Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal

Someone recently shared this on the women's poetry listserve I'm on. I had to share it too--

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote up this Albuquerque Airport experience and sent to exactly two friends, who passed it on to friends, who passed it on and on . . .

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 are

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.

Not everything is lost.


  1. What a great poem. Thank you for posting this.

  2. That is so beautiful. And the way it travelled too...it is what I loved about poetry in this world.

  3. Greg,

    Thanks, I think it's just wonderful too.

    I agree. She writes the kind of work I wish I was writing. My biggest compliment to her.

    Thanks for your notes.


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