Thursday, April 21, 2016

From Inshallah to Ojalá Roundtrip

On April 6th, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a 26-year-old student at UC-Berkeley, was escorted off a Southwest Airlines plane and subsequently questioned and searched by FBI agents.

A fellow passenger had heard Makhzoomi speaking Arabic on the phone prior to departure. It sounded suspicious. So she reported him to airline officials.

Makhzoomi told reporters that when the woman in the seat in front of him got up abruptly and left the plane, his first thought was that perhaps he had been speaking too loudly. But one doesn't get kicked off a plane for speaking loudly. If that were the case, all flights on the Orlando-San Juan route would fly empty.

Makhzoomi, who came to the US as an Iraqi refugee in 2010, had called his uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he had attended the night before. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, had also been in attendance. And the young political science student had asked him a question. Of course he would be excited to tell the story!

The woman, not being terribly fluent in Arabic, reported to Southwest officials that she had heard the man seated behind her utter repeatedly the word “shahid," which means martyr. But the word Makhzoomi had used emphatically during his phone conversation was "inshallah"--God willing.

When I heard this in the news I immediately thought that, with a bit more facial hair and a hoarser voice, that could've been me booted off the plane!

Too aware of the uncertainties of life, I often find myself uttering that same word. Especially when flying. Ojalá.

Ojalá que todo salga bien. Ojalá que no haya turbulencia. Ojalá que lleguemos a tiempo. Ojalá. Always ojalá.

If ojalá sounds eerily close to inshallah it's because the Spanish word came from the Andalusian Arabic "law šá lláh", a variation of inshallah, roughly meaning "May Allah grant us that..." ¡Quiera Dios! God willing. Ojalá. Whatever is asked or hoped for is clearly beyond the willpower or resources of the speaker. It is in God's hands.

Today, ojalá is used in a more secular manner. "I hope this happens..." Always with the subjunctive in tow.

"Ojalá que llueva café," sang Juan Luis Guerra, echoing one of my deepest desires. I wish it would rain coffee.

Ojalá que ganen los Rockies. Ojalá que no haya tráfico. Ojalá que se acaben las bombas en los aeropuertos. Ojalá que todo salga bien.

So if the next time you fly, you hear someone saying ojalá repeatedly, don't panic. She is only acknowledging the uncertainties of life. And hoping everything will be ok.

Ojalá te vea pronto. May God grant me the blessing of seeing you soon.

Ojalá. Inshallah. A beautiful expression.

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