Windows on the World Waiter Recalls 9/11

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Marco Werman: It's almost 10 years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There are countless stories of that day and of the days that followed. Thousands of lives were lost. Thousands more were transformed. Here's one story from a man who used to wait tables at the World Trade Center in New York in a restaurant at the top of tower one, the north tower.

Fekkak Mamdouh: My name is Fekkak Mamdouh and I'm an immigrant, come from Morocco. And I find a job working at Winds on the World, two floors, 106 and 107 of tower one of the World Trade Center. It was a good gig you know, people are like, we were family, we were really family.

Werman: Mamdouh was a shop steward for the restaurant union at Windows on the World. He knew everyone who worked there, often their families too. On the night of Sept. 10th, Mamdouh and his coworkers worked the dinner shift.

Mamdouh: We come, we serve, people come in from all over...joking, forget the name of one of the waiters that was joking the whole night, an Argentine waiter. And on Sept. 11th I was sleeping when my sister called me from Italy and she said where are you? And I said I'm sleeping. And she said there was a plane that just hit the building. And I said what? I wake up and turned the TV [on] and I saw the building where I used to work, it's in flames. And I know that if it's not in the floor that I was working, it's just below it a little bit, because we are 106, 107. And I was waiting for our people to go to the roof. So a helicopter could come and pick them up because that's what we've been told. Even they told my wife, watch what's going to happen...people are gonna go on top and a helicopter is gonna come and is gonna try to save some of them. No helicopters come, nobody come to their safety. So, while I'm waiting for these helicopters to come to pick up my brothers and sisters, that they are stuck there, I saw another plane come in and hit in the second building. I thought this is not an accident. This is an act of whatever. And I was like wow. And being a Muslim I was like I hope it's not the Muslims. I hope they're not gonna put this on us and they're not gonna blame us. And I don't even think about one of us would do any harm to this country because we are American. I don't see myself like I'm another alien from another place. You know, we have kids, we have families and we're like everybody else you know, we just come to this country late. The next day my job was like, I was outside looking for my brothers and sisters. The union give me this tag where it said "search team." People who punch in and punch out, we don't have no machines; we don't know who made it that morning. We don't know if somebody called sick, we don't know. So I went to hospitals. I went all the way to New Jersey, all the hospitals here and across the river there to New Jersey to just look to see if one of us made it, or one of us in the hospital. So it took us 3-4 days going all over looking. We couldn't find nobody.

Werman: Eventually, after about a week, Mamdouh and his colleagues realized that they'd lost 73 people. After those long days of searching the demands of everyday life slowly returned; things like grocery shopping.

Mamdouh: I went to this big chain, it's supermarkets, me and my wife. And we were shopping, and while we were shopping we were passing by the fish place and we liked to get some fish. So my wife stand there and the guy did not even pay attention to her. She called him again and he did not pay attention. And I told him yo, she's talking to you. Then he told me why, because you don't know what you did? I said what we did? He told me well, the World Trade Center. Then as soon as I heard that it all come up to me and I start screaming at his face. I told him you just an idiot! It was so emotional because you know, I lost a good job. I lost a lot of good, good friends, and I'm blamed over it.

Werman: But Fekkak Mamdouh didn't have time to stay angry. 350 of his colleagues from Windows on the World were now out of work and in many cases struggling to stay afloat. He joined up with a partner and set about assisting them.

Mamdouh: So I was like I'm gonna go and find some money, and we're gonna find some jobs and we're gonna help those people.

Werman: The result was an advocacy group called the Restaurant Opportunity Center. In the decade since Sept. 11th it's expanded its operations to cities across the United States. But Fekkak Mamdouh's friends from that morning shift in New York are never far from his mind. In fact, he says they're his inspiration.

Mamdouh: It's tough, it's really hard, but we know that this is what the 73 people that were lost at Windows on the World would want us to do. We're gonna keep doing it. They are helping us from there. They are smiling. They are happy and we're gonna keep doing it to the last of our lives.

Werman: By the way, the Restaurant Opportunity Center runs its own co-op restaurant in New York called Colors. A second restaurant is scheduled to open in Detroit Sept. 12th.