Today is Jeûne genevois (or Genevan Fast) here in the canton of Geneva, a public holiday.
Although people fasted in Europe as a way to remember famines, plagues and wars circa 1400, it is said that the first Jeûne genevois took place in October 1567, as an expression of Protestant Geneva’s solidarity with those Protestants that were then being persecuted in nearby Lyon. Five years later, another massacre triggered yet another fasting in September and so today we celebrate this day on the Thursday after the first Sunday in September (it varies by year, just like Thanksgiving in the States). Also, but unlike Thanksgiving, most people go right back to work on Friday and don’t usually make a long weekend out of it. I, too, will be right back to UNHCR bright and early tomorrow morning.
I feel compelled to show some penitence on this day, not so much because of Jeûne genevois but because it happens to be the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. It’s always a bit strange to go through a September 11 abroad, like when I was in Morocco for the 10th anniversary in 2011 or here, in Geneva, today. Here, everyone wakes to September 11 as though it were any other day in September (this year is the exception here in Geneva). There, in the U.S., everyone remembers and goes out of their way to do so. I woke up to an Instagram feed full of melancholic remembrances, to inspiring statements recounting the bravery of those who did all they could to recover the bodies of the many who lost their lives that day.
Admittedly, that day, in and of itself, did not change much for me – at the time I was 11 and didn’t even know what the World Trade Center was. The true significance of the attacks came to me much later.
Apart from that day, I’ll never forget the day that I was sitting in a human rights course during the summer of 2012, and we somehow got on the topic of the attacks. Our professor invited us all to share our memories of that moment in 2001. Some of my classmates were even younger than I was that year, and really had no strong feelings (at the time) or recollections, except that their parents rushed to pick them up from school. My mom did, too, which only added to my confusion. We lived in Miami, Florida, not in the heart of New York City. Others, though, were graduating from high school or had just started college or were living in the greater New York City area. One girl’s father worked at the World Trade Center but didn’t go to the office that morning because he had a doctor’s appointment – and to think that he could have.
Getting to learn about my classmates’ own experiences, which were quite different from my own, was so powerful. As sad as it may have been, I am continually struck by the significance of that day and how it, in turn, continues to unite us.
I, too, will never forget.