Kids With Guns
So, here’s what happened as we were waiting to board our Etihad airways’ flight to Abu Dhabi at JFK International Airport in NYC. First of all, let me set this up for you. Even as we lined up to check our baggage, I was a little uneasy. The entire line for the flight consisted of middle eastern males and their heavily cloaked female counterparts–not a westerner in sight. If I were even to attempt to profile my fellow passengers on this flight (as some are wont to do), this would be impossible. Luckily, it rarely occurs to me to do so.
I do not mind being surrounded by people entirely different to me. I usually relish it. For some reason, I found this flight somewhat disconcerting from the very first queue. I am sure it’s because I was a little worried about our move, and I was also feeling very unsure about how I am supposed to be dressed and comport myself—even on the plane given that it is a middle eastern airline. In short, I was nervous.
We checked our bags, waited in the longest line in the history of TSA security, I’m sure, ate dinner, then decided to find our way to B29—our gate. We happily found ourselves three seats near charging stations. There we were looking and acting about as American as you can get at a gate that looked straight outta Cairo.
There were men from the Arab world, the Indian sub-continent, you name it seated surrounding us on all sides. A youngish, cloaked mother was also seated nearby us with her two very young boys—about 3 and 1. The 3-year-old boy was staring at us, making an angry, kind of screwed up, little face. I didn’t think very much of him until he got up and came toward us looking very bothered for a little boy. He proceeded to grab my arm in a tight hold with one hand hostilely. With his other hand, he pointed his little, child’s finger right in my face screaming to everyone around us something that sounded like “AnAmeriki, AnAmeriki.” I removed his hold on my arm as patiently and gently as I could, turning to search for his mother, expecting her to step in at any moment. She never did. Neither did any of the other onlookers. He continued to grab me and point his finger in all of our faces angrily, speaking only in Arabic and the very few words that he knew in English. He would come and go, stomping off angrily in between ranting at us. Upon one of his visits, he pinched his little boy fingers into the familiar shape of a gun and said “AnAmeriki: boom, boom, boom” pointing at all three of our heads in between booms and at very close range.
I didn’t do or say anything to him. I have to admit that I was kind of scared. I knew that I was supposed to be unafraid for the sake of the girls. After all, they were in the initial stages of moving to a foreign country by no choice of their own–one that might possibly be a bit hostile to us, if I were to infer anything from this?! I imagine that I was supposed to grab him by the ear and drag the little sh#% back to his mother. Why should I be afraid of a little boy, you may wonder? I wonder that, as well, in retrospect. In the midst of the playground drama, the thoughts that raced through my head were the following:
Why does this child think that it is all right to grab and speak to any adult this way? Was it that I was a woman, an American, a woman traveling without a male companion? Was he just pathological?
Why did his mother do nothing about it? Do males perhaps hold this much authority in the Muslim world that a mother dare not discipline her son? Was he just spoiled?
Why did not a single onlooker say or do anything? I spotted an old Arab to the right of me snickering, and a few young, Indian guys having a good laugh, while I uncomfortably tried to shoo the kid away. Was our obvious discomfort funny to these people? All any adult here had to do was tell this kid to leave us alone in Arabic, and he probably would have done so. Perhaps they thought this was up to me?
Was this our “just desserts:” the natural consequences of being an American traveling internationally during a decade plus of American imperialism in that region? We were flying to the Arabian peninsula: a land where, as this boy screamed in our faces, US drones were possibly dropping bombs on his relatives somewhere nearby. This last question is not meant to be salacious, it’s just a fact. I have not really traveled much since 9/11. I did not realize how much things have changed for the worse.
This interaction was indeed a reminder that we might not be so welcome in our new, temporary home. Did I worry about the possibility of some kind of reprisal against us there? Sure. If this three year old had such hateful feelings for us, can you imagine the father, uncle, cousin or news channel to whom he [they] is [are] listening?! Weigh in, please. I welcome your thoughts and opinions on this post.
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