Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal
--by Naomi Shihab Nye, posted Apr 26, 2007
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, that 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.
Soon after, she 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 are no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free (non-alcoholic) beverages from huge coolers 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.
I noticed that 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. Ah, 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 cries of confusion stopped -- was apprehensive about any other person.
They took to the cookies. All I felt like hugging everyone else.
Homemade mamool cookies.
A plant, some medicinal thing.
With green furry leaves.
And everyone was happy, enjoying themselves, and gleefully eating and drinking?
Homemade mamool cookies indeed.
It's a lovely tale of kindness among strangers spreading out into the people around them. Thank goodness you felt like helping after your pause!
I bet you've never had such a fun 4 hour delay! Thanks for sharing!
After hearing this read at a meditation retreat, i have found you on youtube and here, reading your beautiful poetry and prose. I hope to hear you in person sometime and i hope to meet you. Thank you so much for such beautiful writing.
I remember you coming to my school a few months ago (mps), and i was pleasantly surprised to find this of yours. It was great meeting you. :)