Monday, September 03, 2001

Every once and a while you have the opportunity to be someone's guardian angel. It usually happens when you least expect it. The last time I got this opportunity (until today) was in June 1998 when I helped this woman who was absolutely terrified of heights climb over a ten-foot wrought iron fence after she got locked in this beautiful-but-full-of-gothic-gargoyles cemetery in Prague. She was so afraid of heights that she was actually debating whether or not she should sleep in this getting-creepier-as-the-sun-sets graveyard. Anyway, after an hour of smiling, boosting and coaxing in my extremely limited Czech (mostly saying "good/dobry" and "yes/anno"), I helped this very nice Czech woman over the wall. You would think that the caretakers responsible for locking up creepy graveyards would check to make sure everyone was out first, but whatever.

Anyway, I got this opportunity during a layover in Detroit on my way back from visiting Kelly. There were two women in front of me on the people-mover (Meet George Jetson!), and one of them was pushing a stroller. As we step off the people-mover, the wheel of the stroller gets stuck which causes a little pile-up. (I start having flashbacks to this time when I was like 3, and I fell flat on my face getting off an escalator in J.C. Penney which resulting in my developing a mortal fear of escalators) and so I was worried about the baby what with the potential for injury and phobias and whatnot. The baby was fine, just a little jostled, and I asked if they’re okay. They say yes, but they think they missed their flight and they don’t know what to do.

One woman is from Kenya, trying to get to Wyoming to go to med school, and the woman with the baby is from Oman on the Saudi Arabian peninsula, and she is trying to get to Denver to meet up with her husband who is there for grad school. They apparently flew from Kenya and somewhere like Saudi Arabia, respectively, to Amsterdam, where their flight to the U.S. was delayed.

The woman with the now-crying baby is like, “No one will help us!” So we walk over to the Northwest ticket counter and wait in line forever when this man with a Canadian passport, (although it has Arabic letters on it) starts yelling at us, in English, for cutting in line. (We didn’t.) The woman from Oman is dressed in Western clothing, but when she apologizes to the man in Arabic, he gets a whole lot nicer and grumpily apologizes.

So we finally get to the front of the line. I’m worried that they’re going to miss their flight (which it turns out, they already had) so I approach the first “available” ticket clerk. Apparently, you have to wait until they call out, “Next!” which I didn’t realize. I thought you could just approach the desk when it was your turn, but apparently you need an engraved invitation. So sue me. So the first lady is doing something, so we stand in front of her for ten minutes. Then the clerk beside her finishes up with her customer, but she’s leaving for her dinner break, so we have to wait again.

At this point, my bag of weight watchers snacks bursts open and there are baby carrots all over the floor. (I bet this would not have happened if I had been planning to eat a Kit Kat Chunky.) Fine. We clean up the carrots, passing the baby (who was a meltingly cute 7-month-old little girl whose name was, as best I could tell, “Wee Wee.” I kid you not. I think it was a nickname for Wellayan) back and forth. At one point, I engaged her in a game of “This little Piggy Went to Market.” I was all the way up to the Piggy Who Eats Roast Beef when I realized that a game about piggies going to market and/or eating beef may not be entirely appropriate for a child who is mostly likely Muslim. Oops.

Okay, so the ticket agent who was helping us was really nice, but the baby was crying off and on, and the check-in desk was very noisy, and apparently the confirmation number was written in Arabic characters and it was really hard for the agent to find the lady from Oman’s reservation in the computer to put her on the next flight to Denver.

I would like to add that both women had an excellent command of the English language, but the agent was using words like “itinerary” and “voucher” and it was midnight Kenya time and she was asking them things like, “Has your luggage been in your possession since you packed it?” and they were like, “Um… We checked our luggage in Kenya/Saudi Arabia. Sorry? What?” They agent was trying to explain about the difference between Eastern time and Mountain time which lead them to believe that they had to change planes twice, when in fact it was one plane over two time zones.

So I am trying not be Pushy American Woman, but they said they appreciated my help, and at this point, we had been at the desk for forty minutes because the agent is like, doo de doo de do. Sheesh. So I get the lady to give them seats together in a row with no one else so that the baby could have the middle seat. She gives them vouchers for free food (I have to say, the agent was trying, she really was), and I dropped them off at their gate with just enough time to jump on my own plane back to BWI.

All in all, it was really nice. We were all about the same age, and it was one of those unexpected moments that life throws your way. I know if I were ever stuck in an airport in Oman or Kenya, I would want someone to help me. I love traveling and the unexpected friends who manage to find you.

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