I’m waiting at the gate to board my flight back to NYC. I didn’t get the extra pat down this time – and that’s probably because the elderly Palestinian Muslim woman directly in front of me who could not speak as much English as me did. Her family – like mine always does – walked her all the way up to the security line and waited for her to pass through. When I saw the TSA agent ask her to step aside for an extra pat down and she requested privacy, I decided to wait for her. I didn’t want her to be alone. When she came out of the little room they took her to, I waved at her and asked if she was okay. She said yes.
She then walked with me. She said she needed help finding her gate so I told her I’d walk her there. Her daughter called her, and I could hear her comforting her and telling her she’s okay. They just pulled her aside for extra checking. I said, “She worries about you, huh?” She said yes. She then told me where she’s from, about her family, her children and grandchildren, her hometown Hebron, and that when she sees another woman in hijab while traveling, she feels peace in her heart.
I’ve noticed this weekend a number of (usually white) people I have had to speak with were nervous around me. I don’t know if it’s an Ohio thing. I don’t know what they were nervous about. In terms of my sartorial game, I was on point. I’ve never imagined myself to be particularly intimidating although some South Asian American men find me to be.
Whatever it is, it’s annoying — but then I forget my irritation every time one of the black men working at the hotel I’m staying at warmly addresses me as “my sister.”
That always makes me happy.
On Friday night, during and after Viet Thanh Nguyen delivered an incredible talk on the curse of representation in a very snazzy suit, I met two wonderful Vietnamese American women who understood me. Specifically, they understood my need for rice. I was craving rice. They gave me food recommendations based on this mutual understanding.
After speaking with them, I decided that if it gets warmer, I’ll roam a little more to get a better look at the city.
It did get warmer. And I needed a good walk after the panels I attended. I couldn’t walk off the stories of our fucked up immigration policies, detention centers, deportations, treatment of refugees, medical humanities research on the abuse and misuse of medicine, white entitlement to black women’s bodies, academic precarity, and the terrible job market in humanities academia – but the walk was nice.
After stopping at a Walgreen’s to grab a bag of hot fries, I found a place to have dinner and was pleased with the rice option.
But then I was annoyed during dinner when the white woman sitting on a stool next to me took my napkin without asking. And when the waitress who was serving us both asked me if she should bring me my bill while I was still eating my food – but she didn’t ask the woman sitting next to me even though she came in before me – I was even more annoyed.
I purposely lingered.
But THEN I saw an ice cream store. And a donut shop. I asked another worker about whether I should go to the ice cream place or the donut place across the street. She was an enabler and said – Both.
I decided on the donut place first since it was closing earlier.
So I walked over to the donut place and see a black family waiting in line together picking out donuts. There are old and young folks in the family. The younger woman says she’s paying – and proceeds to pay for everyone’s donuts as they choose. The older folks look like my parents — who should not be eating donuts. I ask one of the men if he’s been here before. He says many times. I ask for recommendations. I am told it depends on what I’m feeling. I am told some of the donuts are dense like cake, and others are yeast-based and fluffy.
After they finish ordering, it’s my turn. The chocolate on chocolate looks great, but I was in the mood for something light and fluffy. Like my pillows.
I order a fluffy fresh glazed donut because I saw another worker bring out fresh ones. The woman who bought her whole family donuts returns telling the cashier she’s buying mine, too – just because I was waiting in line while they were ordering. I tell her she doesn’t have to, but she insists.
It was the sweetest gesture ever; my weekend is now whole because of her; and I’m an emotional mess with a bag of hot fries about to board a plane.