Getting to Konya

I board my Turkish airlines plane to Konya and I am so happy to find large, comfortable seats and cushions and pleasant music on board. The plane is so much more comfortable than the one I came on from Bucharest and I think Turkish people must really love their own people. I have noticed how their self confidence often borders  arrogance, but I guess it is a healthier form of self respect than the Romanian ever adopted ‘snowdrop position’ or self-sabotaging attitude.

I sit down and take out my tablet to work on my Istanbul blog post. Next to me comes a guy who strikingly resembles my father. Actually, he is an interesting combination between my father and a friend of my father’s.He offers a cushion and inquires about my trip. As we leave Istanbul behind, we are speaking French and I can finally practice smugness and royalty in my perfect French accent again. It has been a while and I giggle inside when words and expressions come to me in ‘la francais de l’ocean’, a language invented with some friends, on the free principle that it makes no difference what words you’re using as long as you are faking the accent with enough pathos.

When I see Konya from up in the air, I feel there is something unique about her. In the evening air, hundreds of amber lights carefully arranged in a closely connected spider web are making me feel I am truly descending into a fairy tale land, all magical and special in its smallest details. I feel so much love curling up like a cat inside my chest and purring silently with contentment. I smile like an idiot again. And everyone who sees me cannot stop smiling back.

 The guy next to me explains he has been living in Paris for the past 35 years and is now visiting his sick, old mother. “C’est la vie”, he adds as I express my compassion. He then offers me a ride, but I decline the proposal, telling him I hope someone is waiting for me.

I am so happy as I get my luggage. No passport control this time. I am home. I search for my ride and do not see the guy. I try calling him and he doesn’t answer and I start thinking he stood me up. A shadow of what could become panic makes itself felt, but it is nothing serious, nothing that can wipe the idiot smile on my face, for sure.

I go for a taxi and the driver, a very big man, quickly comes out and grabs all my luggage, carefully placing it in the car boot. I take out my phone to show him a picture of the address and he simply grabs the phone from my hand and keeps it. OK, I think to myself, Turkish people are not so possessive of their phones. It can’t be bad. He then makes a call from his own phone and I realise he has no idea where the address is. I still do not panic. He hands me his phone and a guy’s voice on the other side is speaking English to me: “Hello, how can I help you?” I laugh and find nothing smarter today than “Can you please tell the driver to take me to the address I gave him?” “Call your friend”, he advises. “The driver needs directions.”

 So I ask him for my phone back. He gets the message and his huge hand passes me my phone. The battery is dying. I try calling the girl I am supposed to be staying with, but the call doesn’t go through. He grabs my phone again, checks the number and says “Ioc”. I know that means no. It finally dawns on me I am completely reckless and start wondering how the heck I am still alive, being so utterly irresponsible and naive. It is not a Turkish number. I do not have her last name. Or her apartment number. And I have no idea where she is from or what she does for a living. 

The driver then stops at this apartment building , I pay for the ride, he grabs my luggage and carries it to the entrance, has a long conversation in Turkish with the doorman, both completely ignoring my presence, and we leave again. He carries my luggage back to the car, we get in and takes me to another building. 

I start giving up and thinking of an alternative. I show him I need my phone to try to make a call and he gives me both mine and his and insists I should use his. I try calling my backup and it doesn’t go thorough. For a moment I even consider calling the guy I initially wanted to stay with, but remember we were not very friendly in our latest communication, after I rejected him on account of (too much) creepy sexual content. It can’t be that bad, I try to convince myself, but my pride awakens and finally makes a positive contribution.

 So I manage to call the guy who said would pick me up from the airport and didn’t show up. I convince myself he doesn’t sound sneaky or creepy and I pass the phone to the driver and they have their conversation in Turkish and he takes me to his address. We stop, get out of the car the driver carries my luggage to the gate and refuses to take any more money from me. 

My new host, a middle aged university professor who travels the world, shakes hands with me, a cigarette burning in the corner of his mouth, grabs my luggage and takes me to his apartment. I notice the ‘precious’ Turkish interior design, but the strongest impact is not from the pink armchairs, but by the thick smoke everywhere, making me take short and calculated breaths and my eyes all burn and let out tears.

 Two other people are there, a woman and a man, in front of a laptop, talking and smoking and playing music. We shake hands and introduce each other and I notice how the man a avoids looking at me and looks down as I come close. I am trying my best to be as natural as I possibility can, as if arriving in a stranger’s house, in a foreign country, with a completely different culture, in a strict and religious city, in the middle of the night is the most natural thing in the world.

 I quickly start explaining my situation and also the bruises and my host translates that the woman tells me I am cute. I smile a lot and I laugh to make myself comfortable. He then takes me on a tour of his house and quickly realise he must be divorced. There are traces of a former family, but now he lives alone. I soon regret my choice of clothes. I think about how long it is before my period and I encourage myself that anything can be treated. Though, on top of everything else, as I was saying in my previous post, lack of personal space in interactions with Turkish people should not be a reason for concern. 

I eventually get the WiFi password, plug in my phone and reistablish a connection with my (previous?!) life. It is still my birthday, although it seems it’s been ages since this morning, when I left home, so I have literally hundreds of messages. Nari, the girl I was supposed to be staying with, calls on WhatsApp and speaks to my new host. He tells me he can drive me to her place because they are neighbours and she is waiting for me with a surprise birthday party, so we should go.”Only if you want to.”

 I secretly thank God and quickly  grab my backpack, as the guy takes my suitcase and we head for the door. “Don’t forget your purse”, he says. And the woman brings it to me from where I left it, next to the wall. ” Oh, it’s OK, tesekkur”, I tell her. “There is nothing much in it, really. Just my passport, cards, plane ticket and all my money”. 

The guy again translates that she says I am cute. I start thinking ‘cute’ means ‘idiot’ in Turkish culture. But I smile and thank them with a short bow, hands put together before my chest, as if expressing my gratitude to a spiritual master. 

When I get to Nari’s house, I finally start relaxing. I am so tired I realise I cannot think straight anymore. It has been twenty hours since I woke up in the morning and I have been through too much. I leave the single guy who travels the world and get to this beautiful girl’s apartment, where a couple is also waiting for me, with their adorable baby. It is so quiet and peaceful and I finally sit down and enjoy. They seem such good, luminous people. Nari cooked delicious food and we eat and she takes out wine glasses that she bought specially for the occasion and I take out the bottle of special Romanian red wine that I brought with me and we enjoy the evening together. They keep insisting I should tell them if they look Korean or Japanese, but I cannot think straight and don’t want my hesitant answers to seem offensive. The couple are from Kazakhstan. I just know they look so beautiful. 

Before they take their baby and leave, they make me birthday wishes:

“You seem like a warm and good person, so may you always meet people who are like you. Also, be healthy, have a good career, good luck, happinesses, take care of yourself, find a good husband and start a wonderful family.”

Istanbul, mon amour

When the plane starts descending and I see the sea and the ships and the the city, my heart becomes so warm I have to remove my scarf so that my chest doesn’t start burning, for fear I might become the first Turkish airlines passenger in the entire history of the company to suffer from spontaneous inner combustion. 

And I find it so hard to stop taking pictures and I don’t even try to wipe the idiot smile off my face as the overweight middle aged Romanian guy next to me scans me in amusement. I feel like Alice going down the rabbit hole. 

Here I come, my love, canim benim , habibi, Istanbul of my heart! Here I come, take me, leave no part of me outside your hug, eat me, swallow me completely, canim benim. Your lover is here, feed on me.

Landing is truly like finally feeling your lovers feet touching yours after a long absence. Well, it is only the third time this year… I let out a sigh of pleasure and finally close my eyes as my head leans back in contentment. Yes, baby, I am bere now yes, evet, evet, evet. He seems happy about the reunion and greets me with my favorite views and with that special pinkish golden light,like honey dripping on my skin, healing all my wounds.

As I get off, I almost run to passport control, forgetting all about my painful knee. I rush through the exit gate and I must look so convincingly happy as I am quickly scanning the crowd lined up at the arrivals, that some of the faces there actually start smiling back uncontrollably. 

I do not see my friend. And I do not sense him there, either. So I fool myself into thinking he must be outside, smoking. I rush out. Still no sign of him. Maybe he’s running late, I tell myself as cinvincingly as I possibly can. So I wait. The possibility that he might not show up, right on my birthday, after having planned and looked forward to our meeting for about a month, seems very remote. Like a thought that comes to sabbotage your peace of mind when you are at your best. So I banish it gently and wait, all the time smiling when someone looks at me. 

I decide I am going to wait no more than thirty minutes. I try without any success to connect to a wifi, so I try calling him instead. Only a woman’s voice informs me in Turkish and then in English that this number cannot be reached. Reality forces herself on me eventually and I take the escalator to the underground and come up with a plan to spend my four hours in Istanbul on my birthday today.

I do not worry and, despite the sudden sharp pain in my heart, I do not even fall into despair. I am not even feeling sad. I am thinking rather it must be karma’s way of telling me to let go once and for all. Let go and move on. So I do. 

If before I had absolutely no plan whatsoever about my day in Istanbul except meeting my friend, I now decide I am taking myself out to lunch in Sultanahmet, right across the street from the Blue Mosque. 

I catch the metro and ask for directions and get them in Turkish and then someone offers me their seat. I start talking to the young girl sitting in front of me and she offers to help.

“Come with me, she says, and we both get off and I submit and follow her. Although, I told her I want to walk, she takes me to the train station, pays for my ticket before I can do anything about it, and we both get on the same train and get off together again, this time at the university. 

Nihan (stress falls on i) is a beautiful long haired brunette Turkish girl from Adana, in her twenties, studying political science and dreaming about going to Europe. Loves the UK. ” Are you a student, too?” she asks me. And though I feel flattered, I disappoint her and say I am a teacher. And then I get the same reaction: “Konya?! Why?!”

After we say goodbye, I walk past the university and the Grand Bazaar. Such dear memories tie me to this place. Perhaps it is time to get untied, to cut myself loose from this spiderweb. But now I am here and enjoy the colorful, loud crowd of Istanbul.

As I start recognising places, I remember the bookshop where I bought “The Dervish Gate” by Ahmet Umit, the book that first introduced Konya to me. So I suddenly decide to make a visit and say thank you. I can see the  Blue Mosque in front of me on the right, so I start searching for the bookshop on the left. I remember it is a famous one and only remember the name when I see it: Galeri Kaisery.

I go in and take a look around and when Rhana comes, the bookshop lady, I am so happy I can thank her for the recommendation she made in April. 

“You know, today, because of that book you recommended, I am travelling to Konya!”

“Really?! Today?! You read the book and are going?”

“Yes. And so I felt I should come in and thank you for it.”

“Well, I am happy for you. You know, I feel you need a new book now. This one: “Potrait of a Turkish Family”. Then you will really understand the Turkish people and our history. It is really everything you need to know about Turkish people. After you read this, you’ll be back again.”

She then pulls out this thick file full of feedback from customers about this book, but she really doesn’t need to. I know it makes sense to get it and, even more than that, I know that somehow it is going to change my life. So I get it.

“You know, I am looking for a place with wifi where I can have lunch. Can you recommend one?”

“Oh, go here, on the right, after the kebab.”

We shake hands and I go. And as I get into the restaurant and up the stairs and down at a beautiful wooden table, I am greeted by friendly faces and I remember I was here before and had something sweet.

The waiter, a tall, stout guy in his late twenties, comes and hands me the menu. When I ask the password for the wifi, he simply takes my phone from my hand and keys in the password himself. I feel it is a bit too much, but then I remember I am in Turkey and I relax. Personal space is an overrated form of distance used by smug people in cold, western European countries.

Yalcin, as he later introduces himself, leans over the table, resting on his elbows, takes the pen from my hand and marks our location on my map to show me how to get back to the airport. He is flirting with me shamelessly, totally ignoring my attempts to intimidate him by giving him my most penetrating look. And, even more outrageously, completeley ignoring the bruises on my face. Up to this moment, everyone began any conversation with me by addressing a few words to my right cheekbone, stripped naked of skin now. So, when this guy looks me directly in the eye, as if he were talking to a real person, I finally start feeling whole again.

A Scandinavian would probably have to get himself drunk before even considering doing anything remotely similar. Or would kill himself instead of ever trying.

An hour and a half later, having resisted the Turk’s attempts to convince me to stay till tomorrow morning, I make my way to the tram station. A guy on the tram quickly explains in Turkish what I need to do. Hands free. Smile free. Flirt free. I can’t understand a word, but, miraculously, I know what he tells me, I get the message.

I get to the airport when the sun is setting and rush to the domestic departures terminal. It is so much cosier than the international departures. I feel like I am in a big Turkish home, where everyone loves me.

Next episode: my first night in Konya- missing my airport pickup, taxi driver who speaks absolutely no English, not finding the address of my host and not being able to contact  her. The great adventure begins.

34th birthday trip: day  1 – Bucharest to Istanbul

I have a special talent turning perfectly good lovers into best friends. So I am looking forward to meeting one of my best friends in Istanbul today at noon. 

The sky is clear and sunny as I leave Bucharest and, as always, I cannot get enough of the sky view. No matter how often I fly, I still think it is one of the best views you can ever have.

No one on the airport in Bucharest asked anything or made any loud remarks about my face. Nevertheless, in the typical Romanian tradition, everyone was staring and whispering. Absence and distance, a cold and safe net in which we get stuck in mid flight, like in a spider’s carefully woven web.
About Istanbul and hopefully photos, in a later post.

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.”
“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!

Birthday gifts this year include a bruised face in a bike crash

My latest date was a smart and handsome guy and it felt like I was dating the center of the universe. (Yes, this is relevant.) Sure, you can be flattered for one night. But the universe can only have one center and you soon start feeling like the periphery.

But on the first (and probably only?) night, as he accompanies me to the Dhafer Youssef concert I’ve been waiting for, smiling and leaning towards me to whisper stuff into my ear, rubbing his shoulder against mine as we sit and eventually taking my hand into his, only to leave the concert hall hand in hand, like two teenagers, I feel good. “You know, I tell him, I haven’t walked hand in hand with someone for…” “… ages”, he quickly completes my sentence. “It feels weird”, I add giggling.

And there’s an insecure part of me thinking “Ah, if my ex is here and sees me, he’ll notice I’m better off now.” But I know it’s not nice, so I banish the thought and continue smiling, my chin a bit raised as if wanting to build a bridge for my eyes so they can roll directly over the insignificant crowd.

Bear with me, I’m getting there. Haven’t forgotten I promised blood and tears.

The next day I have an early birthday celebration at school with the kids in my class and it feels wonderful. They asked me to make them a cake, so that’s what I was doing the previous night at 2 am, after the concert and date. I take out the cake and everyone is excited. I light the candle on it and they want me to tell them (again) the story of how I came into this world, where, in what family and how my life has been so far. I end the story by telling them that I do what I love and I am grateful for my life and a happy person. They then shower me with gifts and flowers and hugs and warm wishes and all cluster around me as I open the gifts one by one and enjoy the surprises.

Getting closer.

I left the school and picked up my bike from where I’d left it two days before, crammed the front basket with my presents and flower bouquets, took out my phone, took a picture of it and posted it on my Facebook wall with the caption “The happiest bike in the world.” “How beautiful!” a lady exclaimed as I was taking it out into the street. “Yes, it is”, I replied. “I was just thinking it must be the happiest bike in the world.”

happy-bike, cycling around bucharest with birthday gifts
Bike crammed with birthday gifts.

And closer.

I get home and leave the presents and flowers and take the bike out again to shop for party stuff. An early birthday party (or rather gathering) at my place, with close and dear friends. I have my shopping list in my backpack and I am still wearing my dusty pink (princess) birthday girl dress. As I’m riding, an obese guy, struggling to walk, looks at me and says “The bike is good.” “Yes, it is”, I answer and speed up past him.

Here it is.

When I get in front of the supermarket, I attempt to make a right turn and jump over the curb of the sidewalk, right in front of the entrance into the underground parking space, where the curb is lower. The front wheel hits the curb and refuses to mount the damn thing, sliding sideways and throwing me and the bike onto the sidewalk. I’ve never fallen before. That’s the thought that echoes in my mind as my face and knee hit the asphalt. I quickly roll and sit up, my face in my hands, knees bent, legs wide open. There’s this faint thought quickly being swiped by an invisible finger at the back of my mind that I am wearing a dress and should probably put my knees together, but my body ignores the hint.

My eyes are closed (I think), but I can still see (or sense) the crowd gathered in the tram station five meters away. And feet walking past me. No one stops. I feel like I am the center of the universe. Alone. The center is always alone. The whole world is swirling around it like whirling dervishes and no one ever touches the center. Everything and everyone keeps moving and I am finally still and so alone. I don’t know how long I am there, I guess a few minutes. Then someone comes, picks me up and moves me away from the side of the street. Picks up the bike and leans it against a fence, hanging my backpack from the left handlebar.

“Are you ok?” he asks me.
“Yes.” I quickly answer. “Thank you.”
“It looks bad.”

I can see in his eyes I don’t look ok. He’s looking at me, assessing the damages and his upper lip slides upwards, revealing some metal teeth and gaps here and there, where his teeth are missing. He’s in his forties maybe, looks dirty and shabby, wearing a green safety reflective vest.

“Please stop touching your face”, he says. “Should I bring my first aid kit?” he asks me.

“I don’t think that is necessary.” I reply as my left hand reaches my pocket for tissues. I find the pack as my fingers get tangled in my hands free headset and I remember I was thinking of calling my mom when I left home. I congratulate myself for not doing that. I take out a tissue and touch the pain on my face and when I look at it I see blood. It’s ok, it’s not much, I think, I am ok.

“Wait here”, he says and disappears behind me.

When he comes back, a minute later, he’s holding his first aid kit and his dirty fingers are quickly shuffling through the stuff in it, looking for something that might help.

“I am so sorry, he says, I just have these bandages, no disinfectant. You should use some disinfectant there, clean the bruise so you don’t get an infection. Here, take this”, he says. And his black fingers hand me this white thing. “It’s a sterile pad” he says. I take it and softly press it against my face and then slowly wipe my bruises.

“Stop it”, he says, “Don’t do that anymore, it’s not good.” So I stop. He then takes the pad from my hand.

“What happened?” he asks.
“I fell.” I feel like I am submitting and answering like a child who doesn’t even consider the option of not answering.
“These drivers… They’re always driving so close to you, aren’t they?”
“It was not that.”
“Did your wheel get stuck in the tram line? Cause that’s what happened to me once and I fell.”
“Did you lose balance?”
“What then?”
“I don’t know. I simply fell. I’d ridden my bike here hundreds of times, did the same thing over and over again. I’ve never fallen before.”
“It happens…” he says in a deeply compassionate tone.
“Where did you come from?” I finally remember I can ask questions and pull myself out of the submissive role.
“Across the street”, he replies. “I saw you and I saw no one was stopping to help you. These people, they just walk by, like you don’t even exist.”
“What is your name?” I ask him as tears start rolling from my right eye only.
“Alexandru. I am a bike courier.”
“I am Daniela.” I smile and it hurts and the tears in my right eye force my left eye to take in the whole picture on its own.

He smiles back and blushes and I can sense he’s not used to the friendliness; it makes him uncomfortable because he has no idea how to react. I take a step towards him and hug him. He’s not used to this either and, like people who cannot stay in a hug, he pats my back as if wanting to encourage me it is time to move away now and put that safety distance between us again.

“Thank you so much.” I tell him.
“You are welcome. I am so sorry I didn’t really have what you need. You should put some ice on your face. Or no, meat. Yes, put some meat on it.”
“Ok, I will” I reply and realize telling him I haven’t bought meat for years because I am a vegetarian makes absolutely no sense. I have ice, I am thinking.
“You shouldn’t go now. You should sit a little”, he says.
“No, it’s ok, I’m fine, I’ll go.” I answer and I am still thinking of doing the shopping.

I say goodbye and after I leave him I realise people are staring, so I figure I must look bad. I check my face in a car window and see the damage. Ok, I think, I’m going home. So I start heading back to the house and as I am walking I start trembling again and it takes me a while before I get to the house and upstairs to my room.

I send a text message to a friend who I know cannot talk. “I had a bad fall with my bike.” Then, as I start crying uncontrollably, I realize I need help, so I call another friend. She answers. She helps.

“Who hates you so much?” the first friend later asks.

It takes me a few hours talking to my friends at my birthday party to realize what the whole idea with the fall is all about. As I am talking to them, telling them the story of the fall and stories of my travels and of the kids in my class and of friends and what not, opening gifts, opening the door, pouring drinks that they brought (because my shopping trip got interrupted by the fall), there’s this part of me observing everything – the tone of my voice, my choice of words, my gestures, my secret thoughts, my feelings, desires, criticisms etc. It’s the first time I do not ask myself what I did wrong to attract the accident.

And I remember my date and how it all went, step by step. And I remember precisely what I was thinking of the moment before I fell: I don’t have patience and don’t want to waste time and energy and I decide to tell him that I like him and ask him if he’s only into one time stuff, 100% sure he is emotionally unavailable and I am not even going to get a reply.

And the whole picture comes together and it dawns on me. I am smug. I have exceeded the safety limit of self confidence. I am proud. I got my right knee all bloody and bruised, my face looks like I got punched by a jealous alcoholic spouse. A damage to my image. Ok, haters gonna hate. True. Still, this is my Achilles heel: pride. Got it, God, thanks!


What a bad date taught me

Sure, it was just one of the many lessons teaching me the same thing. When it comes to life lessons, I am stubborn, I insist, I try again and again and again. But that is just me, don’t mind me.

I have had the precious revelation that we always want to experience our deepest pain passionately, with blood and tears and cuts and bruises. We will never go for the soft version and we never run away from it.

 Unconsciously we are looking for a solution to the ‘problem’. So we create contexts in which we can repeat the same experience with a different setting and different actors, every time hoping we would get out of it chin up and with smooth, unruffled feathers. 

But it doesn’t happen. Not as long as we are still under the illusion that there is a problem to solve, a battle to fight, a war to win, honor to defend, appearances to keep up etc.

When that changes and we feel we are enough, no image to work on, just moving on, heart and eyes open, that is when things can actually change. I hope, at least… 

I am just going to say it could’ve been the perfect couchsurfing hang out. Only it wasn’t. I felt it was not what I wanted, but I thought there is nothing bad about the experience itself. Well, I was right. There was nothing good about it, either. Except for the lesson. It is a precious one. 

PS Oh, and just like with my student, I do not play the ‘victim’ role in this story, either, but rather that of the ‘aggressor’.

Morning ride

Our dreams still floating about us, under layers of fabric and lies, we make our daily way to work. As if our lives depended on it. We make enemies, we fight battles, we lose wars.

Sometimes, when Tinder is down, we look up. And we keep swiping. We match and unmatch, set up dates only to check if we can and then we cancel them for lack of time. It is only 10 minutes or half and hour or an hour before the shift starts. All that our morning ride can afford.

And yet how easily we fool ourselves into believing in yet another day that’s just beginning, promising something new each time. Such a feeling of possibility being born under our warm clothes, a feeling of yes, I know it, I can do it, I got it. And we only allow ourselves the freedom we get in those minutes of awakenness before the light turns green again and it is time to move on.

I am a teacher. I am always a passing episode in my students’ lives.

Never there to stay. Always temporary. A traveler. A couch surfer in their lives. Or a soul surfer. Whether for some months or some years, I know I am not a friend, not family, not a peer. “I am a passenger, and I ride and I ride…” Sometimes when my part is over I feel a bit sad, but I never forget that I should not get too attached and that I need to keep a healthy balance between a warm heart and a clear head. That gives me ease in allowing my students their space and respecting their choice of taking their own path, no matter their age. And I always give myself the same gift, too. Freedom.

And I know I will not be forgotten, no matter how fleeting the encounter. I have not forgotten any of my teachers. Not even the most boring ones. And I may be many things, but boring I am not. Sometimes knowing you won’t be forgotten can feel flattering, but more often it is quite demanding. Everything I do, everything I say, my body language, my look, my choices, my reactions, my feelings, my preferences, everything is perceived more or less subtly, more or less consciously, depending on how old and awake my students are. And it all makes a more or less lasting impact.

So when I break this little girl’s heart, I know it’s not something she’ll easily forget. I am teaching my weekly creative writing workshop in the after school program and I’ve just finished a brainstorming activity, passed the second step and I am getting ready to give out paper and start the first stage of writing when I notice her. She’s a tall, slim, long haired nine year old, quiet and shy. She’s in my class. I see her every day. And I have just noticed her now in my workshop today. Now. When I’ve already finished the warm-up, the lead-in and the preparatory activities and we are all ready to get down to writing.

Her right arm is raised, propped up by her left hand, she’s trembling and tears are running down her red face. She’s raised her arm as high as she possibly can in an effort to make herself noticed so she could contribute. And I didn’t see her. I drop the piece of chalk in my hand and rush across the classroom to her, calling her name. I sit down next to her and I take her in my arms, all the time kissing her hair between sentences.

The moment I see her, I remember looking up to my father trying to get him to notice me, looking at my mother going about her chores, always so busy, hoping she’d come and take me in her arms, I remember that time in my childhood when I thought people could not see your eyes if you look at them unless you also point your head to them, I remember how much I wanted my father to love me, I remember how invisible I was feeling in my former relationship. It all comes back to me in a flood of images, at the same time.

“Please forgive me”, I tell her. “It is my fault. I am sorry I didn’t see you. I think I cannot see well anymore. I should wear glasses. It is my fault. Can you forgive me. I am so sorry, my dear. So sorry. It’s all my fault. I know how you feel. I know I have hurt you. And I am so sorry. So, so sorry.”

Her warm tears have melted on her sweatshirt and are now popping against the skin on my neck and my arm. I can feel her heart pounding, like a wounded bird’s against my chest. I feel her entire body trembling and I can feel her pain. I want to take her in my lap and never let her go again. I know exactly how she feels. I feel her pain. I have felt her pain so many times. My childhood was about the same kind of pain. Not being seen, not being found, not being valued, being forgotten, passed by, skipped, ignored. My life is still about that same pain, only to a much smaller degree and much more consciously.

And so now I am feeling so grateful to her for the lesson. And to whoever is orchestrating this whole shebang. It is me who has done this. Me. I love her so much. My intentions have never been even remotely close to this. And I have opened her most painful wound. Unintentionally. I was just going about my work. To the best of my abilities in that moment. And I realize this is what everyone does all the time. The best they can, the best we can. Right then and there. And that, truly, we cannot do otherwise. If we could, we definitely would. And that the reality is that we are all most precious helpers for one another.

When her mother comes to pick her up, I approach her, pull her in the  classroom next door and I confess everything. “I think this was for you, actually. It is you who needed to have this experience.”, she says smiling and hugs me before we say goodbye.

There’s a party in the white house, opposite the bamboo forest on the corner of my favorite street.

It’s 10.30 pm. I got home an hour earlier and tomorrow I am working from 8 am to 9 pm. My place is a complete mess – bed not made, dust bunnies creeping up in corners, sink full of dirty dishes, piles of clothes thrown on chair backs, cat desperate and me dead tired. I send some messages to keep up the illusion of a social life and I just leave everything as it is, put on my running clothes and go out. I don’t have patience for warming up, so I start running. I check up on the hookers and nothing interesting is happening. I’m writing in my head as I am running, so I pay little attention to the surroundings. The guardian at the embassy of Jordan doesn’t come out of his kiosk to greet me. It’s cold. The lack of respect offends her majesty, who speeds up, perking up her butt. It’s midnight when I finish writing, so I disappear before the spell breaks.

It’s that season again

I smile to the woman who crosses the intersection in front of me, riding her bike, her long, wheaty hair mounting the wind. She notices me and, for a fraction of a second, we make eye contact as she smiles back and disappears into the noisy traffic flow as if swept away in a flash flood. Waiting for the light to turn green, my bike seat firmly squeezed between my thighs, one foot pushing against the curb of the sidewalk, I am thinking about death.