Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal


by Naomi Shihab Nye 


After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any
Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.


Well -- one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own
gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor,
wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her.
What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four
hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway,
min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?


The minute she heard any words she knew -- however
poorly used -
She stopped crying.


She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical
treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get
there, just late,


Who is picking you up? Let's call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on
the plane and
Would ride next to her -- southwest.


She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it.


Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.


Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call
some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took
up about 2 hours.


She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her
life. Answering
Questions.


She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies --
little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts --
out of her bag --
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.


To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It
was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler
from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo -- we were all covered
with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better
cookies.


And then the airline broke out the free beverages from
huge coolers --
Non-alcoholic -- and the two little girls for our
flight, one African
American, one Mexican American -- ran around serving
us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar
too.


And I noticed my new best friend -- by now we were
holding hands --
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some
medicinal thing,


With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling
tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.


And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones
and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.


Not a single person in this gate -- once the crying of
confusion stopped
-- has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

 
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other
women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

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