Gate A-4


Nye, Naomi Shihab




Poet and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952 to an American mother and a Palestinian father. She lived in Jordan and Jerusalem before settling in San Antonio, Texas. Nye often writes of her experiences as an Arab American woman and the ways people navigate cross-cultural differences. In this post-9/11 prose poem set in an airport, the Arab American narrator befriends an older Palestinian woman whose inability to communicate with those around her has left her weeping and frightened. Able to speak a little halting Arabic, the narrator becomes this woman’s connection both to their shared Palestinian community and the impromptu English-speaking one that forms around them at the gate. As the mood of the weary travelers changes, the narrator concludes, "This is the world I want to live in." Is the Palestinian woman’s fear and confusion something you recognize? What about the sense of kinship that forms among the strangers at the gate? Is the "shared world" the poem describes the world that we live in now, or an ideal?

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Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Connection and RelationshipCrisis and ConflictDiversity and DifferenceExclusion and BelongingHeritage and TraditionIdentity and CommunityLove and CompassionRace, Ethnicity and CultureSpeech and Expression

Big Questions

What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?How should we respond to crisis?What assumptions do we make about others?How do we respond to strangers?What do we inherit from our ancestors?How has my family or background shaped who I am?What makes a community strong? What makes it weak?How does language define our worldview?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What is the older lady’s problem?
  2. What causes the change in the older lady?
  3. If we agree that the change did happen on an individual level, does it happen on a larger level - e.g. in the community?
  4. In stanza 6, the older woman pulled out cookies and shared them with other women - what do you make out of this gesture?
  5. After sharing the cookie, they were “all covered with the same powdered sugar and smiling.” Is some kind of community established at this point?
  6. What makes a community in your experience? Is it as easy as sharing and taking cookies?
  7. Near the end of the poem, the speaker commented that this is a “shared world.” How do you understand “the shared world”?
  8. What makes a “shared world”? Or what bonds a community?
  9. The poem ends on “not everything is lost.” What is lost? Do you see the loss in your own community?
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