My mind was preoccupied as I arrived at the gate to board my flight from my host country in MENA to my family in South Africa. My mother’s funeral arrangements were the biggest thing on my mind and what I was feeling at the prospect of saying my last goodbye to the godly mother in Zion who had raised me. Even though I’d prayed for God to give me a divine appointment as I traveled home, right then I just wanted to think and rest.
My thoughts were somewhere else as I stood in line at the gate and watched a barefoot young woman walking aimlessly around carrying only a boarding pass and passport in her hand. No handbag. No sweater. I’ve learned there are all kinds at an airport.
I boarded the plane with my group and made myself comfortable for the trip. Almost everyone had boarded when I realized the barefoot girl was standing by my row squinting at the seat numbers overhead. Evidently she was my seatmate She slipped into the seat beside me, I nodded politely, and closed my eyes.
I was in a deep sleep when something jiggled my arm. Hoping it was just an accidental bump from my seatmate, I straightened up and resettled myself. But I was shaken again. And again. My seatmate wanted to wake me up. I was going to have to relate to her one way or another.
I gathered up my patience to make small talk. I asked her name, where she was from, where she was going. She couldn’t speak English, only a smattering of Arabic, and I could hardly understand anything she said. But I could see on her boarding pass that she headed for Ethiopia. She told me her name was Dora. I figured out she had worked in our host country for two years and was headed home for her winter break.
For conversation, I decided to ask her what had happened to her shoes and handbag. In her broken Arabic she explained that at the last security checkpoint she had been instructed to place all her personal belongings on the conveyer belt-her carry-on, handbag, shoes, mobile, watch, everything. She didn’t know what happened to them after that.
I realized nobody had told her to collect her belongings at the end of the belt. Nobody at the gate had inquired either.
My sensitivities shook awake. I looked at the young face next to me, the large brown eyes. I saw something new, and all I could think of was how cold her feet must be.
I called a flight attendant and explained what had happened. She came back a few minutes later with a pair of business-class slippers for Dora and a clipboard. The airline would help her locate what had been left at the security checkpoint. When she fumbled to sign the report the attendant filled out, I realized she couldn’t read or write.
When we landed at our next stop, I had three hours to wait, she had five. I prayed God would help me know what I could possibly do to help her. She was completely alone.She couldn’t read any of the signs, or any instructions. I worried what would happen to her in such a large airport. The thought, I’m sure inspired by the Holy Spirit, came to me to take her to the customer help desk for Ethiopia, where someone could at least speak her language.
Together we walked down long airport hallways and passages, me in my tennis shoes, she in her slippers. She walked close to me. I was glad she was not alone.
At the Ethiopian desk, I introduced her and explained her situation. The man was gracious and fully engaged with her need. He assured me that even though he would be leaving at the shift change, he would give her a place to wait where she was safe and cared for. I didn’t want to leave her.
I gave her some money, I shared my WhatsApp contact and told her to have her family put us in touch. We took a photo together and hugged long. My eyes were stinging. Then I took both her hands and asked if I could pray with her. She gripped my hands tight as I asked God to send angels to assist her all the way.
She settled down on a bench nearby the agent, and as I walked away, I turned to wave goodbye. Everything was blurry for me, but I could see tears were streaming down her face.
Will I ever see her again? I don’t know. God sees her. He is El Roi, “the God who sees me.” He did not need to be awakened in order to care for her. But I’m so thankful He bumped me awake so I could see her.
–A MENAU Tentmaker