Friday, June 27, 2014

Welcome to America

When I arrived in Shanghai, China three years ago with a 10 month old Zoe strapped to my chest, I didn't stand in the immigration queue for more than a couple of minutes before a uniformed woman came to pick me up and wave me to the front. Zoe was not upset at this point (after having cried every 20th minute for the full duration of the 13 hour flight, even with the nice flight attendants had been carrying her around to calm her down) but the Chinese bureaucracy clearly didn't think it was nice for a mom with a baby to wait in line. China is unfortunately the only place where I have seen this happen so swiftly and so undramatic.

When I was standing in the visitor's immigration line (Zoe was not with me to let me go through the citizen line) the other day, on my way into New York, I watched a mirror image of myself two years ago: A mom traveling on her own had an overtired, crying 2-year old boy at her feet, trying to shuffle hand luggage and making sure he was moving with her. He was at that stage where he could only cry and scream because everything is wrong. According to his body it was 8:30pm, probably way past his bedtime. His mom tried everything but was clearly also frustrated, particularly because of all the eyes on her. The queue bent five times as a snake and moved very slowly. I could hear them coming towards me, I was one snake-line ahead. The more I listened to his tired screaming and obvious torment the more furious I grew that nobody let them in the front. When they were almost leveled with me, I pulled up the black belt divider and motioned to her: "Come in front of me", I said firmly but she hesitated. "But won't people say something?", she asked but I said in a slightly louder voice: "Nobody will say anything". She walked under, pulling her still screaming boy and thanked me. I said hello to the boy who stopped for a moment while being scared of this strange women before going back to screaming again. We were now in the front snake line, which finally resulted in a guard picking her out. "32" he said and she was whisked away to the final part of the queue. She gave me one of this looks of gratitude that means she was going to remember me forever as the one who made her immigration experience just a little less hellish. I know, because I remember every single person who has done the same for me.

As the wailing sound gradually moved away from our earshot, I overheard another mother telling her 8 year old daughter, in a joking voice "honey, can't you scream a little too?" The father chuckled and they clearly thought it was all fund and games. I wanted to scream at her, asking if she had amnesia? Did she really forget how that is like in a few 6 years time? Did she have no compassion? Did she not realize that the mother would gladly have waited another 35 minutes if her son hadn't been crying? And then I promised myself that forgetting is fine, but compassion is something you should carry with you always. 

No comments:

Post a Comment