The Woman with An Accent
“Diet Coke, please.”
Three little words, but that’s all I need to hear to guess she’s from somewhere in Eastern Europe. I put my money on Poland. I believe you can tell a lot more about a person by their accent than by their physical appearance. I’ve spent several years training my ears to pick up the subtle cues that identify a person’s nationality.
When the woman comes back to use the lavatory, she has to wait in line which gives me the perfect opportunity to make small talk. We exchange a few more words and her accent taunts me again so I finally say, “You have a beautiful accent. Do you mind me asking where you’re from?”
She smiles a bit sheepishly. “Originally Ukraine, but now I’m a psychology major at (college) here in the United States.”
I give myself a pat on the back for being pretty close with my guess, but then my face scrunches up in worry. It’s July 2014 and there is a war going on in Ukraine. The death toll has been increasing. A commercial airliner headed to Amsterdam was recently shot down by rebels in Ukraine, killing 298 souls on board.
“Oh! Ukraine,” I say with seriousness. “Do you still have family back home? Are they okay?”
Her eyes go big for a second as she nods. “Yes, but they are okay now. We live in the city and one night, terrible violence broke out between the fighters. It was horrible for them. There were guns firing and explosions. My family just ran. They took all the possessions they could in just a few backpacks and fled across the border to Russia.”
“Is your family originally Russian? Do they support the rebel troops?”
“Oh, no!” she replies immediately. “No, my family is from Ukraine. I don’t know anyone who supports the rebels. There are lots of people in our area who are from Russia, sure. Still, I don’t know anyone, none of our neighbors, who want Ukraine to be part of Russia. We see Ukraine as independent.”
It’s hard for me to imagine living in such an unstable country plagued by civil war. I am surprised and fascinated that the girl’s family has run to hide in the country which is attacking them, but survival, not politics, was clearly the most important thing for them. I remind myself to say a prayer for the girl’s family and for all the people in Ukraine who are impacted by this on-going violence.
The flight attendant next to me smiled as he approached us and said, “It was sure sweet of you to jump out of that burning building and save all those puppies! Am I right?” she grins, nodding at his leg.
The man laughed. “Actually the story is just about as fantastic!” He continued to maneuver slowly onto the plane as he explained, “My friend and I were driving and got t-boned by a kid driving sixty miles an hour. Sixty miles an hour! I was in the passenger seat and the car was totally wrecked, but I came out with just this; a broken leg. That’s it. Otherwise, not a scratch on me!”
“Wow,” I breathed, shaking my head in wonder.
“God had something planned for you, my friend,” my co-worker said.
“Well, in fact...” the man grunted while pausing to adjust his crutches.
Before he finished, I already heard the three words in my head.
“...I’m a pastor.”
A tiny jolt shocked my heart as my prediction came to life.
“How did I know he was going to say that?” I silently asked myself. The man’s story reminds me of a similar near-miss traffic accident in my own life. It’s a story that deserves its own telling, but to abbreviate, I have always believed that the accident was avoided because the man in my vehicle was meant to serve God’s mission later in life.
During the flight, the pastor showed us pictures of the accident. The cell phone picts show the tangled wreckage of a white van. The metal is twisted and deformed around the spot where the pastor was sitting.
“So, the driver and I went to this young man’s house and let me tell you, he had nothing. He lived with his mother and they were just really having a tough time and God gave us an amazing opportunity to speak with these people and get to know them. We agreed to not press any charges and in fact, we were able to give them some money back from the insurance settlement. The best part though – the best part – was that we got to tell them about Jesus and bring them to the Lord.”
Don't Mess with Mama
“Don’t you have free peanuts? Maybe some pretzels?” she pressed.
“No, ma’am. I’m sorry, but we just have food for sale products and free drinks.”
Then, she became aghast. After a minute of babbling her confusion and disapproval, her attitude changed again and she became outright nasty. She demanded to be served a meal. Her voice was loud enough to capture the attention of people sitting five or six rows ahead of her. I tried my best to remain cordial and calmly explain that her demand was impossible to fulfill as there were no meals for Main Cabin catered on the plane. My co-worker on the other end of the cart, a hardened chick from New York City, finally cut in after a few minutes and said, “Listen, ma’am. Like she said, we don’t have any meals on this flight. If you see something you wanna order off the menu, let us know.” Then, she hit the release pedal on the cart and urged me to follow her backwards a few rows away from the irate woman.
At the end of our service, Kathy came back to the galley. As I recognized the woman, my back stiffened and I prepared myself for another verbal assault. Surprisingly though, Kathy stood with her arms limply folded, as if hugging herself.
“I....I’m sorry that I acted so rudely to you,” she said carefully, her eyes fleeting between us. “I don’t usually make a scene. It’s just...my daughter I was worried about. The oldest one, you may have seen, is sitting at the window and she’s...she’s...”
Kathy’s face quivered and soon, there were tears squeezing out the corners of her eyes. Kathy explained that her teenage daughter was struggling with self-image and Kathy had recently discovered that the girl was anorexic. A doctor’s appointment revealed that the child was terribly underweight and wasn’t getting proper nourishment. Her starvation tactics were self-implemented all for the sake of wanting to look thinner. Kathy was trying to help her daughter get back on track to having a better self-image and eating a healthy diet.
“I just thought there was a meal and so I didn’t bring any snacks and I know it’s not your fault....”
She handed us a credit card, but my co-worker immediately waived a hand and filled Kathy’s arms with enough food products to feed a small army.
Kathy’s story stuck with me and I remember her every time I have an upset passenger. I remind myself to be patient and to speak kindly because there's no telling what that person is going through.