On my early morning connecting flight, I find myself sitting next to two Somali kids, about 6 years and 8 years of age. The mother sits behind me with two other children, even younger than these two, and she's got her hands full. The little boy sitting in the middle seat next to me is terrifically talkative, and we're not even belted in before I know that this is the very first airplane flight for either of them, that they were born in the US but have never been to Somalia, that his little sister is a genuine pain in his butt, that they are connecting through to catch a second plane. Others in the family, including a grandmother, are apparently further back in the plane
They want to know everything about every aspect of the flight, so I explain what I can to them, the various sounds they are hearing, what they will feel as they take off, how long the first flight will be (barely time to get up before we'll come down again), and where we are on the map in the back of the airline magazine, where they will be going as they head to Africa. Several times the little girl wants to get out of her seat, but so I have to explain to her that it's not a good idea, and I point out the seatbelt sign overhead and explains its symbolism. This keeps her quiet, as she stares intently at the plastic illumination for virtually the whole flight.
The little boy is having trouble with the entertainment system on the seat back ahead of him, so I show him how to plug his earphones into the arm rest (he's brought his own), how to flip the dial on the control to access the various video and audio channels.
"Music," he says. " I would like to listen to music."
"What kind of music do you want?" I say. "They have many channels." I point out on the screen in front of him the options available.
He thinks for several seconds, then lights up. "I would like to hear Johnny Cash," he says. "That would be great."
We do find a country western channel for him, but I fear it will be full of today's western music icons: Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw and all the rest. But 20 minutes into the flight suddenly I find a warm, sweaty earbud poked into my left ear. The boy beams up at me as I recognize "Burning Ring of Fire."
"See. Johnny Cash," he says with delight, and pops the earbud out of my ear and stuffs it back into his own. HIs liquid brown eyes twinkle at me.
What a country we live in.