Wherever people gather in Washington and its suburbs, the topic of conversation is last Tuesday's attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Tayuddin Aria, a forty-year-old native of Lagos with traces of ritual scars on his face, spoke for three Nigerians gathered next to a row of taxicabs in front of one of Washington's busy hotels.
"Shocked and devastated. I couldn't believe this could happen," he said. "You know, it could happen only in a movie. But for it to actually happen! It scared me, and it's a terrible shock and a terrible tragedy."
Nevertheless, Mr. Aria, who came to the United States ten years ago, does not feel that his life will change as a result of the attacks. "I feel secure in this country, because I know they can handle it, the people, the government, they can do it. You know, we're gonna be protected. So it was a shock, it scared us, but still, I think the security is okay."
A colleague of Mr. Aria's, another taxi driver from Nigeria who would identify himself only as a "man of the world", chimed in to say that the country's security might even improve as a result of the terrorist attacks. "From now on, we should feel more secure, because we know now that we're vulnerable, and we have to do everything to prevent this from happening again."
Dr. James Babalola, a doctor of forensic medicine originally from Lagos, Nigeria, who joined his friends the cabdrivers at the taxi stand, also felt that America would withstand the shock of the events of last Tuesday. "I think America will remain strong, they can't destroy the foundation of America," he said. "The social fabric of this country is great. What they did was alter our physical structure. Nothing has changed about our psychological makeup. We're still the same people that we are. America is strong and bold."
Two people staff a well-known Middle-Eastern sweet shop on the outskirts of Washington, the Samadi café. A Bolivian who came to this country five years ago is in charge of the many trays of Middle Eastern delicacies. Thirty-nine year old Adhemar Severich says his faith in the United States remains unshaken. "I think this country is the best in the world," he said. "The government thinks about the people, [whether they are] citizens or immigrants. In this country people have the guarantee. This country is the best."
Mr. Severiche's assistant in the sweet shop, Abbas Al Ahmad, 28, immigrated from Lebanon only six months ago. "I am coming here to work, and I come from my country because in my country you have a war sometime," he said. "The people is dead in my country. I am coming to America because life is good, the people are good, there is no war and now, what happened, I don't know. Why? It's a big country here, why did this problem happen? My feelings are very miserable now."
Baktash Agram, a 20-year-old student of finance at Northern Virginia Community College, was born in the United States just after his parents fled here from Afghanistan. He grew up speaking Farsi in a traditional Afghan household. But last Tuesday, neither he nor his parents had any doubts as to where their sympathies lay.
"I felt, you know, the attack was unjust, I thought, you know, my loyalty wasn't misplaced, it was with America from the very beginning. Given that my parents are from Afghanistan, they support Americans the whole way," he said.
The young man is concerned, however, that as a result of the terrorist attack Americans might begin to look askance at all Middle Easteners. He thinks that he can already sense a change in how people react to him."Most stores that I go out to, I just notice that people give me second glances, being more careful of, you know, their perception of who I am, where I come from, what exactly I'm thinking," he said. Twenty-year-old Elal Tahele, another student at Northern Virginia Community College, immigrated to the United States from the United Arab Emirates just three months ago. Ms. Tahele was born and raised in Abu Dhabi by parents who resettled there from Eritrea. For her, the events of last Tuesday were an eerie echo of the situation she had grown up with in the Middle East.
"Oh, my God, this can't be happening. It was horrible. Like so many people died. Because I was hearing about all this war and everything back in the Middle East, and now coming here, and this happening, and innocent people dying, it's just horrible," she said.
Despite everything, Elal Tahele has no qualms about choosing to come to the United States to live. "I like America, you know, the people, the life. I mean, you know, they don't call this the "land of the free" for nothing. I just love America. I like everything about it here. Everything. I feel that it's my home, although I've been here for three months."