I was wandering around the Albuquerque airport. My flight had been delayed, and I heard an announcement: “If anyone near Gate A-4 understands Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman was crumpled on the floor, wailing. In her traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, she reminded me of my grandmother.
“Talk to her,” urged the flight agent. “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?” She stopped crying. She thought the flight had been canceled. She needed to be in El Paso for a medical treatment the next day. I said, “You’ll get there, just late. Who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”
We called her son. In English, I told him that I would stay with his mother until we got on the plane. She talked with him. Then we called her other sons just for fun. Then we called my dad, and they spoke for a while in Arabic and found out that they had ten shared friends. After that, I called some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her.
She was laughing a lot by then, patting my knee, answering questions. She pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts and topped with sugar—from her bag and offered them to the women at the gate. To my amazement, no one declined. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all smiling, covered with the same sugar.
I looked around that gate and thought, This is the world I want to live in. One with no apprehension.
This can still happen anywhere, I thought. Not everything is lost.
Honeybee, by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 2006 by Naomi Shihab Nye, is published by HarperCollins publishers, harpercollins.com.