Poetry: “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal” by Naomi Shahib Nye

Art Installation National Gallery of Art Photo by Keri Douglas

Travelers know the risks, know the loneliness and even know the fear of the ‘what ifs’ starting out on the journey. Yet, each journey is filled with a story to give hope, compassion and a reminder that we are all human and connected. Following is “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal” by Naomi Shahib 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 canceled 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

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.

You know this story, don’t you. You have shared your own cookies, cried in fear of being lost or stuck somewhere foreign to you or afraid of missing an important occasion.

I know all to well all of my patron traveling saints who have protected me and kept me safe during my travels. Think of an older Latino man sharing his oranges and cookies with me on a bus in Los Angeles many years ago. The ladies in Tibet feeding me their precious yak jerky to revive me after almost passing out in a hot springs. Or, Bismark, the taxi cab driver in Geneva, who when he discovered that my hotel I was supposed to stay at was closed because it was late in the night, made sure to find an open hotel with a room for me and didn’t leave me on the dark empty street. So many people who in their own way ensure the safety and protection of visitors, travelers are truly in essence the spirit of the Good Samaritan.

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye, an Arab American, who lives in San Antonio, Texas gives voice to the humanity of two cultures – revealing our traditions, our customs and ultimately, our hearts.

I learned this morning these cookies mentioned in the poem are made especially for the Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, which happens to be today. Lovely coincidence.

By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, D.C.


2 thoughts on “Poetry: “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal” by Naomi Shahib Nye

  1. Hi Keri, All relatives gather here to Celebrate Easter. I would love if u were here and at Church to witness the Culture and Tradition. We were in Church from 9 pm until 3 Am. And today a BIG Feast. I read the article, and was amazed, but listen, is it the case they close the door after a certain time in Geneva. But the story I read is Amazing!!! Best Bekele

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Bekele,
    Happy Easter!
    I wish you and your family a wonderful day and feast.

    P.S. Bismark, was a saint in disguise. He even traveled with a Bible in between the front seats of his taxi. The hotel had said they would welcome guests late in the evening but for some reason the doors were locked and they didn’t answer the phone. Bismark easily could have left right then, but instead, he pulled out a directory from the truck of his taxi to call area hotels to find out who was open and who had space. A very kind person. I’ll never forget him.

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