|Ugandan girls I met in August 2007.|
(C) Thrifty Gypsy
(The following story happened on August 24, 2012, while on a flight from Dulles to Amsterdam en route to Prague. While the exact words of the conversation may not be verbatim, the content and emotion are accurate.)
Jostling my way down the aisle of a Boeing-777 on my way to enjoy a long vacation in Prague and Germany, I should've been ecstatically happy that my much-anticipated vacation was finally here. But I wasn't. Stupid KLM and their stupid seat assignment mix-up, I thought angrily. For the first time ever, I wasn't going to be seated next to my husband, and I was grumpy and agitated because of it. To add insult to injury, I had a middle seat and with the plane at near full capacity, I just hoped that my seatmates on both sides were unobtrusive and indifferent.
I made myself as small as possible in my seat as the woman beside me fidgeted and squirmed in her seat. I began to feel very, very sorry for myself. What a way to start a vacation, I thought as a few angry tears came to my eyes. The woman then elbowed me, albeit accidentally and not roughly, as she struggled to get comfortable. I was about to make a comment to her when I noticed she, too, had tears in her eyes. She fiddled with her wristwatch as the tears continued to stream down her cheeks. Instantly, my attitude towards her softened. Guess I'm not the only one having a hard time, I thought. Reaching into my purse, I pulled out a tissue and offered it to her. She took it and gave a low thank-you. As we taxied to the runway and then took-off, she calmed down considerably while I clenched the seats anxiously (I don't do so well with flying).
"Are you okay?" She asked with the slightest trace of an African accent.
"I will be once we're up all the way," I replied. "You?"
"No," she returned quietly, folding the tissue into small squares in her lap. "But I am doing better now, thank you."
At this point, this woman had my curiosity thoroughly piqued, but I didn't want to be rude and pry into her personal life.
"It's been a while since I've been on an international flight," I admitted. "I'm not looking forward to the long hours. Can't wait until we're there safely!"
"Ah, yes," she said. "It has been a long while for me as well. Is this a vacation for you?"
"It is! My husband and I are on our way to tour Prague and then visit family in Germany. It's been two years since we've had a big vacation, and I'm really excited about it. How about you?"
She looked at me for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders slightly. "I am going to see family, too," she said. "But it is not a happy time."
"I'm sorry to hear that," and I truly meant it. There was a few minutes of silence between us as I pondered her words and wondered how I could try to help her. I've become a more private person when it comes to spirituality and religion, but I sensed that maybe my next questions would be received favorably.
"Did you want to talk about it? Would you like me to pray for you?"
For the first time, her face lit up, but her eyes filled again.
"I am so, so sorry," I repeated. I took her hand and gave it a small squeeze. "I cannot imagine what you're going through right now. I can tell you loved your father very much."
"I do. So very much. I-I just wish I had made him move to America with me years ago. Then maybe he would still be here. My poor mother is so frightened. I will be bringing her back."
"Is she not safe there?"
"Oh, no. No, it is not safe. My father was hacked to death by machetes. I fear for my mother's life and my own while I am there."
Words failed me. I could not fathom the horror of the reality she was describing to me. I gazed at the small television screen in front of me. It seemed so unreal that while I was flying in the relative comfort of an airplane on my way to a decent vacation, there were people out there being slaughtered like animals because of their faith.
"I know my father is in a better place. I just wish I could've seen him one more time, or brought him out of Nigeria. I will bring my mother back with me, and I will never return to Nigeria again."
"I cannot pretend to understand why this happened," I finally said. "And I am so sorry that you are having to travel so far alone for such a difficult circumstance. But you are not truly alone. God had a plan for your father that we can't understand, and He has a plan for you as you're in Nigeria again. I want to pray that you will have strength and courage enough for you and your mother while you are there."
I'll never forget that woman. Her name was Miriam, or Faith - my memory has faded in that respect, and she lives somewhere in northern Virginia. But as the media focuses on the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Muslim terrorists, I think of Miriam and pray that the bloodshed in Nigeria will stop. I pray for the girls kidnapped, tortured, and sold. I pray for the families terrorized by the agony of their missing daughters and sisters. I pray for all those looking over their shoulders wondering if their next moment will be their last.
And when the media loses interest and focuses on the next big scandal, I hope that you will continue to pray for Nigeria and other countries in the world where people are persecuted for their faith. Remember how lucky we are to be able to travel as a luxury, and be mindful that many people must travel in order to flee dangerous situations.