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Africans in New York Remember - 2002-09-11

Crowded with workers, tourists and vendors, the streets of lower Manhattan are busy again. Round the corner south of Church and Liberty street, there’s the empty space that was once the World Trade Center. This time last year, the towers dominated the streets, bathing it in shadows for parts of the day.

26 year-old Zimbabwean immigrant, Simbai Chizingeni, works for an investment bank Lehman Brothers. The bank had its offices at the Third Financial Center, a few hundred meters from the World Trade Center.

Mr. Simbai says "as I turned on the TV and watching the second plane hit, not realizing that another plane hit the World Trade Center before, that’s where it hit me that something really, it was just out of this world, just to think even that something like that was happening."

Now a year later, he still can’t bring himself to walk around the corner toward the World Trade Center site.

For months after September 11th, everything was covered in ash and sooth, and three blocks away, the stench was everywhere. Residents and workers had to show their IDs to the National Guardsmen who were maintaining security.

For immigrants like Mr. Chinzingeni constantly thinking about the attacks makes it all look like a wake up call. "It’s been a wake up call for a lot of us immigrants, especially the other Africans I know. We’re all saddened by these attacks and someway one of our co-workers or someone may have been hurt, so it’s really been hard for us and being an immigrant in the US, the aftermath of what happened we kind of undersatnd why it may have happened, but are saddened by the fact that it could happen, because I’m a Zimbabwean, what if I was there, I have nothing to do with any trouble the US might have with the Arab World or anywhere else, but it’s tough reconciling those issues. "

But according to him, life now is pretty much back to normal. For others though, there’s a huge difference between today and this time last year. Small businesses that depend on street traffic, such as clothing stores and restaurants are still suffering. The vendors say if this were any other city, there’d be enough business to go around, but this is New York, where competition is fierce. There are more than fifty thousand fewer office workers in the area now – workers who will buy dress shirts or go out to lunch.

About five minutes away from Ground Zero, is an Ethiopian restaurant, Ghenet. A year, ago the manager Hanna Zenabu was running a plausible business. She says sometimes the restaurant would be so crowded they had to turn people away. Now the restaurant is large and empty with only one out of the twelve tables occupied. Despite a recent facelift, she says, the restaurant has become a ghost town.

Ms. Zenebu says most of her customers lost their families, child, brothers sisters, mother and fathers, and because of that, they’re not coming often like they use to do.

Ms. Zenebu says they’re just as she puts it “hanging on” and trying to start allover. And as one New York resident puts it, that’s what the city is all about, constantly reinventing itself - layering the new over the old. Different ethnic groups move in and out, businesses thrive where others died, buildings are renovated or torn down to make way for new ones. The area around the site of the former World Trade Center in lower Manhattan was once a thriving corridor of restaurants and small businesses. Business is still unsteady, but city officials hope that interest in the area's renovated apartments could help resurrect one of New York's busiest districts.