Letter En Route to Erbil

The occupants of seats 15A and B are an Iranian boxing champion and his photographer. Between the three of us (I am in 15C) we have just about that number of words in common. “Doctor” is one of them after the photographer fainted.

The outside temperature on the runway at Doha was near 50 centigrade; inside the cabin you could have roasted meat. The photographer was medium rare and headed to well done. Fainting is how some people react. Thankfully we were able to revive my new Iranian friend. Then we made a diagnosis thanks to a fellow American from Buffalo (born in Sulaimaniya) who made out what the boxer was saying since he was actually speaking Persian more than Kurdish. The flight crew was much relieved that we did not have to go back to the gate (since we would all be toasted by then). We also got some help from another American: a grandmother from Fort Wayne, Indiana (born in Erbil). 

By now the boxer was probably wondering who Americans really were. He thought at first that I was from Germany where he was just returning from a match.

He asked (in eloquent sign language) if he could have my pillow, since his back was a mess. Then he proceeded to ask me many other questions. When I thought I understood what he was getting at I did my best to answer. I showed him pictures of New York and UN Plaza, and my grandchildren.

As our flight ended he held my hand. Then he raised it the way they do in the ring. We hugged. 

Tomorrow the boxer and friend will be back in Teheran. They will be going there with some new impressions of Americans and how they respond to people they don’t even know. I think they also got the idea that we are an open society and a nation that is really made up of many immigrants. And our brief encounter made me wish we had many other ways than an airplane oven to get to know each other better.