An Encounter with Reality
by Bint Idris
As I stepped wearily into the Sanaa Airport arrivals area, my eyes scanned the crowd for
anybody that might look like an agent sent to pick us up. Actually, there wasnít
much of a crowd, just random groups of people in what seemed like a dimly lit
shopping and waiting area rolled into one. If it hadnít been such a strange, new
place, its simplicity may even have been touching.
I nudged my father along to the rows of plastic seats and we both sat down. Looking
around, I was now aware that I was just one of a handful of females, and possibly
the only one with her face uncovered. I tried not to notice. As the minutes ticked
by, my father decided it was probably best to make a phone call and enquire what was
happening. He left me with the luggage as he went to exchange money and find a phone
I was contemplating whether it would be better to rummage around and find my
face-veil and put it on, or leave it. I never really did decide, as my gaze fell
upon a family that was approaching. An over-sized Arab lady walked forwards in a
slow waddle. Her eyes, the only part of her face showing, were laden with thick
black mascara and eyeliner and her abaya glittered with heavy silver beading and
embroidery. With her were two small children. The girl, a pretty princess of no more
than 7, clothed in a frilly white dress skipped along beside her mother. From her
obvious excitement she seemed familiar with her surroundings. The little boy too,
was a definite delight to the eye. His chubby form was clothed in a bright outfit
and a gleeful smile was spread across his fresh little face. As I watched, they
walked and sat down only a few rows away.
Trying to busy myself, I inspected the on goings of the airport. My gaze wandered
and soon fell upon a pathetic little figure stood in the airport doorway. From his
height, he looked no more than four years old. Dressed in a dirty, brown suit,
probably worn away with time and his feet bare and dusty from the heat-cracked
ground outside. He couldnít possibly be working there, I thought to myself. Heís
just a child. But I was aware of the gruesome reality of child labour and was quite
horrified by the sight.
I watched as the little figure made his way towards the family I had earlier seen.
Did he know them, I thought. But his hesitant little steps suggested otherwise and I
was slightly confused. As the little boy approached, the children backed away, as if
afraid to be touched by him. But as I looked at the frail, outstretched hand, I
realised he didnít want to touch, he was asking. There was an obvious pleading in
his posture as he leaned forward and looked at the woman, his hand begging for
something. But the woman didnít even look at him, and talked to her children as
though the little figure before her was inexistent. A lump formed in my throat and
my heart felt heavy with sadness as I thought of this little boyís plight. His head
fell against his chest, and lowering his hand he turned around and
started to walk away. Oh my God, heís just a baby. Heís a child like those children.
How can a mother turn him away like that. My heart ached.
It dawned on me that the boy was walking away from the woman, and walking towards
me. I looked at him approaching and tried to smile. As he came closer, trying to
remember the little Arabic I knew at the time I asked him, ma ismuk? But he silently
shook his head and just looked at me. Now that he was closer, I realised he was
probably older than four, perhaps about seven. But the obvious malnutrition of his
body and the demand on his delicate little frame had probably slowed his growth. He
looked at me with wide almond eyes, from under a tuft of sun bleached brown hair
that fell over his face. His face was streaked with mud, and dry from the heat of
the sun. I wanted to just reach out and hug him, but I felt paralysed. I could only
look. I tried to desperately keep calm as I felt a rush of
emotions surge through me. I thought of children back home; at that age most are
oblivious to all forms of hardship. Their lives are full of comfort, fulfilling of
wants. Above all, children were supposed to play. I could not comprehend this
injustice, this unfairness, this failure on our part. We have failed these children.
I was tempted to take him to the store and buy him anything he pointed to. In my
naivety, I failed to realise at the time that what this child was missing ran deeper
than material wants, above all he was in need of love and affection. But to my
dismay, it dawned on me I had no money. My father had gone to exchange and hadnít
returned, and I was in possession of no money whatsoever. The little boy pointed to
his mouth then held out his hand. The silent pleading in his eyes shook my heart and
my eyes started brimming with tears. I held them back as I rummaged through my
handbag and drew out whatever snacks, chocolates and sweets I could find and crammed
them into his outstretched hands until my bag was empty and he could hold no more.
His eyes widened in amazement and a slow smile spread across his tired and worn
I could take no more. Like a flood bursting through a dam, my heart broke and sobs
ran through me with a force I had not felt in a while. As the little boy was turning
to walk away he saw my tears, his gentle face creased with concern and he cocked his
head to one side as he inspected me. I watched as he struggled to hold his newly
found treasures in one hand and then held the thumb of another up at me as if to
thank me. A realisation dawned on me. This child probably could not speak. He hadnít
spoken a single word throughout the time and had only shaken his head at my enquiry
of his name. Whether he was born with a problem or whether his childhood neglect had
resulted in this, in my mind it was clear. We had failed him. He would probably
never get the treatment, or even the love and care
needed to make a child emotionally and physically stable. I looked on as he glanced
at me one last time, and then with a skip of delight, he turned and hurried away.
I slowly calmed down and as the tears subsided I realised there are many children
like little Omar (which I called him to myself). Children of many nations and
countries, who due to circumstances are born without basic freedoms and rights. All
children have a right to a basic childhood of innocence and play, of education and
learning, of shelter and love. Think of our own children, of our families, how
distraught we feel at their pain. Our compassion should extend to the whole of
humanity. We are all the children of Adam and as Muslims we are all from one ummah.
An ummah which the Beloved of Allah (peace be upon him) said, should be like one
body, if one part is in pain, it is all in pain. Many of us are in adulthood, but we
have not experienced true suffering. We will probably never know what it is
like to sleep day in day out on empty stomachs, what it is like to have no home, to
have families torn apart, maybe to have never have had a family. It is our duty to
take it upon ourselves to show this love and concern to these children like they are
our own. And so far, we have failed them.
I called him Omar, because of his strength and gentleness. I do not speak of
physical strength, but of the strength of his character. The hardship that the
little boy endures is something unimaginable to many of us. Perhaps he had no home,
no family, no person in the world that would know if he was to be taken away; yet
through all this, he had the strength to smile.
Though my meeting him was just an encounter of minutes, the impact was timeless.