“I worked at Guantanamo Bay for 13 months. Was it right? Was it wrong? I don’t know. That’s political. It was a thing I had to do. I worked in the mental health ward. I can’t tell you specifics – they gave us a security briefing on that. There were some good times, and there were some bad times. It was just a job. It was where I was. I could have just as easily been in Hawaii.
I worked with people as close as I am to you. They had no problem with telling you that they wanted to kill you. You remember the Stanford Prison experiment? I was living it. It was all about having power over people. Some people had it, and others didn’t.
The biggest take away I had was being patient with people. If you treated them nicely, they had no reason to be angry with you. So that’s what I did. The cell mates didn’t just sit there: they laughed, they learned English from us. You know how religion is 50, 60, 70 percent of our lives? Everything they did was based on their religion.
I think it was hardest on my wife. I was busy. She was worried about my safety, but I couldn’t tell her things. I’ve never considered the possibility of going back there again.”
“I have worked as a flight attendant for 30 years now. You never take anything for granted when you are doing this job, because if I didn’t have this job, it would cost me thousands of dollars to travel this far. Of course when you get older, you get to pick better schedules. I now choose to fly Shanghai three times a month because I like the city. Every trip we get to stay in Shanghai for 24 hours. During winter I like to come out of my hotel, hop on a bus, and go into old Shanghai. Every time I would see this old lady baking nuts on the roadside and I would always get a big bag full of them. Over time she becomes someone that I know of and she once offered me tea.
“I do pay attention to people on the plane. For example, this time of the year you see a lot of young Chinese kids, aged ten to thirteen, going back and forward between China and the U.S., sometimes stopping in San Francisco or the Mid-West, eventually reaching New York City. But in January many students’ grandparents would come and visit their grandchildren. Because it is such a long trip they would usually stay for a month or so. For the kids they are preoccupied with their electronic devices. They speak English and have come back and forth several times. But for the grandparents, it might be their first time travelling this far in their lives. You can always spot them. They don’t speak English and they sometimes have these huge sheets with phrases like ‘May I have some water?’ written out by their family to help them through the trip. When they come on board the airplane and I have to check their documents, I can see the apprehension in their eyes. But then I would always brew some tea back here and give it to them once they settle down for the long flight. Tea is the best ice-breaker in the world. They don’t expect me to make tea for them, but when I hand it to them I can just see all the tension on their face dropping. Although not being able to speak English is a big barrier, communication is still possible through kind acts like that.
“The reason why I do this is that seeing them reminds me of myself when I was little. I didn’t grow up in the United States. I grew up in the Virgin Islands and came to the U.S. at a very young age, just like these Chinese kids. When their grandparents come they are just like my own family. I want them to feel that everything is good, there’s nothing to worry about, and they can fully enjoy their time with their family.”