In Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal poet Naomi Shihab Nye tells of an encounter that revealed to her, “This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.”
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.
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.
Read it all here