Activity: a story about a delayed flight

A close-up shot of a smiling woman, with long braided hair off to the side, in front of a wall. The image is grayscale.

This is a story by Naomi Shihab Nye, found through the Sustainable Humans Facebook page that caught my eye because of the included narratives. Go to my initial share.

It has inspired the following activity for learners. In this version of a story activity, we ask learners to read portions of the story and then fill in the gaps of the plot, which lead to not only considering how we think, but how we can improve a situation for everyone. This follows this 4C text-activity framework:

1. Chat ๐Ÿ’ฌ informally discuss ideas with a classmate

3. Compare ๐Ÿ•ต๏ธ examine how two things are similar or different

4. Consider ๐Ÿค๐Ÿผhow we can change the situation for a better experience


Read about two women whose flight had been delayed for several hours in the US and their interaction with each other.

โŒ˜Pt. 1 – Beginning

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: โ€œIf anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.โ€ Well โ€” one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. โ€œHelp,โ€ said the flight agent. โ€œTalk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.โ€

Chat. ๐Ÿ’ฌ What do you think was her problem?

โŒ˜Pt. 2 – Middle

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamoolcookies โ€” little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts โ€” from her bag โ€” and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo โ€” we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline…

Chat. ๐Ÿ’ฌ What do you think the airline did then?

โŒ˜Pt. 3 – Ending

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate โ€” once the crying of confusion stoppedโ€” seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Chat. ๐Ÿ’ฌ How has the story ended? Do your creations lead to the same ending or not?


In this section, I’ve added back in the missing parts to this story, which you created given the context. Read the whole story and think about your creations while reading the real story.

โŒ˜Pt. 1 – Beginning

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: โ€œIf anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.โ€ Well โ€” one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. โ€œHelp,โ€ said the flight agent. โ€œTalk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.โ€

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. โ€œShu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?โ€ The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, โ€œNo, weโ€™re fine, youโ€™ll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Letโ€™s call him.

โ€We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee, answering questions.

โŒ˜Pt. 2 – Middle

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamoolcookies โ€” little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts โ€” from her bag โ€” and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo โ€” we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline…

broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend โ€” by now we were holding hands โ€” had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

โŒ˜Pt. 3 – Ending

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate โ€” once the crying of confusion stoppedโ€” seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Compare. ๐Ÿ•ต๏ธ How is your creation similar and different to reality? What led you to these similarities and differences?

Consider. ๐Ÿค๐Ÿผ If Naomi Shihab Nye weren’t there (or didn’t get involved), how could we make changes to this situation to improve the experience for the older woman, the flight agent, and the other passengers?


This activity combines a usualisation and more disruptive approach to inclusive materials design. These approaches don’t need to be overly complicated. For more on them, check out How to Write Inclusive Materials (2021, p. 110-148). #howtoinclusive

Book cover: How to Write Inclusive Materials by Tyson Seburn

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M Birally
M Birally
9 months ago

I love it. I’ll definitely use this in my class next week. Thanks, Tyson.