First Day of New Millennium Begins
Jan. 01, 2000
Within her first few moments of wakefulness, Britt-Marie Paeiviaa knew all the important things about this day: how cold it had grown overnight, the hardness of the snow's glittering crust, the speed of the biting Arctic wind.
And, oh yes. That it was the beginning of a new millennium.
While much of the world was sleeping off the epic festivities that had swept from one continent to the next the night before, Paeiviaa, a 45-year-old reindeer herder in remote northern Sweden, arose at dawn Saturday and set about the same humble task that had shaped her family's life for generations: tending to the animals that are their livelihood.
Man is made of ordinary things, said the poet. And so is time made up of ordinary moments.
No matter that the planet had just thrown itself the biggest, loudest, costliest party ever seen. No matter that it celebrated the start of an extravagant span of time: a millennium, 10 times longer than most humans _ for now, anyway _ can even hope to live.
On the first day of the new era, in every corner of the world, the simple but powerful rhythms of daily life were already reasserting themselves: birth and death, faith and family, hope and despair.
A South Seas family matriarch told her grandchildren ancestral tales. A desperately ill man in the American heartland wondered how much time was left to him. Street kids huddled together for warmth in a rain-slicked Brazilian slum. A striving Chinese entrepreneur was happily on the job at his start-up Internet venture.
In dawn chill of Dublin, Ireland, Father Patrick Carroll was greeted by a parishioner as he unlocked the wrought-iron gates of his stately cathedral: a homeless man looking for a sleeping bag.
``The first request of the new century,'' said Father Carroll, ushering the man into a pew before hastening off to look for one. ``And it's for something as basic as a blanket.''
Two babies, two mothers, two worlds.
Elizabeth Castilia and Justin Soderstrom both came early to the new millennium. Each was born shortly after midnight Saturday: one in Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries, and the other in Sweden, one of the world's wealthiest.
Elizabeth's mother, Jeannette Germain, went into labor so fast she gave birth in her street clothes. Half an hour later, she was on her feet, cuddling her newborn and posing for a family photo.
The overcrowded hospital where Elizabeth was born, serving the slums of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, charges about $8 for a basic delivery. That's a major expenditure for Elizabeth's father, a street peddler.
``I'm going to knock myself out to provide for her,'' Reynold Castilia vowed.
At Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, a world-renowned facility affiliated with the institute that awards the Nobel Prize in medicine, Justin's mother Jennie said she was glad that Sweden's social welfare system would guarantee her 80 percent of her salary as a nurse's assistant while she took a year off to care for him.
Yet for all the vast disparity of their circumstances, the two young mothers _ Jeannette Germain is 25 and Jennie Soderstrom, 24 _ voiced similar sentiments as they watched dreamily over their newborns' first hours.
``Every mother hopes for their offspring to be happy,'' said Soderstrom. ``So do I.''
Said Germain: ``I want my daughter to have a beautiful life.''
For many, the turning of the millennium was little more than a peculiar preoccupation of the outside world, even if that world was close at hand.
Egypt staged a glitzy millennium fete at its Great Pyramids, but in a middle-class Cairo neighborhood a few miles away, Sayed Abdul Moneim and his family welcomed the day as yet another morning of the holy month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.
At 3 a.m., the family _ Abdul Moneim and his wife Sumaia, along with teen-age daughters Basma and Doua and toddler Mae _ gathered in their kitchen, the muddy streets outside lit by the glow of brightly colored Ramadan lanterns.
In silence, they shared a ``sohour,'' the pre-dawn Ramadan meal of fava beans with lime and olive oil, boiled eggs, black olives, yogurt and unleavened bread.
``In Islam, New Year's is not important,'' said Abdul Moneim, 41, an accountant in a government engineering company. ``All those parties are for foreigners, for Americans and Europeans. It is not the Islamic way.''
It was not the way, either, of Dina and Jonathan Bressel, observant Jews in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem. They spent Saturday as they spend every Jewish Sabbath: as a day of rest from profane matters, of prayer and study, of time with their four children, all under the age of 9.
Because of the strict prohibition against work on the Sabbath, they make painstaking preparations. They clean and cook beforehand. They even cut toilet paper into strips ahead of time, because tearing it would be considered work.
A new millennium? Not according to the Jewish calendar, which puts this year at 5760.
``It's exactly the same as any other Sabbath,'' said Dina Bressel, a 35-year-old native of Palo Alto, Calif., who immigrated to Israel with her husband 12 years ago. ``We're not going to know what's going on on the other side of town, even.''
On the other side of the globe, at a Zen temple outside Tokyo, chief priest Kenichi Ashibe presided over an early-morning New Year's service. Clad in brilliantly embroidered robes, he read aloud parishioners' wishes for the new year: good health, success in business, getting into the right school. It is natural, he said, to pray for such things, but worldly matters are not all that matters.
``It is time for us to stop,'' he said, ``and reflect upon ourselves.''
Frank Green has had a decade to do that. In 1990, the 42-year-old Indianapolis man learned he was HIV-positive. Now he has full-blown AIDS.
Even so, he is embarking on the new millennium in the spirit of hope, writing poetry and volunteering at a local AIDS clinic. The early hours of New Year's Day saw him puttering around his cluttered apartment, working on a book of memoirs.
``I've been telling everybody ... that I'm going to live to be a crotchety old man,'' he said.
Hope was more elusive in the Brazilian seaside city of Natal, where Saturday's first light found a 12-year-old street kid named Cleberson Barbosa de Souza bedding down on a rain-soaked sidewalk.
Most nights, he and other abandoned or runaway children who panhandle and shine shoes on a beachfront boulevard _ part of an army of tens of thousands of such children throughout Brazil _ don't sleep until after 8 a.m. Bed is a cardboard mattress on a mosaic of stones, with not even a blanket or a plastic sheet for protection from the downpour.
``I would like for things to be different,'' Cleberson said, as a sleeping 8-year-old friend nuzzled his shoulder. ``I'd like to buy things _ clothes, food. It won't happen. Things don't change much when you're on the streets.''
Far, far to the north in Massachusetts, that's just the sort of scene that breaks Laura Ryan's heart.
In her 13 years as an emergency medical technician for Boston EMS, one of the oldest ambulance services in the country, she has never been able to steel herself to the sight of a neglected child.
``It's that constant barrage. Kids aren't taken care of,'' said Ryan, who began her New Year's Day on the graveyard shift.
But small mercies are the saving ones. Early Saturday, Ryan and partner Bill Tuttle ministered to an 81-year-old woman who had called for help. They found her in bed, crying out in agony.
Before whisking the woman off to the hospital, the pair saw to it that a neighbor fetched a blue slipper that was left behind. She'd been worried about it.
If time is about the getting of wisdom, Kin Narita and Gin Kanie _ Japan's eldest and most famous twins _ are wise in abundance. They're 107.
On Saturday at their homes in Nagoya, west of Tokyo, they relished special New Year's delicacies and chatted about their long lives. The pair, whose first names mean silver and gold, are beloved by the Japanese public.
``I've come a long way!'' said Kin. Her New Year's resolution was to stay healthy and live longer.
Even at only 70, Winnie Powell has the formidable respect that only a family matriarch can command.
Powell, who lives on Tarawa _ the main island of the tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati, one of the first to welcome the millennium _ spent the night presiding over a family feast of fish and breadfruit, telling the children traditional stories.
``All night we remembered our ancestors and sang very, very old songs,'' she said. When morning came, it was time for a big cleanup _ sternly presided over, of course, by Powell.
Is the turn of a millennium a time for looking back, or forward? Cynthia Ngewu, who lives just outside Cape Town, South Africa, is firmly on the side of the future.
``I say thanks to God we are in the year 2000 now,'' said Ngewu, whose teen-age son Christopher Piet was gunned down in a police ambush in 1986, when apartheid held full sway.
At home with her family on New Year's Day, the portly 58-year-old _ regal in an blue African print dress and headdress _ said she had finally begun to come to terms with what had happened.
``My child is dead,'' she said. ``I must just forgive them.''
The future is on Chen Rui's side, too _ or so he firmly believes. An Internet entrepreneur in the hyper-dynamic Chinese city of Shanghai, he spent New Year's Day in the office tapping away on a business proposal.
``Working for yourself is a real hardship ... but when you succeed this way it's much bigger,'' said Chen.
Like so many lives in China, Chen's is but a brushstroke in a vast tableau. A defining question of the coming century will be whether China can balance freewheeling entrepreneurship with political reform.
Anwari, a stooped 45-year-old who works on the banks of India's Ganges River, takes an even longer view of things.
On Saturday, he was at his usual task, carefully arranging the body of a woman in a red sari on one of the funeral pyres that blaze on the Manikarnika Ghat, the main cremation site in the holy city of Varanasi.
Nearby, children shrieked in joy as they tugged at strings to prevent their colorful kites from falling into the river. On the bank, women bent over their washing.
Anwari, who uses one name, said his labors did not unduly distress him.
``Like I am burning other bodies today,'' he said, ``someone will burn mine.''
EDITOR'S NOTE _ This story was reported by Sari Bashi in Israel, Mike Cohen in South Africa, Joseph Coleman in New Zealand, Rex Huppke in Indianapolis, Vijay Joshi in Egypt, Joergen Knutsson and Harald Mollerstrom in Sweden, Todd Lewan in Brazil, Joe McDonald in China, Michael Norton in Haiti, Helen O'Neill in Ireland, Neelesh Misra in India, Laura Vozzella in Boston and Chisaki Watanabe in Japan.