20 November 2015

My father calls early, he is upset. But I couldn't even tell him that and how I notice. I would not dare. Not my place in the careful arrangement of family hierarchies.
He would like to have a word with the French president. All this talk about wars. What does he know?! This is not war, this is threats, this is warmongering, this is dangerous. And so on.
But, I say. No but, he thunders back. Believe me, I know this.
But, I say, you were only 10 years old. Exactly, he replies.
But, I say, the French president has just announced that France will take on 30,000 Syrian refugees.
Not nearly enough, and it has nothing to do with it, don't change the subject, he shouts into my ear.
He has a point, my dad.

So we change the subject, slightly. There is always the weather to talk about, that and getting older.

Shortly after 9/11 and after another president had spoken about being at war, we were flying to Malaga. I had been warned about Malaga airport, only one toilet in the entire airport, downstairs, long queues, dirty. But of course now this was trivial information.
Waiting at the gate, the predictable crowd of off-season holiday tourists, mostly couples without kids, off to a bit of late summer in Andalusia.
And one single young man. With a beard, a black beard. His complexion and hair colour seemed darker by the minute, as did the expression on his face as he noticed being watched. Discretely so, but we all had a good look. All the time. There was so  much to scrutinise, his suit, the open-necked shirt, his slightly scruffy shoes, a small bag too big or maybe too small for what?, but most of all, his seemingly determined stares. And now he put on sunglasses!
Of course, we played it down, we joked and R told me to get a grip and on board we ordered red wine.
When he did not collect any luggage, we knew it! But then we walked out onto the shiny marble floors of the arrival hall, flooded in sunlight and laughter, and, well, there he was, surrounded by his family, a toddler pulling his leg, a baby in his arms, tears in his eyes. We sneaked past him like the idiots we truly were.

Why do I remember this now? Because I just read this here:

Gate A-4
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Peso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”
We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane. 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 two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies— little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts— from her bag and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo— we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
Then the airline broke out free apple juice and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it 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 that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Naomi Shihab Nye


  1. BOTH stories are beautiful, yours and Ms. Nye's!

  2. Love it. We all need to hear these stories.

  3. Why are we all so afraid? And we're usually afraid of the wrong things.

  4. The universe is made of stories, not atoms.
    (Muriel Rukeyser)

    All is not lost. Sacred acts in community. Now I'm seeing your father as a frightened 10-year-old boy with no father to reassure him but the gift of a daughter who listens to him and and sees his point about the 30,000 Syrians. Doing what we can. In community. Not alone. Acknowledging our fears and hopes. Thank you, Sabine.

  5. Oh Sabine, what a wonderful post. Our humanity is not lost.

  6. What excellent stories!