Gate A-4 Naomi Shihab Nye

Gate A-4

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning

my flight had been delayed for 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 loudly. “Help,”

said the flight service person. “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 woma and spoke to her 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 Paso for major medical treatment the

next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is

picking you up? Let’s call 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 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–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 mom from California, the

lovely woman from Laredo–we were all covered with the same powdered

sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.


And then the airline broke out free beverages from huge coolers and two

little gils from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice 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 tradi-

tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.


And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I 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.


By Naomi Shihab Nye, from Here.



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