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First Flight

HOST INTRO: For commentator Marie Shabaya, the risks her parents took inspired her to take her own. She shares the story of how a non-stop flight, almost twenty years ago, changed her life.


My parents were dreamers. When I was very young, my father told us about his Arabian dream.  He told my sisters and me about streets lined with gold plated buildings and roads so smooth that Mercedes-Benzes literally flew through them. Kenya was the only place I knew, and often I’d look around Nairobi and imagine those things were there. These were my fairytales.

The fairy tale became reality on a routine non-stop flight from Nairobi to Dubai. It was the summer of 1995 and I wasn’t even four yet. My Mom and Dad had just graduated from University, and they were taking the biggest gamble of their lives. My dad followed his dream. We waited for our turn in Kenya.

A year later, my mother woke us very very early one morning. It was still dark outside. ‘We are going to take an airplane today’ she told me and my older twin sisters.

She had already packed the bags. She had pressed and laid our Sunday best on the bed for the trip. One by one, she did our hair. She did hers. By the time the sun came up, we looked fabulous—ready to see our Dad again.

A neighbour  drove us to the airport on the bumpy road that ran through our neighbourhood as old friends and neighbours waved from their porches and front yards.

At the airport, there were all sorts of people milling about—Indian businessmen, Italian tourists, British tour guides, and Greek Nuns . I had never seen a place so busy before and I was scared.

I was most afraid when we got on the plane. There were so many strangers. My Mom tried to put on a brave face, but I knew that this was a terrifying trip for her too—flying over the sea to a place she had only heard of.

As the pre-flight ritual began she held my hands tightly. I remember her sighing and sighing some more. She muttered tiny, quiet prayers. She was asking for us to arrive safely.

As the airline jingle ended the safety video—the plane began to move too quickly. My Mom’s grip became tighter and I felt safer.

My Mom never let go of my hand for every minute of that flight. She held it through immigration, through customs. And through the narrow passageway to the arrivals hall.

And she only let go when I ran to give my Dad a hug.

Pretty soon we arrived at our new home, a house  between two mosques on a desert island.  I left Abu Dhabi myself, recently, on an overnight flight to Johannesburg . I wanted to chase my dream as my parents had chased theirs.

BACK ANNOUNCE: Marie Shabaya is no longer afraid of airplanes.

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