“Have you ever felt the ground falling from beneath your feet?”

The thin, short haired lactation consultant asks the three of us, sitting with our hands resting on our bumps at this white, round table in a shabby chic corner tea house in the old city of Bucharest, the only customers this sunny summer morning.

And I’m suddenly back twelve years ago.

“I want us to split”, my boyfriend tells me bluntly, sitting legs apart in the small, torn armchair by the balcony door in our rented studio five bus stops away from the University square in Bucharest. “I don’t love you anymore,” he adds, stretching his long legs across the Turkish carpet in dusty shades of blue on top of the worn out linoleum covering the floor.

I’m mute for a few seconds and I feel my throat exploding and wonder if I’m ever gonna be able to utter a sound again. At the same time, I remember our love making the night before and the goodbye kisses that very morning and the “I love you” before he closed the door behind him and went to work. They all seem like faint memories from another lifetime. What’s happened in the meantime? When did I die? I have no job ’cause “you’ve just finished university, don’t get hired just yet, let’s travel this summer” and nowhere to go. I can’t breathe.

Five months later, having spent about a month apart, we are married. Too afraid of loneliness, both of us, to pass the opportunity. Nine years later we are divorced. On our ten year wedding anniversary we sign the bank papers so I’ll no longer be part of the mortgage contract on our commonly held apartment – a home so hard to leave behind. That same day also happens to be the first day of my last menstruation before I get pregnant.

The two lines on the pregnancy test, on March 8, at around 3 am leave no ground beneath my feet, nothing to hold on to,  and force big tears out of my eyes like in a manga comic. Happiness and panic, two long and slippery snakes mating in my solar plexus. Another burial awaits – the girl I used to be is struck dead by two pink lines on a white background she’s just peed on, alone in her boyfriend’s bathroom, the whole universe spinning around her. Yet never again alone, to be accurate.

Then the phone call I get when I am 15 from my first lover, announcing me he’s cheated on me and “I need to meet that girl and discuss our feelings for each other… I’m sorry. Please don’t cry.” I can’t talk. The dirty receiver is heavy in my right hand and my thighs are getting wet as I’m kneeling by the bedside cabinet of my ground floor neighbors, who keep poking their heads around the door to check up on me from time to time. We don’t have our own phone, you see. I have to go down two floors to take the call, leave my corpse on my neighbors’ bedroom floor and then carry my ghost back upstairs again.

Then it’s early morning again, last year in spring, and I’m standing in front of the bed in that scruffy hotel room in Sultanahmet in Istanbul, dimly lit through the thick and brown heavy curtains. Ten years younger than me, short and handsome, amber skin, light brown hair, thick eyebrows and long lashes, full lips covering his tobacco stained teeth, my Syrian lover seems perfect. I’ve taken a shower, put my makeup on, got dressed, packed my suitcase and I’m ready to leave. And I can’t. I can’t wake him up. I can’t open and close that bloody door behind me.

I can’t stop looking at him sleeping there, so vulnerable, his bare chest moving up and down with his soft breath, a bent knee resting over the white sheet, his toes almost reaching the wooden side of the bed. I feel my chest exploding in a thousand pieces at the sight; silently and deadly. I’m perfectly aware I’ll probably never see him again. “Don’t make it difficult”, he says, seeing my face as I pull myself together and wake him up,  whispering his name while running my hand over his face. “Take care of yourself, Dhana”, he advises, knowing I’ll never listen. “Just go…”, he adds when I go back the second time for one last kiss. Minutes later, in the car seat taking me to the airport, I say goodbye to the sea.

“How do you know?”, the Cancer boy I’ve met using a dating app asks me, his big, beautiful eyes resting on my lips, unable to look higher. Lying flat on my belly in his bed, I tell him exactly what he did on a specific day in December last year, precisely one week after our first date. “I hate lies”, I warn him. “Please forgive me, I promise I’ll never lie to you again. Can we just leave this behind us? We have so much to do together…” I know I can’t trust him about the first part, but I am perfectly aware he’s absolutely right about the last part. Still, a leftover from the innocent me dies in this scene, too.  About a month and a half later, in the same bed, a strong light warms up my womb as if a comet hit the earth and I describe the whole experience in my diary the next morning, so that five weeks later, holding the two lined test in my hand, I find the exact conception date: Valentine’s day/ night. Three weeks after that, manga tears again as I’m listening to my baby’s heart during the first ultrasound in the doctor’s office.

“Yes, I have…” I answer when the lactation consultant says it’s my turn. The other two expecting mothers have already spoken while my memories were flooding my brain like a swollen river on a sunny day in mid spring, when the snow melts all at once.

“And? What can you share with us?”

“You know, my life has changed so much and so many times… And there have been moments when I felt I couldn’t breathe, when there was absolutely nothing familiar to hold on to anymore, nothing to cling to, seemingly no one and nothing to rely on… I’ve felt driven out of my own life. I’ve died. And I’ve survived every time. The hardest thing, feeling suddenly suspended in mid air, was having enough patience to get to the bottom of the pit, having enough patience to fall all the way, to hit the ground. Then crawl and cry down there for as long as necessary and climb back up again. To a new life. I’ve survived all my deaths… Every time… All of us do.” I answer, giggling at the revelation, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and confidence filling me up as my left elbow reaches behind over the bentwood chair back, to make room for my growing heart.

There’s a short silence as the three smiling women are all looking at me as if I’ve just said something important.

PS Attachment is the name of the monster I’m learning to tame.

PPS Took this photo in Văcărești natural park earlier this week – felt like early fall is creeping in…

sunset in vacaresti natural park

Confessions in the electricity shop

“You know, I can pay you through a bank transfer if you give me your account number.” I tell my dentist as she’s pulling her instruments out of my mouth so I can talk again. “I don’t have enough cash and I don’t have my cards anymore, but I can do that.” I add.

“No, no, it’s fine, I told you. I was actually thinking I might give you some money for food” she says and that brings tears into my eyes but I quickly swallow them thanking her for her infinite kindness. She’s a good friend, my ‘dangerous Syrian boy’ would say. I’d told her my wallet was stolen/ lost and she insisted I should still come for the appointment.

And when she’s done fixing a tooth on the upper right side (the side with the swollen eye and the upset ear from landing this Saturday and the bike crash before my birthday this autumn), we both get out and she gives me a lift and drops me close to my home. We catch up on each other’s lives on the way and I meet her husband when I get out of the car and knowing that he, too, exists is reassuring and makes me more confident about my resolutions.

I stop at a small electricity shop and I find the door is locked. I look for the schedule on the narrow glass door and, before I find it, the door opens and a beautiful lady in her mid sixties welcomes me in.

“I’m listening. What is it?” she says and I notice her heavy makeup behind her thick glasses and her beautiful mouth and her clear, shiny skin.

“I need two light bulbs. A smaller one and a bigger one” I say hesitantly, realizing I sound like a woman who doesn’t know about electrical stuff. But since I’m talking to another woman, I’m relaxed about it.

“Do you know this neighborhood?” she asks fetching a couple of light bulbs from a shelf behind her and placing them on the counter in front of me, taking them out of their boxes and trying them for me to see that they work.

“Well, a little bit, I suppose. I haven’t lived here very long.”

“How long?”

“About a year and a half I think…”

“Do you get along with them?”

“I don’t know? With who? I don’t really interact with people around here…”

“I can’t take it anymore. I have some problems” she says making me stop and suddenly evaluate my possibilities. “How long can I still go on? What do you think I should do?” she asks staring into my eyes. “These people, they expect me to have sex with the boss of the neighborhood. Would you have sex with someone whose hands look like sausages? Would you be able to? With someone with loose skin, hanging about them like this?” she asks painting the image around her with her hands. “With someone who smells of garlic or who knows what else? With a seventy-five year old? I’m sixty-three. I am clean, I take care of myself, I can’t have sex with anyone like that.” she continues. “Why do you think they torment me like this?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.” At this point she’s got all my attention and my heart feels warm and a part of me reaches out to her over the counter, hugging her and wiping the tears running down her powdered, wrinkled cheeks.

“I had a family. They took it from me. I want my son. I want Cristi to come. Why isn’t he coming? You tell me.”

“I’m sorry… I don’t know…”

“I had a husband. My husband had a mistress. He would go and fuck her and then come back home to me and our son. You know, home is a state, an atmosphere. He couldn’t leave us… He came home every time. I see him sitting on a chair in the kitchen, his tears falling on the tiled floor. It’s you that I love, he used to say to me. And I believed him. Still, he kept fucking her. Now he is dead. But our family was destroyed before he died. They ran into it with a bulldozer. Why would anyone do that to someone?” she pauses again for me to answer.

“I don’t know…” and my own tears start blurring my vision as she’s giving me a glimpse into a possible future and I’m emptied of myself like a bath tub of which you suddenly remove the drain stop.

“At least if someone came to me and said: Mrs Doina, I have this against you…. I don’t like this about you… That is why I am tormenting you… But nobody says anything… You have to explain to me! Tell me!” her tears prevent her from continuing here and she takes a short break.

“I am sorry… I don’t know why this is happening to you…”

“And they torment me every day. They say nasty words, they steal my things, they took my boy, they took my family, my life, everything… Tell me why… Would you do that to anyone?”

“I don’t know why… I wouldn’t do that. I hope I’ll never be able to do that to anyone.”

“What can I do? Tell me?”

“Perhaps you should pray. Ask for guidance… Try to find some inner peace…”

“I can’t. I have tried. I can’t do that anymore. It’s too difficult. I can’t even go to church. It’s too much. You know?”

“I know…”

“Is it because I have these eyes?” she asks taking off her glasses to reveal her beautiful big eyes under her heavily made up eye lids. “Is it because I have these lips? Is it? Because I see when men come into the shop, they look at my lips. Perhaps they imagine their organ between my lips, you know… Perhaps that’s what they imagine…”

Her lips are beautiful – so soft and innocent and still so feminine and elegant, nothing vulgar or withered about them. And at this point I imagine kissing them. Just because I feel so much love for this woman right now and I imagine my touch would make her fly a little, help her forget about her life and take off with me in a dream. We could both disappear. I imagine leaning over the counter between us, my lips searching for hers and at the first soft touch, we both take off like two sister rockets and shoot up through the roof of the shop, making all the light bulbs and the cables and the fuses and everything burn in short, strong explosions like fireworks all around us. And we just disappear together. A well deserved break from life.

I’m standing still, back straight, arms straight, chin raised to meet hers, my eyes holding hers. What is it about me that puts me in situations like this? I am the silent dervish again (references here and here). Holding it all together so that the other one can express the pain. I am there for her. I love her with all my heart. I don’t judge, I just listen.

“Why is this happening to me?” she insists. “Why do people do this to other people? Why? What do you think?”

Since she insists, I make my confession, too. Just because for a moment there I think she needs to know she’s not the only one in pain, she’s not the only one asking herself and the others questions about life and the meaning of things. I confess everything.

“Oh, but that’s a totally different thing”, she says without the faintest sign of compassion.

“I should pay for the light bulbs”, I add deciding to get out of there.

“It’s 3 lei. And take care of yourself.” she replies.

“Thank you” I say in the end. “I wish you all the best, a light heart and peace.” and I truly feel blessed with a precious gift as I’m walking out of the shop.

Before getting home to write her story, a poem for a friend and a thank you card marking an end and a beginning, I make another short stop in the market across the road for some cheese. Just as I step out of the cheese shop and head for the exit, I am met by Annie Lennox’s convincing voice coming from a radio in a shop:

How many sorrows
Do you try to hide
In a world of illusion
That’s covering your mind?
I’ll show you something good
Oh I’ll show you something good.
When you open your mind
You’ll discover the sign
That there’s something
You’re longing to find
The miracle of love
Will take away your pain
When the miracle of love
Comes your way again.

I have absolutely no doubt about it.

PS Coming up on the blog: the story of my week in Sweden this winter.

My last day in Konya and Turkey goes crazy again

Although I was planning to sleep longer today and I feel like hiding under the duvet rather than getting out, the stories still tossing about inside me, struggling to survive like fish out of water before they receive their words, wake me up at 7.30 and, despite my repeated attempts to ignore their impulses, eventually they pull me out of bed and soon my fingers are typing, weaving the new clothes my mind is tirelessly designing for the stories lined up around me.

The street and the air-conditioning noise make me think it must be raining heavily before I actually pull the curtain and notice it is a sunny day. I need to make plans and write and send postcards, meet another nice girl from couch surfing later on and let her take me around. And, yes, Rumi and Shams one more time.

The second half of yesterday in Goreme (a story I have not posted yet) is still haunting me and a part of me is still struggling with what seems like a bit of a trauma. That gives me something more to work on, if I didn’t already have enough. And it is still so fresh I am not entirely sure I know what to make of it yet, so I just ask my angel to help me make sense. And remember to thank him again and again.

I go down the stairs and notice the weird shape of the reception on my left and the breakfast room right in front of the stairs. I realise I must have been really tired last night not to notice absolutely anything. I stop at the reception, placing my hands on the stone counter and ask for my passport back. The fat bearded receptionist asks me my room numbed and then hands me back my passport.

As I turn and walk into the breakfast room, I soon notice I am the only woman there. Except the all male staff, three other men are having their breakfast. They all look at me as my painful knees only allows me to take small, carefully placed steps across the room. The open buffet breakfast selection is generous enough and I am happy about the fresh fruit, different cheese types and parsley plate.

As I sit down at a table for two next to the window, I get so cold I need to take a sip of hot cay before touching the food. On the wall on my right there is a huge TV screen and everyone, including the staff, is watching. I don’t usually pay attention to the news and I don’t watch TV, but now I feel I should try to make out what this is all about. I cannot understand Turkish, but I see Erdogan giving a speech, his facial expressions so cold and sharp, and then an image of him shaking hands with Angela Merkel, followed by images of street shooting, explosions and something about terrorim.

I resent my autism for the political world and for the first time since I left Romania I want to know what is going on. Facebook and WhatsApp are not working this morning and that makes me uneasy. I remember my decision to come to Turkey now was largely based on my feeling that things are going down fast and it will not be so easy to come here anymore. I do hope I am wrong. When I come back to the room, I do a Google search and become a member of the society again. Although I still have no access to Facebook and WhatsApp. I feel I want to go home. I finish my post about the drive back from the caravanserai, write postcards with random Rumi quotes from the poetry book I brought with me and decide to head out into the city again.

Excuse me, do you know why Facebook and WhatsApp aren’t working?”
“Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter. All finish today in Turkey”, the fat receptionist tells me. “But is ok”, he adds when he sees my face flaring up as my worst fears are coming true.

I find a way to communicate with Merve – the girl from Couchsurfing I am supposed to meet later: I send her a message using the couchsurfing app, telling her (as if she didn’t already know) that WhatsApp and Facebook aren’t working. She quickly replies: “At 4.30 pm I will come to nun hotel😉 unfourtanetly these arent working cause of political troubles anyway if you need sth write me here best see you😉.”

I can hear the muezzin as I am getting out of the hotel to go to Mevlana again. This is not the adhan. I have been here long enough to know that. It is too long. I’m feeling anxious and every loud noise is making me nervous. I look around carefully and curiously and I am happy I am not hiding in my room like a mouse.

I picked a bad time to be a writer in Turkey. I quickly evaluate my situation: I have just upset an influential hotel owner in Goreme who used to be a cop in Istanbul and brags about owning a gun and doing cocaine, informed me he has a copy of my passport and my fingerprints, along with perfectly valid DNA samples and threatened to stage a crime for me so that I won’t be able to leave Turkey; all with a smile on his face. (Did I decide to solve all my karmic issues by the end of this year, by the way? I wonder…) Let’s go on now, that was not everything: I am a single woman traveling alone in Konya, the most religious and traditionalist city of Turkey, where almost nobody speaks English. But let’s not get paranoid, shall we? I made an unfortunate choice of European clothes. Otherwise I look Turkish enough. Though I am not sure that is so good now, either… And can say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye, ‘thank you’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘honey’. That should do. So I hide my map in my pocket, put my leather purse in my backpack and head to Rumi. This is a holiday, after all.

So many people outdoors on their knees praying in front of mosques. I guess it is simply prayer time and the mosques are too small for the big number of people praying. I have never seen that before and take my phone out and take some photos. I cannot help thinking about writing. Tomorrow is not so far away and I will return home in one piece, inshallah.

There are many more people at Rumi’s tomb than on Moday. And I let the quote above the gate lead me inside: “This place has become a Ka’bah for the lovers of God. The one who comes here with flaws has now become completed.” I now walk before his tomb completed.

As much as I like going to places for the first time, I absolutely adore it when I arrive for the second time. It is like a bonus and I can have a better, more quiet experience once the rush and the excitement that accompany the first experience have settled. Rumi fills me again and my chest becomes round and light like a hot air balloon, taking me up.

When I get out of the Mevlana museum the crowd praying in front if the mosque has scattered and it is quiet again.

I cross the street to pay another visit to Shams. As I get to his mosque, some kids are trying to sell me tissues and as I hurry inside I forget my shoes on and they quickly help me remember. Then, after a few minutes in front of his tomb, feel I have forgotten to cover my head. As I am pulling my hood over my hair, I see from the corner if my eye the kind, blue-eyed man heading towards me and suddenly changing direction as my hood is finally covering me.

I am not sure where I got this image of Shams as a tall, thin, bald man, wearing black. It is more than just an image. I can feel his presence. The strongest man I have ever felt. And the most free. His strong, black eyes looking at me and through me. I can only address him as ‘my love’. That clock on the right side of his tomb makes me cry again. Measuring absence. Why do we do that? I complain to him a lot about his being away. It is so hard to leave again.

Carry me, my love. In your strength, I can be weak.
You are not to be carried, my love. You are strong.
It is hard here without you. I don’t want this strength. I want you.
I am you. I am inside you. You are me. Go. You are never without me. It is not here that you will find me. But in your heart. In your eyes. In your hands.

I let him convince me and I finally get out of the mosque. It is a warm, sunny day and the fear and tension floating around cannot scare me anymore. I am a writer travelling in Turkey. Strike all the description I made above. I am free. I am strong. I am smart. And I am no threat to anyone. I do not fight wars. I have no ambition or interest in any conflict. I believe we are all very similar, our differences are merely geographical, which makes us allthe more interesting to one another. My strength is serving only love. And it shall never change its master.
I take a walk through the old part of the city and get lost in the narrow streets, lined with packed shops and loud buyers. My stomach is still protesting against the tension and tells me a better idea would be to avoid crowds, but I simply ignore it since I have not come here to hide.

I leave the old center and find the post office eventually. After a long line, I manage to make the lady there understand I want stamps for ten postcards, not just ten stamps regardless of their value. So after she gives me ten stamps and I pay for them, I convince her to give me twenty more. “Expensive”, she says laughing. ” Evet!” I almost scream back, thinking how difficult it is in this country to keep in touch with the rest of the world. There was this box in the post office and I couldn’t help thinking Turkey should get one, too:

I then get back to my hotel and release my knee for one more hour from the terror of the tight jeans. (Did I just write terror?) I lie in bed working on my blog as I am waiting for Merve. When she finally arrives, having driven through busy traffic and then left her car somewhere and walked to the hotel because the road was blocked, I am so happy to meet her in front if the reception, as if I were meeting a very old and dear friend and we hug and kiss and look in each other’s eyes with so much gratitude.

“So what’s going on?” I ask as we are walking to her car.
“Ah, well, political trouble. The news here said there was an attack, an online attack, and that is why Facebook and WhatsApp and Twitter are not working. And they are now trying to fix the situation.”
“Bullshit!” I hear myself say before I can stop myself and quickly add: “Sorry!”
“Yes, of course it’s bullshit.” Merve replies, making me feel more at ease now.
She’s about my height, wearing a scarf over her head and glasses and a long green coat over black trousers and purple knee length dress. She looks so beautiful and strong and I am feeling so lucky to be in her company. She tells me she is a doctor and has an exam in two weeks and feels rather anxious about it. We get to her car and I can’t help thinking I’m getting into a car with a stranger one more time. Although this time I am sure I have nothing to worry about.
She then takes me to dinner to this nice place next to a river and we also feed some cats and the ducks on the river. We talk about Romanian and Turkish and make a list of common words, while Merve is taking photos of us. Then we drive to Meram and have hosmerim, a traditional dessert, on a terrace with a bird view of the city. On the way, she suddenly exclaims:

“Oh, yeah! Internet is back! I am happy!” and my thighs can finally release some of the tension.

It is here that she hands me a small black box with a gift from her – a necklace and a pair of earrings, right after I get another “You look so Turkish!” from the waiter.

“I just like making people happy” she says.

We then make a stop at the mall and drive to Nari and pick up my luggage (I can’t help making a note of the fact that I leave my bag with my wallet and passport and everything in the car as I go up to Nari’s apartment to get my suitcase and I tell myself I never want to be so ‘careful’ that I trust no one; though, maybe, I should be a bit more selective, I admit) and then head back to the hotel. By the time I get to my room I am so tired and my knee is so upset I just want to pass out I my bed and forget everything. Tomorrow seems too far away. Oh, yeah, and again I get the precious advice to AVOID CROWDED PLACES. Right.

PS It looks like the images are not uploading, so I will have to do that in Bucharest.

Turning Turkish on my first night in Cappadocia, Goreme

I arrive in Goreme just as the muezzin is performing the adhan. I look around, trying to guess the direction to my hotel from the description on booking.com, but I soon realise a better idea is to get help, so I head towards the most populated area. I soon find out Goreme is a village, so the populated region is a group of small shops. 

In about two minutes I find myself in front of this travel agency, where a guy in his mid twenties is just finishing a conversation with an Asian tourist and I see in his eyes he’s getting ready to fish for me. I am too happy to hear he speaks English to care about anyting else.

“Hi there. I am looking for my hotel. Do you think you could help?”

“Of course I can. But come in, I can offer you something to drink and we can talk.” he says, pronouncing every word clearly and separately, carefully and as convincingly as he can. 

“Thank you, that’s very kind. I’ll come back later, now I just need to find my hotel and check in first. It’s Mystic Cave House Hotel. Do you happen to know where it is?”

“Yes. It is very close actually. Just go round the mosque and to the right and you will find it.”

“Really? Are you sure? I mean I just came from there and didn’t see it.” 

“That is because it looks like there is nothing there. But you will find it.”

“OK, thanks, see ya then.” I reply, feeling little bit discouraged by the involuntary unflattering description.

“Wait! What is your name? he says, coming down the steps into the sidewalk in front of me, his right hand reaching out.

” Daniela.” I smile and shake his hand.

“Samet”, he says, stressing the ‘a’ and making it stretch like chewing gum, one end between his teeth and the other one tightly squeezed between his fingers. 

“Where are you from?”

“Romania.”

“I traveled to Romania two months ago. I love it.” he says, all the time keeping eye contact, his eyebrows tensed in a little frown from the constant concentration. 

“Oh, really? I’m happy to hear that. OK, see you later then.” I add, resolving not to trust him. 

“OK. I am waiting. I can offer you some good deals on tours. Better than your hotel. ”

“Tesekkur, we’ll talk about that later then.”

“Oh, you can speak Turkish. You look Turkish, too.”

“Thank you. I can only speak a few words, I am not very Turkish.”

When we finally manage to say good bye, I go round the mosque, which is maybe 50 m away and past a public toilet and see my hotel on the right. I like the stone walls and think it looks good enough, but I am still expecting the worst, on account of the very good deal I got on it. (That’s another thing: I tend to expect things that seem good to go bad – just another virus I need to clean from my system.)


The reception, a small kiosk-like space next to the entrance, looks rather unwelcoming and the receptionist – an agitated guy, light brown hair, bruised face (!?) that seems never to have known laughter or even smiling, rough hands and dirty fingernails – is very unfriendly and gives me the impression of a newly escaped convict planning a revenge. He never says ‘please’ or ‘thank you’, but keeps ordering me around.

“Are you ok?” I ask, looking for his eyes. 

“Yes.” he quickly replies and seems to stop there for a moment, surprised by the question.

“You seem very busy and tired.” I insist, looking for a small doorway to his heart. I don’t find it this time, but I am determined to try again on our next encounter. 

He takes my backpack and leads me to my room. But for the small, covered, high window, everything looks good. The bathroom (which is not a separarate room, but a corner enclosed by glass walls only a few centimeters taller than me) is an interesting surprise and I can’t help thinking about how it would be to have to share the room.



I take off my coat and rest for a while, send a few messages, then take a long hot shower and when I get out again it’s dark. I wonder if I can still find the travel agency  open. I go round the mosque and the call to prayer starts again, making me wonder if all my arrivals and departures are to be blessed like this on my entire trip. 

Before I get to the travel agency, I get the feeling that being out after dark on my own around here is not the best idea, although I have never been afraid of that. I find the guy sitting outside and, when he sees me, he quickly invites me in. We take our seats and he offers coffee, but I politely decline on account of the late hour.

“I have hot chocolate. Do you want hot chocolate? he insists, so sure of himself.

“Thank you, I think I’ve had too much chocolate today, actually.”, I tell him, remembering my lunch on the go.

I look at him and I see he’s becoming offended by my refusals, so I decide to make him feel good.

“Do you also have water? I would really love some water. I feel so thirsty!”

“Yes, I do have water!” he quickly replies, clinging to the question as if to a lifebuoy.

You look so Turkish, you know, really. Are you sure you’re not a little bit Turkish? ” he says as he’s bringing me my water.

“Oh. Thank you.” I laugh. “Who knows? Maybe I am.”

“What happened here?” he asks pointing to my right eye. And I realise he is actually the first person to ask openly about it since I left Bucharest.

“Fell off my bike.” I quickly reply and right after I close my mouth I bite my lips to stop myself from answering what he didn’t utter out loud. 

“When was that?” he insists.

“Friday. So it was my birthday on Sunday and this trip is my gift.” I continue, changing the subject so that he doesn’t get kicked in the balls before I get a deal.

” Really?! Happy birthday! Great gift. Who is it from?”

“Thank you. Myself.” I reply and see clearly what he is thinking: I got beaten up by my jealous husband because I cheated on him, so in a fit of anger, I took off my wedding ring, flushed it down the toilet (or just threw it in a drawer, his mind is not decided about this detail), took all the cash in the house, packed the bare necessities and ran away from home. 

I smile to the image and let him have it, petting my left knee as I convince my leg to stay put and leave my foot on the floor. 

“I like your style of clothes. It is European. Don’t ever change that.” he continues checking me out and making remarks as if voicing lines from an inner dialogue while weighing an item in a shop right before purchasing it. Or stealing it.

“I like you. You are a nice person.” he continues, convincing himself the merchandise he’s got his eye on is a good choice. 

“You’ve just met me, I just walked in here five minute ago. ” I reply somewhat indignantly, perfectly aware that it is all a strategy meant to open myself up, feel comfortable, be friendly and get ripped off. And it doesn’t bother me, I can tell it’s what usually works for him. I just realise one more time how much people really need to be seen, to be appreciated, noticed and valued. So much so that they are willing to pay through their teeth to get the illusion of it. 

“Don’t get me wrong”, he continues, waving his thick ring in my face. ” I am engaged to be married. I am leaving to America in two months. My fiancé is there.”

“That is wonderful! Congratulations!”

“So if you come to the USA, I can be tour guide there if you wish to visit the Grand Canion. I will open a travel agency there.” he adds and I am not sure if I can believe him.

“Good luck! You are starting a new life. Great! All the best to you!” I sincerely wish him. “So, what have you got for me then? I am here until the day after tomorrow.”

And we start discussing options and prices and I know from Hamodi – my dear Syrian friend in Istanbul, whom I met when he was working in the Grand Bazaar – never to settle for the first price. So I negotiate and eventually we manage to shake hands on a tour for the next day. 

I get out and check the name above the agency. It is Angelos Travel. I like that. The dark,  empty street is no discouragement for my desire to explore the new place. Nor is the man kicking a stray dog in the middle of the street, out of the blue. So I walk to this shop opposite the agency and get bread and olives for dinner and then walk up this narrow street and get to a beautiful hotel on the left and then to this small, dusty shop and I go in.


“Merhaba.” I say to this old man as the door opens and I just love hearing my voice saying that. I feel like repeating it and, when I see this older lady wearing a hijab watching TV in the far end corner, I say it again: m e r h a b a (careful about every sound, laying the stress on the ‘e’, rolling the ‘r’, pushing the ‘h’ upwards toward the back of my throat and finally letting the end if the word be released from between my lips like a sigh.

The shop has all possible souvenirs, but I am drawn to this wall displaying handmade necklaces – silk and beads. The lady joins me and explains she has made them all and I can sense, as I’m touching them, that she’s being honest. She helps me try a few of them on before I decide which one is mine. I don’t really need one, I’m thinking as I’m running the tips of my fingers over them, but I look at the old couple and I know they need me to need one, so I decide I can afford it. 


“Cok guzel”, the woman says, admiring her work against my skin and I know she is right. She offers a fair discount and we are both happy. The energy it carries, of the strong hands of a woman who has lived through the hardships of life and never gave up, is a priceless bonus she is not including in the final price. 

“Tesekkur ederim. Gule gule!”

“Rica ederim! Gule gule!”

And, at the end of the day, I am a little bit more Turkish as I head back to my hotel, listening to the adhan again and passing through this empty carpet shop on the way.


And one more stop before my hotel:

A birthday to remember

a nine year old draws a birthday portrait of his teacher
“This is you. I am sorry I cannot draw better, you are so much more beautiful, actually.” A birthday portrait by Ștefan (9 years old).

I am getting ready to go to the airport as I am posting this and I feel so grateful. And so different than in any previous year. Well, not only am I bruised, I also have a cold. But I do hope my arrogance stayed back on the sidewalk where I fell off my bike the day before yesterday and I can now travel light and strong and happy and full of love. Though, come to think of it, I remember my reply to God as I was trying to pull myself together: “I don’t know what You’re trying to tell me. I’m still going.” Probably halfway through my life journey, it is surely a birthday I will never forget.

“Konya? Why are you going to Konya?” my good Syrian friend in Istanbul asks me when I tell him about my birthday trip this year.
“Erm… Well… Because I like… I want… Because I am crazy.” I finally reply, realizing the long explanation would just confuse him.
“I have no doubt that you are crazy”, he answers and we both start laughing. “Or maybe you are not”, he adds, suddenly lost in thought. “Maybe we are. And you are just living your dream.”

I tossed and turned and searched and changed my mind a few times, but then my decision slowly conquered all doubt. It took a scary earthquake to help me finally decide. As the house was shaking and my fear was skyrocketing, I said: “Ok, God, I’m going, I’m going.” Once the decision made, I could see myself there and became so happy I could not sleep properly for two or three nights.

“My mom says she would not travel to Turkey even if they paid her to do it!”, one of the wisest kids in my class tells me as we’re celebrating my birthday. And I just laugh and I can understand her, but see absolutely no danger for me to go there. In the most strict and religious city in Turkey. Couch surfing. Alone.

Last year my birthday trip was to London, meeting friends and enjoying a beautiful autumn week there, getting all spoiled. Although initially I wanted to go to Istanbul, my UK friends convinced me to give up the plan and not spend my birthday alone, among strangers. (Though, really, I am convinced no one, anywhere, is a stranger.) This year the decision was harder to make. I was dreaming about Portugal, but that didn’t work out. Then Malta, but it was totally insignificant to me. Then I realized I really wanted Konya.

“Konya?” my Turkish date asks, “Really, who goes to Konya?! I mean if you’re a foreigner, you never think of going to Konya!”
“Well, I am going.”
“Why?”
“Rumi and Shams.”

The day before yesterday I fell from my bike flat on my face. So now I look like an abused woman. Yesterday I went to the pharmacy, the pet shop and to the supermarket and noticed how everyone was so much kinder than usual. The pity in their eyes was a constant reminder of my bruises.

Although I can only walk slowly because of the bruised knee and my right eye is black and my face badly bruised on the right side, I am laughing on the phone as I am telling my mom what happened, so her initial fright quickly turns into amusement. “And you know”, I tell her, “when the passport control people and everyone else is going to ask me what happened, I’m going to give them the same reply that all abused women always give: I FELL!”

Happy birthday to me!