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Vancouver, Washington, United States
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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A touching experience

I wrote this a couple of months ago, but given my experiences this last week end, I wonder if it’s worth posting here.  It’s amazing how quick we are to come to judgment about others.  Sometimes if we care to take the time, we’ll gain a whole new dimension to the experience we’re going through.





I mostly forward things that I come across, but this is one I experienced myself, and feel compelled to commit it to writing because of how much it moved me.


Yesterday when I was taking a flight from Frankfort To Amman to see my family, and while waiting to board the aircraft, two men came and sat across from me and introduced themselves.  One of them was an Iraqi man, who was carrying his two year old son, whom he took to Germany for treatment.  The son was wounded in one of the American bombing raids, and some charitable organization helped him bring the little boy to Germany to see if there is anything they could do for him over there.  Unfortunately, the doctors told him that there was nothing they could do for his son, and that he will remain sightless for the rest of his life.  I guess that’s why the man came and sat across from me – he has just woken up to the fact that he too now has a blind son, and there is nothing anyone can do about that.


The man spoke no German, no English, in fact, he did not speak any foreign language.  The only language he spoke, so far as I could tell, was Arabic.  I tried to console him by telling him that blind persons these days can do so much because of the technology and awareness that exist.  I showed him my talking mobile phone and my talking computer, in order to prove to him that, even though I am a blind person, just as his son is, I am traveling the world, earning a decent living and living my life to the fullest.  He listened intently to what I had to say and uttered nothing except “well, that’s over there, over where they are, they have all these things, but what about us!”.  I must admit those words took me by surprise, and for a brief moment, I didn’t know what to say.  I regained my composure and tried to reassure him by telling him that all he can do is raise his son well, treat him just like everyone else, encourage him and make sure never to close any doors in his face, and that his maker will take good care of him.  I further told him that I was “there”, and through determination and perseverance, I managed to do what I wanted.  We left it there, as boarding began and chaos ensued.  The gentleman and his son were seated towards the middle of the aircraft, and I was seated all the way in the back, where a number of French, Swedish, German and other European passengers sat.


While the plane was landing, and right before we touched down, I heard one of the flight attendants say in a low, direct and angry voice, to someone who couldn’t hear her “sit down”.  A couple of seconds thereafter, the purser came on the speaker and said “sir, will you please sit down!”.  Landing continued, and by then we were taxiing on the ground in Amman, when, once again, the same flight attendant in the back was saying “can’t you listen, don’t you have ears”, in the same tone of voice as before.  No sooner has she finished uttering these words, the purser came on again with the same announcement “sit, down, sir!”.  An announcement was made a third time, and I can safely say that myself and others on the flight were getting concerned.  I guess the others were a step ahead of me as they could see what was going on, but it took me a while to sort it out, and I wish I never did!


Whilst still taxiing, the voice of a crying baby was coming closer to me.  I was sitting in the back, and the voice was edging ever so closely.  The baby would cry for a bit, gasp, go quiet and cry again.  Without uttering even a breath, the person carrying the baby was headed towards the back, and the flight attendants were getting quite nervous.  By the time he got to my row, the baby was crying uncontrollably.  The person carrying him, which, I came to realize, was a man, took him further to the back, trying to calm him down.  The man entered the galley in the back, and the flight attendants were quite worried by then.  “I don’t know what you’re doing” said one of the attendants, “but you are endangering the safety of yourself, your child and other passengers.  Stay! Away! From! The! Emergency! Exit!”, the attendant said in both anger and fear.  The baby continued to cry, and the man started calming his baby down by saying “shshshsh, yalla yalla yallla”, loosely translated as, hush, please, hush.  The man then turned around and left the galley, and stood directly to my left and started talking to his son.  I instantly recognized him – he is that Iraqi man.  My heart sank.  There he was, standing there, with everyone, people who looked strange to him, as strange as the people who took away his son’s eye sight, angrily staring at him, yelling at him, screaming at him in a language he does not understand.  His  silence, I’m sure, made a lot of people feel uncomfortable.  I’m sure there were people who thought he was a terrorist of some sort.  I’m sure there were people who thought he was an uncivilized dark skinned man, chaotic and uncontrollable as the rest of his people seemed to be.  What I am not sure of is whether people knew what was really going on inside that man’s head.  There he was, all alone, trying to calm down his son, his blind son, who cannot stop crying.  He was oblivious to everything around him, including the cries of the crew and the gazes of the passengers, partly because he couldn’t understand what they were saying, partly because he was attending to his son, but mostly because this seemed to be the man’s first or second time on an airplane.  Despite all of this, he remained absolutely calm, with nothing coming out of his mouth except “shshshsh, yalla, yalla, yalla”, and an occasional muttering of reassurance to his son in his own colloquial Iraqi accent.  I knew then exactly where this man was while everyone was doing this to him – he was staring into the eyes of the unknown, into his son’s future, a future which I’m sure he perceived to be full of nothing but pain for that poor little child.  He was, I am sure, trying to wake up to the reality of his son’s permanent disability, which, in a split second, replaced the happiness that comes with every new born.  He was standing there, naked of all feelings of pride, dignity, happiness, seeing nothing but darkness ahead.  I know this feeling quite well because this is how my mother told me she felt when she found out that I, her first and oldest son was blind.  She cried for years, until she started to have hope that I may one day live a normal life, but this man, this poor man, has just begun this painful journey, and what a way to begin!


As people started disembarking, I noticed the man making his way back towards the front.  I was following each footstep of his through the ceaseless crying of his son.  As the voice of his baby disappeared in the distance, I wondered in the back of my mind whether the flight attendants would have reacted differently had they known the man’s story.  I have no doubt in my mind that these beautiful young women would have been glad to take his son from him and hold him to their chests and see to it that he is OK.  I’m sure that, had they done that, this man would have been relieved, even momentarily, of his pane to see the caring and love in other people’s hearts instead of the angry cries and hostile gazes of the passengers.  It would have been a smile for everyone in the midst of a lot of tears for someone.  From what I could tell, no one but myself and the other person who introduced me to this man, who was sitting towards the front of the plane, knew about this man’s predicament, since we were helping him at the gate in Frankfort while boarding.  A word from me would have changed the night for many passengers, flight attendants, but most importantly for that man.  Alas, I just sat there bewildered, dazed and confused.  It was as if something has come over me, sealed my mouth, and froze my mind.  I wondered if it was too late for me to do anything.  I wondered if I could look for and find that man, even if I had to change my plans and cross the boarders into Iraq the following day.  Would I ever find him and his son I asked?  A voice inside me told me however that I probably wouldn’t, but that I would find many others in his homeland with his predicament, and many more who are probably even worse off!  Why did he come to the back though – I still wonder!  Did he come to see me?  Did he come to talk to me?  Have I failed him?  Should I have said something?  I don’t know, and I guess I’ll never know.

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