was almost surreal.
Light from chandeliers
enveloped invitees in a warm glow. In a corner, the photographs of some
of the missing and dead were displayed against a stark red backdrop, mounted
on an easel.
For almost four hours
Sunday afternoon, families and friends of 24 missing Guyanese packed into
the pews of the Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church in Brooklyn
and prayed, gave thanks, searched for answers, comforted each other and
celebrated the lives of their beloved.
CHARLES GREGORY JOHN
It was a stately affair,
as the organisers promised.
It began with an Organ
Prelude by Bert Rudder. Trumpet blasts preceded the call to worship under
the theme `God Is Our Refuge And Strength'.
There was the presentation
of the national colours and throughout the programme Guyana's Golden Arrowhead
flew proudly alongside the Star Spangled Banner.
The congregation sang
the `Hymn For Guyana's Children' as heartily
as it did `God Bless America', now a signature refrain on television and
various memorial services since the September 11 tragedy.
It was a programme with
a touch of classical music, flavoured with serene Indian dance rhythm.
The sound of mournful
sax played during the Ninja Band's performance of John Lennon's `Imagine'
added poignancy to the moment. At the request of the band leader, members
of the congregation held hands in memory of a fallen Guyanese daughter -
"She was one of our
biggest fans. Shevonne attended most of our functions. We will miss her."
Simple statements said with a depth of emotion made those in attendance
painfully aware that there were 24 Guyanese whose relatives and friends
were grappling with their loss.
But long before the soul-stirring programme got under way, inside the church, the atmosphere was almost surreal.
Many felt the pull of
this board and gravitated closer for a look at the fallen.
In one photograph, a man
in ceremonial Guyana Defence Force (GDF) uniform struck a military-like
pose. He was Patrick Adams - "Adie" to his friends.
The dark-skinned beauty,
in a black evening gown, who had smiled into the camera on some happy occasion
was Shevonne Mentis.
The young man with the
attractive grin and gold sports chain was former Guyana middle-order batsman
For the first time, many
could put a face to the name, Astrid Sohan - a serene looking woman
who would have celebrated her 33rd birthday on September 25. Astrid was
an Assistant Vice President at Marsh & McLennan and was planning to
marry her fiancé shortly.
Also remembered with love
was Rudy Bacchus. This former Vice President of Merrill Lynch formed
his own company `Rudy Bacchus Floor Broker'.
He was attending a breakfast
at `Windows On The World' that fateful morning when terrorists crashed two
hijacked aircraft into the World Trade Center's Twin
very responsible, extremely humourous and religious person," his bio
Rudy Bacchus was an ordained
Deacon of the Second Baptist Church in Machuten, New Jersey. His photograph
showed a man decked in matching bow tie and felt hat and a broad smile that
showed a zest for life.
"A caring person
with a pleasant personality, Amenia will forever be in our hearts"
was the remembrance offered by the family of the woman with the confident
gaze and matching pearl earrings and chain.
family chose a photo that showed off a 25-year-old young woman with bright
eyes and an impish look. According to her relatives, Anette was the "life"
of the family and she loved meeting people and going places. A
graduate of Manhattan Community College, she had majored in accounting.
"Goodbye Rick! God
bless you and keep you in his care" was the message from Ricknauth
The bespectacled Charles
Gregory John led an active life. For years he served as a member of
the Jaycees and Lions Club. He
was a Past President of the Brooklyn Winthrop Lions and a Zone Chairman.
Charles was also a family man.
No one knew that the ivy
plant he bought for his mother four days before the September 11 tragedy
would have been his final present to her. On that fateful Tuesday, John
was on duty as an employee of Mandel Security Bureau and based at Fuji Bank
in one of the WTC towers.
Two of his colleagues
in uniform stood heads bowed opposite each other beside the flags of the
U.S. and Guyana.
"We had to be here
for John. He was the best," one remarked after the service.
Another featured photograph
was that of Sarah Khan who left behind husband Nizam and daughters
Shaneiza, 13 and Ameiza, 11. Sarah loved to cook, sing and listen to Indian
Organisers were unable
to obtain pictures of all 24 victims but those that they did told stories
of full lives.
was eerie to hear the 24 names of the missing or dead - Patrick Adams; Rudy
Bacchus; Kris Romeo Bishundat; Pamela Boyce; Annette Dataram aka Priya;
Sabita Guman; Nizam Hafiz; Ricknauth Jaggernauth; Charles Gregory John;
Sarah Khan; Amarnauth Latchman; Shevonne Mentis; Marcus Neblett; Hardai
Parbhu; Vishnu Ramsaroop; Ameenia Rasool; Sita Sewnarine; Shiv Shankar;
Kamini Singh; Ronald Singh; Astrid Sohan; Joyce Stanton; Patricia Stanton
and Vanava Thompson - being called individually and followed by silence.
KRIS ROMEO BISHUNDAT
`His Eye Is On The Sparrow...and
I know he watches over me', many eyes were damp after Trenton Mack performed
"We saw the tears
and our tears flowed across the ocean. From 31 countries across the Americas
we realised we were one. Tragedy came to us on September 11.
"It was not an American
tragedy but an assault on all of us," Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
said in a preamble to the message he read from President Bharrat Jagdeo.
"You and I must eschew violence and the things that make for violence
and set people against people in death-dealing hate. We must seek the peace
that our several faiths teach for ourselves; we must promote it assiduously;
we must teach it to our children; that ours may be a better world and country
in which people will not live in fear or die at the hand of violence,"
the President urged in his message.
"I have this image
of my Guyanese fellows searingly burnt on my mind and savagely tattooed
on my soul: There they lie, struck down in full bloom. Death lies on them
like some blight on my country's fairest flowers.
"As we meet here
today to mourn the loss of our people and celebrate their lives, fate and
faith remind us of the norms of civilised society with its attendant fragilities.
To provide comfort to grieving family members and to garner some understanding
of the tragedy, we must pause and reflect at this memorial gathering.
"They had strong
family ties and values. They worked hard for a living to support relatives
in the U.S. and back in the land of their birth, Guyana. They worshipped
through different faiths and prayed daily for guidance, understanding that
fate might have its own agenda or prescription of how things will turn out.
"This humbling ever-presence
of the unknown serves, usually, to anchor us more deeply and to cherish
the joys and gifts of daily living. And we can say accurately that our departed
nationals lived such lives. More than that, they were good citizens."
The message ended with
the President offering heartfelt condolences to those who grieve and the
consoling words, "All will be well; and all manner of things will be
well. We will mourn our loss, but we will have hope.
"The pilgrims have
dipped beyond the horizon, in the dying twilight, you are gone friends.
We love you. Goodbye!"
State senator John Sampson,
who is of Guyanese parentage, urged the gathering to support each other
in the long term.
"We must be there
not just for a few days. We must ask not why this tragedy happened, but
what we can learn from it," he exhorted.
Colin Moore who lost his
cousin Vanava Thompson in the tragedy recalled her last words to
his mother that fateful morning - "Mom I'll call you later."
Moore struck a chord when
he noted that the September 11 tragedy left many without that promised last
A total of 12 spiritual
leaders participated in the service, offering prayers and messages.
They were: Bishop Heron
Sam, Rev. Dr. Ingram Hodge, Pandit Roop Sukhram,
Rev. Dr. Evelyn John,
Rev. Rodwell Thom, Imam Haji Zakir, Rev. Geo Frederick,
Pandit Mahadeo Ramsaroop,
Bishop Maurice Vaughn, Deputy Imam Abdul Shafiek,
David Clarke and Rev. Dr Joy Thomas.
In their messages of hope,
Revs. Thom and Frederick and Deputy Imam
In the end, the consensus
was that God was there on September 11 in the last moments of those who
perished. "God was there when loved ones trapped inside burning buildings
called to say `I love you' one last time".
The sorrowing were urged
to "keep the faith" by trusting in their God who ultimately turns
evil into good.
Some four hours later,
as the 24 candles on the altar burned low, each member of the congregation
lit a candle.
The flames inside the
church resembled small beacons on the sea and a sense of hope and serenity
filled Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church as those within sang
with feeling `God Bless America'.
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