19 January 2014
Waiting in the airport for the second flight, I watched a group of people, maybe 6 adults and even more kids, little kids, a couple in the arms of their mama's. I recognized them as Karen people, an ethnic group from Myanmar who after enduring ethnic cleansing and violence in the homeland, and after years of living in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, are being resettled in the United States (and other countries as well). Some Karen people had started to move near my neighborhood in Omaha before we moved, and I know that they currently make up the majority of ESL students in my church there.
This family, looking weary and confused, presented their boarding passes and headed down the jet way first. Documents hung from around their necks, and they wore thin clothes, barely suitable for the freezing temperatures that awaited them outside. The rest of us gathered our bags and prepared to board, ready for the last leg of travel. An inpatient crowd, I could hear conversations of business men ready to be home after a week away, grandparents ready to see new family members.
Time passed. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. The gate attendant asked for our patience as they worked out "a seat belt issue." 20 minutes. A manager in an official coat arrives and disappears down the jet way. 25 minutes. Periodic announcements thanking us for our patience. Still, we do not board. The crowd grows impatient. I hear the comments, that "they should just buckle the kid in," "this wouldn't be a problem if they knew English," "why do they have so many kids anyway?" 30 minutes.
Finally, the gate attendant returns to the microphone. "The problem will be resolved in just a moment. Thank you for your patience." And then the first family member, a tired mom, a screaming baby in arms, exits the door. She walks to a far corner in the waiting area and sits down, her head hanging low. One by one, the other family members follow. The rest of the crowd waiting is absolutely silent as we watch.
We board the plane, but the Karen family does not. An hour late and with empty seats, the plane takes off without them.
We arrived and as we exit the secure area, I see a crowd gathered, waiting for incoming passengers. Yes, a few young families waiting for their dad or their grandparents. But there also stands a large group of Karen, gathered to welcome their people to their new home, their people that won't be arriving that night.
We were inconvenienced for 2 times 15 minutes, but I couldn't help but think, what had the last 2 times 15 hours had held for that Karen family? What the last 15 years had brought them? And what is yet to come?
Sometimes, perhaps often, we fail to recognized how very privileged we are.