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!