I don’t know why, but I recently recalled this exchange and remembered how elaborate my answer had been and thought this would be a good place for it to see the light of day.
As many of you know, I was with a group of students finishing up a 5-week study abroad trip to England in July of 2005 when the July 7, 2005 bombings happened. Just after it happened, I didn’t make a big deal out of it because I think that’s how I dealt with it all. It’s only in the years since that I’ve come to realize how big a deal it really was.
About a year ago, I got a note from a local reporter for our school paper inquiring about my experience. Below is an excerpt from her initial note:
“I am a reporter for The Daily Eastern News and am working on a story about how although there have been many terrorist attacks, it hasn't had any noticeable effect on Eastern's Study Abroad Program.”
I cheerfully replied that yes, I’d be willing to help her out. I don’t know if it was buried feelings or slight resentment from how she was approaching this topic, but below was my word-for word reply to her to her direct questions:
2. Are you still an Eastern student? If so, what year are you? - Yes. I am finishing my Master’s Thesis for English and Creative Writing and beginning a second degree in Early Childhood Education.
3. Where were you when the terrorist attack occurred? - We were in the Royal National Hotel, just off of Tavistock Square. We were between the tube stops of Russell Square and King’s Cross, though Russell Square was closer to us.
After the incidents on the tube, we were on our way out for the day when we were stopped by two girls who had seen the injured passengers coming off of the tube at Russell square. No one knew what was going on. It was referred to as “an explosion”. The two girls were quite shaken and upset, and they told us to stay where we were for right then, that was the word from our professors.
To be honest, it wasn’t on the news yet and we had no idea of the severity. We thought of it as a minor delay in our day. We complied with our professor’s wishes, though, and as we stood talking about how to rearrange our plans for the day if we couldn’t take the tube, there was a loud boom. Our windows rattled. They were open of course, because it was July and there was no air conditioning. We stopped talking for a moment and looked toward the window, then, not knowing what had happened, kept talking. That boom had been the bus, just across from our hotel.
Who were you with? - When the tube explosions occurred I think I was having breakfast in the hotel with Kristy, my roommate, and some other friends we were about to set out with. I was again with Kristy in our room when we heard the bus explode.
4. About what time did the attack occur? It was in the morning, between roughly 9:00 and 10:00 AM.
5. What was your immediate reaction to the attack? What emotions did you feel?
My immediate reaction was numbness. I felt confused. I didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t even being covered by the news yet, so it was very disconcerting.
Until I went outside, I didn’t know what to feel. After I saw the bus, but I didn’t know what it was or what had happened, I remember feeling a kind of tingling, as if something big was happening all around me and it might have a major effect on all of us, but it might not. It was very similar to how I felt on Sept. 11. So in a way, Sept.11 has really prepared me to deal with these strange emotions. But I wasn’t in New York or D.C. on Sept. 11. This time, I was right in the middle of it.
6. Were any special measures taken after the attacks, by England or by the leaders of the group? What were these measures?
We were told to call our parents and tell them we were OK. I didn’t want to do this at first because I didn’t really know how severe and dangerous this situation really was. It was 4:00AM at home, and I thought calling and waking my mother to tell her I was fine would just make her mad and cause her to worry more. However, soon we were told to pack all of out things and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The police had informed the hotel we may need to evacuate at any minute. I rushed, as everyone else did to pack up my things. And then I waited, which was agonizing, and though I still didn’t know what was going on, I knew if we were going to be evacuated I should give in a call my mom.
Finally, when news started appearing on TV of all this, I began to understand what was going on, and what I had seen outside. There was a G8 summit going on up in Scotland that day, and Tony Blair was hosting it. It was clear what was going on had something to do with that. We were told that Blair would be returning to London immediately and speaking at noon. I’d never been so anxious to hear a politician speak in all my life.
7. What was the response of the overall group?
Mixed. One girl saw the bus explode. She was shaken for the rest of the day. We bonded for a brief time as we never had on the whole 5 week trip. We forgot social groups and circles and gathered in one room to hear Tony Blair speak. It was only then when he spoke that the word “bomb” that it was uttered for the first time.
I remember only then feeling truly afraid for maybe one of the only times in my life. I stood in the hallway, and I heard from a room the BBC announcer warning all in the Tavistock square area not to be alarmed if we heard more explosions, as the police were finding unexploded devices in trash cans and setting them off in controlled settings. I don’t know if that was true or not because after that day I never heard anything else about it, but for that moment, when we were being told we might have to evacuate at any moment, I realized that there may be a bomb in our building. I realized there was a possibility this had all been planned and we were just unlucky enough to happen to be there on that day. Very few times in my life have I ever truly felt what it’s like to think that I might actually die, but that moment it happened. Of course, I knew thoughts like that were no good, so it passed, but sometimes, in a situation like that I think you have to deal with your own mortality, even if for just a moment, because only when we reach such a psychological low can we begin to mentally and emotionally look up and see how lucky and blessed we are. There’s a natural sense we all have to preserve our life at all costs and I think that feeling got me through the rest of that uncertain day.
8. What were the names of the professors who were on the trip? How did they handle the situation? Our professors were Dr. Randy Bebe and Dr. Jad Smith. They were fantastic. They recognized the severity of the situation immediately and began taking measures to ensure our safety. They were honest and open with us about what was going on and what they were attempting to do to get us out of there and what our options were. We were on our very last day of the trip and we were to fly out the next day. However, by the afternoon the police had roped off our hotel and told us if we left at all, we could not come back. We were stuck there all day long. We were supposed to take the tube to the train station the next day to get to the airport. But the tube wasn’t running and was shut down indefinitely, and as far as we knew the trains weren’t running either. Our professors worked hard to try and ensure we would be able to get to the airport the next day. They held regular meetings with us in the hallways to keep us updated and informed.
9. About how soon after the attacks did you return home?
We managed to leave the next day. It was not easy getting to the train station, but by that day, the trains were running again. We were supposed to have vans pick us up, but the police wouldn’t let them pull up to the hotel. So we had to take out luggage (5 weeks worth of luggage I might add) and get a police escort out of the protected area. Once out, we were told to wait for our van, which never came. We then had to walk farther and pair off to catch taxies. One taxi driver got angry at us when we asked to be taken to the train station. He pushed our luggage back at us and told us he wasn’t driving to any train station with everything that was going on. I walked back to Dr. Bebe and asked him to please deal with the taxi drivers from then on. He did.
10. Did the attacks impact the rest of your trip at all? Very much. We were supposed to have a full day in London, but instead we got trapped in our hotel by the police all day. Then getting to the airport was the biggest burden we’d had the whole trip.
11. Did the attacks affect your feelings about traveling overseas? How so?
No, I feel no differently about traveling overseas. What happened in London could happen anywhere, and we just happened to be there when it did. But things like that don’t happen everyday, and having experienced Sept. 11 and July 7 I have learned that fear cannot rule your life. Caution and common sense are of course of vast importance, but fear can only hold you back from life. Risk is a part of our everyday lives, and I for one am not about to let that keep me from someday going back and seeing all the things I missed that day in London.
12. Is there anything else you think would be helpful for me to know?
To be honest, we were very lucky that our group was not hurt. Most of us slept in that day, some say it was because we could. It was the first day in many that we didn’t have to be up and ready to go for something by a certain time. Other say it was because our professors told us to avoid rush hour on the tube. I think they did, but I like most students probably was not paying that much attention. For me, it was because of breakfast. At Harlaxton, if you wanted to eat in the morning you had to be down before 9. At our hotel, as pitiful as the free breakfast was, it lasted until 10:00. So we sauntered down to breakfast that day around 9:00AM. Most of our friends were already ready to go, but we were, or rather, I was slow. If breakfast had been over by 9:00 that day, there is a good chance we would have left by 9:15. By then, the tubes were closed, and Kristy, who was in charge of transportation issues, knew the bus schedule, and had actually suggested a bus that stopped right outside of our hotel at 9:45. The only reason we were in our room when we got the order to stay put was because I forgot the right tube pass for the day, and I had to go back and get it. But it’s only in retrospect that I recognize all these dangers. At the time, all I was thinking about was all I was going to do that day in London, and how a tube closure might slow us down a bit. One of our professors and his wife had planned to get up and out by 8:00 AM, but they overslept. They would likely have been on the tube when the bombs went off.
- As you might imagine, I don’t think I really gave her the “spin” on the story she was looking for. Not surprisingly, I never heard back from her, and I didn’t ever hear or read anything about her story. If it was published, I rest assured she didn’t use my information. But I surprised myself with this outpouring. I guess I had a lot to say, and I’d never been given a chance.
This entry has stayed locked up in the sent file of my e-mail for a year, so I thought it was time that it at least got a chance to be seen by someone, since I guess there’s a lot of it in me.
Current Music: my boyfriend - on the radio!