“It’s hard living between airplanes,” said the stranger sitting next to me.
I had the window seat. He had the middle. No one had the end seat, but he didn’t move. He reached out with conversation.
“Do you live in Charlotte?” he said.
“No, I used to live in North Carolina. I’m just visiting this trip.”
“Do you know the university in North Carolina?” he said.
“UNC-Charlotte?” I said.
“I don’t know what it’s called,” he said. “I can go there for my graduate degree.”
“There are a lot of good schools in North Carolina,” I said. “What will you study?”
The stranger introduced himself. Said he was studying recreational therapy in Illinois. Hoped to do graduate work so he could train other therapists in Saudi Arabia. Recreational therapists are in demand there, even more so instructors to train them.
Before school, he’d organized conferences to educate Saudi companies about the internet. Showed me pictures of the events on his iPhone. Seemed impressed I have a blog. The flight attendant gave us dirty looks.
Showed me pictures of his two little boys and his beautiful wife. Said her name means scent of flowers.
He’d left them in Saudi Arabia to come to the United States to study. Left his former work to pursue American degrees that would give him job security as an instructor in his own country. He missed his family and would travel more than 20 hours on four flights to see them.
“Dubai is not just a city,” he said as we looked at his vacation pictures.
“Forgive me, but are those Christmas trees in the hotel lobby?” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Isn’t Dubai in a Muslim country?” I said. “They have Christmas trees?”
“You have your beliefs. We have ours. No reason to fight about them,” he said. “The vacationers come for Christmas holiday.”
My new friend may be Saudi, but that sure sounded American.
He showed me apps to get free phone calls, text messaging, and voice reminders. Then more free apps to book flights or turn my iPhone into a flashlight or a piano. The refreshment cart passed us by.
He’s learning English. The writing comes hard. His iPhone is full of SAT and GRE vocab apps. We played them with abandon. Well, I played.
“You are so fast at these word games!” he said.
“I’ve been learning English all my life,” I said. “You’ll get it.”
“You know Mubarak?” he said. “The guy in Egypt?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Obama’s advisors called Mubarak because he’s won so many ‘elections’ in Egypt. They wanted him to help with the next election here.”
“Okay,” I said now hooked.
“Mubarak agreed to let his advisors work on the election here,” he said. “After it was over, Obama called Mubarak and cursed him. Mubarak asked Obama what was wrong. Obama cursed him more. So Mubarak told Obama to put Mubarak’s advisors on the phone.”
“And?” I said.
“Mubarak’s advisors were so happy. They said to Mubarak, ‘We won! We won! Congratulations, Mr. President!'”
Cheers to my new friend, wherever you are.
For the Lord is high above the nations;
His glory is higher than the heavens. Psalm 113:4 NLT
Perestroika is Russian for restructuring.
Dear sweet 1984, we didn’t know the Cold War years were the good old days. Thanks for leaving us 99 Luftballoons by Nena.
Saudis in America
While writing this post I watched Saudis in America, a short documentary by Saudi filmmaker Fahmi F. Farahat (2007).
There are no easy answers. Although I disagreed with some opinions expressed in the film, it makes good food for thought. Catch the interview with Farahat on the extras.