Perestroika at 35,000 Feet

my new friend

“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.

blind freedom

“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

long may she wave

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.

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Filed under America

4 Responses to Perestroika at 35,000 Feet

  1. Wow. What a blog post. I’m flying right now while reading this. I love America. I love our freedom. I love meeting new people and how their way of life, beliefs and take on America helps me to dig deeper into making sure I know and understand exactly what I stand for. If that makes sense. And Christmas trees in Dubai? I want to see them.

    • I was stunned to see those Christmas trees in the pictures of the hotel lobby in Dubai! They were beautiful and so was the hotel. Makes me want to visit.
      This past weekend, I saw a relative who is in the US now, but has been living in Jordan for the past few years. He said the people there are just like people here, friendly and welcoming. They even like Americans. He thinks it’s the governments that can’t get along. His father who has visited him in Jordan says it’s still nothing like the US. Very confusing.
      I love America too, Katie. And I love that we–well most of us, still believe all people are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights–life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and are called to self-govern. How we sustain this way of life is the question that seems to hang in the balance.

  2. Jeff

    My wife always comments on how my son and I have never met a stranger. If you ever have a chance to meet my parents and my brothers, you can see that it is definitely a Whetstine family trait…seems now my wife is doing the same. I think she makes an excellent cultural ambassador for our great country.

    While we have many differences with many others in the world, my son always reminds me that we are all God’s creation and that He loves us. Nothing changes that. As T says, “It’s the truth, Dad.” I hope through friendships we make, on what appears to be just an average day, that we can help the world come to know that love.

    • Hi, honey. If I’m a cultural ambassador it was accidental! I think my new friend was the ambassador first. It was a surprising delight to meet him and I wish him all the best. Perhaps we can invite him over when he returns to the US, yes?
      Your comment reminds me of Steven Curtis Chapman’s song where he sings, “It’s all yours, God. Yours, God. Everything is yours.” It is all His. I’d do well to remember we’re mostly along for the ride…