35th birthday journey of initiation: the story of my home birth

“Cristi, please get me a towel.” I whisper, petting his shoulder.

It’s about 1.30 am and I’ve just come to bed after a busy day, finishing most of the tasks I’ve set for myself on my long, pre-birth to do list.

“Err… a towel, yes… a towel…”, he answers, falling back asleep.

“Will, you please get me a towel?” I insist, still managing to keep my voice low.

“Ihim…”, he answers falling back asleep once more.

“If you don’t get up to get me a towel NOW, we’ll soon both be in a big puddle”,  I explain.

“Yes… Where from?” he asks eventually getting up and standing beside the bed.

“From the towel drawer”, I answer realizing he’s still half sleeping. “The second one from the top.”

“Here you are”, he says as he hands me two towels, still folded.

I take them and shove them under me, carefully lifting my hips from the warm puddle I’ve made under me. I can still feel the soft, warm liquid streaming out, warming up my thighs and my lower back. So… this is how it feels, I say to myself. I’ve always wondered what it feels like and was a bit worried it might happen while I’m on the street or riding the metro. And I was secretly hoping it might be just a small stream only I would be aware of, that could pass by unnoticed util I get home.

“Are you ok?” he asks, still sleepy.

“I think so”, I reply and notice the excitement in my voice as I giggle.

“Come closer to me, so that you don’t sleep on the wet spot”, he says and I know he still hasn’t realized what’s happened.

“I don’t think I can sleep now… I mean… I don’t remember how long it lasts now before the contractions start, but I don’t think it’s so long and I doubt I can sleep…” I explain avoiding to break it to him that my water’s just broken.

It’s only then that the reality of the situation dawns on him and he suddenly feels so unprepared. I can feel he’s awake and alert now, going over what he still hasn’t found the time to do: reread the Lamaze course support, install a contraction timer app, put batteries in that flash light and I don’t even want to know what else…

Contractions start shortly and they’re still bearable, so I can afford to laugh in between them, remembering his initial reaction and confusion at the news. I soon find it annoying when he turns on the light and starts doing research on his phone. But his big eyes looking at me in awe have a calming effect and I advise him to relax and just be there for me, supportive and affectionate – that’s all I need.

I feel we’ve had all year to prepare and here we are, caught it seems a bit off guard. I was really hoping the baby might wait another week or at least a couple of days more, despite all the signs I had announcing birth, just to give me time to feel more prepared. And was also thinking it might be kind of cool to give birth on my birthday. I was actually thinking this might be the trip I’d take this year: a real journey of initiation – birth.

I get into the warm bath and water has such a calming effect. I ask him to sit by me and just stop thinking about what to do. When I get out, contractions become stronger and I decide it’s time to call for help. We do that and help is on its way, in a different team than initially planned, but we would learn that only later.

My initial thought as labor begins, that it would be short and intense, gradually proves to be half right – it’s long and intense. And as it progresses, many worries and thoughts come and pay brief visits – everything that’s ever bothered me in our relationship, a tendency to rationalize everything, as well as feelings and thoughts I pick up from my helpers. There’s a lack of cohesion in the team and we don’t seem to be on the same page. We do have the same purpose – the safe delivery of my baby, but we seem to have different visions as to how this can come about. Yet I will only become aware of this later, when I look at the experience in hindsight, trying to put things together and make sense of everything that’s happened.

There’s just the fear of pain briefly visiting me as expulsion begins, otherwise anxiety and fear are just passers by in the room, invited by some of my helpers. I try to close the door on them and focus on what I have to do, but I was educated to be a good host, to welcome guests and attend to their well being, so turning my back on them proves to be a bit of a challenge.

“We are one, I am one with it”, I’m thinking and feeling as each contraction takes over my body, leaving me more and more exhausted and teaching me about releasing control. Despite the excruciating pain and occasional feelings of helplessness, I have never felt stronger in my life. It’s true what they say: you do get such a wonderful feeling of empowerment, a feeling that if you can do this there’s nothing in the world that you cannot do. You can do anything.

Nevertheless, as I’m going through contraction after contraction, I am also visited by the thought that you must be crazy to ever what to go through this again. “Three kids?! Jesus Christ! If we adopt the other two, maybe…” I remember saying to myself, sitting on my knees on the bedroom floor, feeling cold and warm at the same time, sweat running all over me as if I’ve just showered, getting ready to survive through one more contraction.

“But you wouldn’t do it again”, my mother tells me in her most self assured voice when I call her on her birthday, just four days later, and she decides to start a conversation about her own fears. What is it that makes dropping their fear bundle over you so irresistible to people? I wonder… Can’t they just mind (or heart) their own fears themselves?

“Yes, I would, actually”, I quickly reply, surprised by my own determination.

“Really?!” she says. “And you wouldn’t change anything?” she insists.

“Well, yes, I think I would. I would still give birth at home, but I would change a bit the organisation, the plan, and alter the team membership, I think.

“Of course. You wouldn’t want Cristi there again”, she replies as if throwing a poisoned arrow at me. Poisoned by her own bitter life experience.

“What do you mean, mom? Of course I would want him there. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel that having this experience together has brought us much closer that anything else could have. It has changed each of us profoundly and has taken our relationship to a whole new level. I know your opinion on men being present at birth, but it’s YOUR opinion, not mine”, I explain and I know I have shocked her again, forcing her to look at life from a perspective totally outside her experience.

Now, a week later, everything is changed. Every day brings changes and is so different that anything I’ve ever lived before. I’ve never been so in love. Nor have I been so amazed before. And although I’ve spent almost the whole year carrying this baby inside me, witnessing all the changes and every day of his growth, I still find it miraculous that I can now hold him in my arms. All we did was love each other – me and his father. And we got this amazing gift that’s beyond anything we could have ever hoped for.


I love it that he takes so much after his father and looks like a little dwarf and he smiles so much. I am reflecting on impermanence and the changing nature of things and I am contemplating the fact that he’ll never be this young again and he’ll never be inside my womb again and he’ll continue to grow and all this attachment, after all the build up, will have to gradually diminish and it already feels difficult.

I’m also reflecting back on the whole birth experience and, trying to understand why expulsion was so long and difficult for me, I remember I was pushing and was not actually visualizing pushing the baby out. It was as if there was a barrier I was setting up, a stop sign. I could easily and relatively quickly get to the pushing stage, but not through the pushing stage. How can I push out someone I never want to be away from? On the other hand, how can I open myself so much? How can I become so vulnerable? How can I give in so much? How can I put myself so much in the hands of my caretakers?

So, right at the end, as the baby’s head starts coming out, everybody in the birth team comes together in a mutual effort to safely deliver this baby right here and now. And I feel no one is thinking about going to the hospital anymore and we are beyond the question of using or not using the birth pool or of what other homeopathic remedy to take, beyond the choice of mantras, essential oils or energy work techniques. Everyone is contributing to the miracle of bringing this new person into this world and there’s such strong support from above. Here and now. And this time is so precious, when everything else just vanishes and we’re all here and now, united in the same effort. When I finally hold my baby and feel his warm, wet skin against mine, after about 14 hours of labor and a sleepless night, I know it was all worth it and all the pain and the exhaustion quickly vanish, replaced by pure bliss.

Now we float above the world in this hot air balloon, the three of us, as if on an early morning on a journey in Cappadocia – the land of beautiful horses. This is how my baby’s heart sounded throughout labor – like the hooves of a beautiful young horse running up a hill, over a fresh green pasture on a wet morning. What else could make me happier on my birthday?

Here are the posts about my birthday trip last year:


A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day ten: Alexandroupolis – Bucharest

The next morning, though we’re sleeping in a tent and hear the birds chirping, other campers snoring, still others zipping and unzipping their tents, others starting their cars and so on, getting up doesn’t seem the easiest thing to do, so we keep postponing, although sweaty and hungry, until around 9 o’clock.

It’s another hot day when we leave the camping, having said goodbye to the sea, the island a little bit hidden behind clouds, making it easier for us to go home, of course. We do some shopping for the road (mainly fruit for the little fruitarian runner, of course) and hit the highway. (Oh, yes, the supermarkets are open today in Greece, it’s Tuesday.) I realize only now how close we are are to the Turkish border and that partly explains the large number of Turkish campers who were our overnight neighbors.

I get a lump in my throat as we’re leaving. It’s been like a honeymoon in three and perfect just the way it was and I don’t want it to end. Ever.

We resolve to speak English on the way back and there is a short delay before we start. Stalling is something we are especially good at, by the way. English between us is awkward and I’m thinking about the little fruitarian runner overhearing our conversation and imagine he’s feeling a bit confused.

Sunflower fields are growing on the side of the highway and I can’t imagine why I didn’t notice them a week ago. For mysterious reasons, the GPS takes us on a detour through a narrow road in a fir tree forest before taking us back to the national road. It looks beautiful and deserted. Only later will I find out about the stories of the Bulgarian robberies and hijacks. I can only be happy I had no worries on the road.

We make a stop in Velko Tarnovo for a hot walk, to stretch our legs and see the castle there on the outside, before getting on with our trip, making plans for the time ahead so that the return doesn’t seem purposeless, pointless and joyless.

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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day nine: Leaving the island

We postpone getting up, having absolutely no desire to pack and leave this place. When we do, eventually, it’s because we want to be kissed by the sea again.

We pack and have a pleasant breakfast on the balcony, accompanied by butterflies and singing cicadas, while the sheep in the neighboring garden are silent this morning.

We carry our luggage and stuff it in the car, then head to our favorite beach in the south – Lakkoma. I’m holding up through the swim and the first few minutes on the beach beds, but then sadness and a feeling of longing and lack creep inside and I give in.

“I don’t want to go…” I complain, rolling on to one side. And then, trying to keep it all together and struggling for a more positive attitude, I add:

“Let’s make our life beautiful every day. Let’s do beautiful things that make us happy. So that we are not sad about having to go back home.”

I can feel the water evaporating from my darkening skin as when we get out of the car in the harbor and look for the ticket office. We have already purchased the ferryboat tickets online and we need to have them printed there. The sun is cruel.

We eventually find the office, following the directions of a beautiful islander. We get in and stand in line for a few minutes, to benefit from the impoliteness of the clerk, an overweight middle aged man, of course, who can speak only Greek. He is very rude and shows us how bothered he is by the electronic tickets we show on the mobile phone screen. He finds it difficult to read the ticket number and, when he manages to, he keys it in on his computer and prints our tickets, which he throws on the counter in front of us without a word. I secretly think it is life’s way of making leaving easier on us.

We then send postcards to our family and ourselves, which we have written on the beach after the swim. Hoping for the best, I take them out of my turquoise purse and slip them in the yellow box on the side of the road in the harbor.

I desperately need to go to the toilet and choose the taverna I have been admiring the whole week but never gone to. It’s an old, wooden one, traditionally looking, with the walls of the tight space inside full of old black and white photographs of the island and its people. The overweight middle aged guy (of course) sitting by the side of the door cries out:

“Provlima!” When I ask about using their toilet and points across the street, directing me to the public toilet in the harbor, which I haven’t noticed before. That makes it even easier to get on the ferry.

We later board the ferry, shuffling our feet to the outside deck and spend almost the entire 2.5 hour trip standing, all the time looking at the island we are sailing away from and at the beautiful shades of blue of the waves the ferry is cutting through my beloved sea. I wish I could kiss her a thousand times more before I turn my back and go on my way, before I dream of her, before we meet again.

samothrakis from the ferry in the harbour

We want to see dolphins (not a dolphin, this time), and our wish is granted. A lovely school of dolphins comes close to the ferry, playing with their babies, starting a competition with the fast going boat and surprising us with their swift moves and quickly changing directions.

The little fruitarian runner starts a series of strong kicks right before we get off, making us wonder if he’s actually more of a martial arts fighter than a runner.

After trying unsuccessfully to find a supermarket open in Alexandroupolis (“No, is closed, is Monday today”, we are explained), we go to the camping without any fruit for the little fruitarian runner, except for the glass of fruit juice we got from a juice bar on the way.

We choose our camping spot, check in, park the car and head straight to the beach. It’s big, crowded and a little dirty and the water is even more unpleasant, with an uncertain shade of dirty green, algae, feathers and unidentified fragments floating in it. It all makes it easier to go back home… But we can still see Samothrakis rising in the middle of the sea, straight ahead.

“You know, this island is the first thing we saw when we got here a week ago and we had no idea that was where we were going… And here we are, a week later, after having explored it, still looking at it.” I remark pensively, and I feel this  sense of protection from the high mountain that allowed us to climb its highest peak. It’s still watching over us and I get a lump in my throat and goosebumps at the thought.

“Thank you.” I send out the thought with a deep bow.

I miss it already.


Related posts:

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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day 8: Water. The last full day on the island

This morning is slower and, during our breakfast on the balcony, a small basket tied with a rope descends next to the table. I follow the rope upwards and I am met by the smiling face of the lady of the house, looking down at me from among her laundry hung out to dry.

“Hello! Kalimera!” she says, pointing to the small basket.

“Kalimera! Efharisto poli!” I reply, picking up from inside the basket a white bowl with the best olives in the world.

She was very kind and came to our door with a plate of delicious apricots the night we were back from the mountains. We spoke some more Greek then and I was happy to have someone to practice with.

After breakfast we make a stop at the bakery but, being Sunday it’s closed today, so we shortly stop at the supermarket on our way to Fonias.

Once at the river, we start going upstream, back into the land of dragonflies and soon find the vathre (pool) where we bathed the first time we were here. It’s tempting, but we don’t jump in this time, but walk ok, determined to get to the waterfalls.

And before long, we find a bigger varthra and we can hear the water falling from the left, hidden behind a huge rock. We climb on and see the gorgeous waterfall from above. We continue the climb through the forest but give up after a while, eager for a bath down below and then for a swim in the sea and relaxation on the beach.

So we go back down and when we get there we find a crowd of loud people taking a swim. We can’t be bothered. We ARE going to jump in no matter what. When we do, in spite of the cold water, we are amazed by the beauty and the freshness of the place. There is such purity and such clarity about it. We swim to the waterfall and let it splash us with its fresh, clear water.

“Clean me”, I tell her, “purify me of everything I no longer need, everything stale, everything burdening me, make me clean and clear, purify me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

After the purifying and refreshing swim in the vathra, we go down the river, get back to the car and go to Lakkoma beach in the south. We crash again under the same bamboo umbrella, take a swim and just relax.

We have a meeting with Carlota at 8.45 pm, so we go back to the house before sunset. The view of the mountain rising up to the sky on the right, the tumbling hills with their olive orchards below, gradually becoming lower and lower until they turn into the pebbled seashore that pressed against our foot soles a short while ago, all in the mild, golden light of the setting sun are signs of paradise.

At home we are offered ice cream by the lady of the house, while waiting for Carlota to finish her giggly conversation with the young English couple that’s just arrived, looking for gifts for a wedding they are attending in Alexandroupolis next week.

When she is done, we are next. Like a good host, she asks us about our stay and is particularly interested in our climb on the Feggari two days ago. She’s impressed by our performance and asks about the baby, whom she insists is a “strong boy”. And she is right. Later on we pay for the room and her mother in law comes and makes good wishes for us and our baby, expressing her gratitude and good will.

“Write to us”, Carlota says, “send us pictures and come back with your boy!” And then translates her mother in law’s words: “She wishes you that with only one cry to take him out.”


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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day four: The southern part of Samothrakis

Finally a sunny day, spent entirely on the southern part of the island. Started the day at Lakkoma beach, where we took our first swim in the sea. The water was a bit cold in the  morning, but nothing like the one in the mountain rock pool the day before. The little fruitarian runner loves it when I swim.

Then we drive to Profitis Ilias, the highest village in the southern part of the island, famous for their goat cooking (which we don’t try). We take a walk, visit the local church (I am surprised to find it open, since not a soul is here :P), then we have water and juice at a cafe nearby, where all the Greek I can remember is very useful.

The little fruitarian  runner gets his daily portion of fruit, everywhere I go. So here we pick sour cherries, wax cherries and apricots from the trees lining the road, some in deserted gardens, others not. Since I’ve grown my bump, people seem very tolerant with me and everyone is staring as if we were some kind of aliens. We sort of are, I guess.

We later crash on the Pahia Amos beach, a long, sandy one at the end of the road on the southern coast. It is here that we wait for the sunset and make plans for the next day.

Only at 8 pm do we realize the sun has the peculiar tendency to set in the west. Most of the times, at least on this planet. And we are in the south.

So we get in the car and drive to catch the sunset back in Profitis Ilias, up on a hill behind the church we visited earlier. It is so peaceful as herds are heading back to their homes and dogs are barking in the distance. I wonder how some people can be hiding in their homes right now, wasting their time in front of their TVs when such wonderful shows are put on by nature. Every day at about the same time, in the same place. You just can’t miss it unless you really want to.

A more quieter day, finally a hot summer day in the drier, Mediterranean climate of the south, driving along narrow roads cutting through ancient olive orchards. Such a small island with so many micro climates, so few inhabitants and even fewer tourists!  So different from the rest of Greece we have seen so far and in a completely different world than Romania. We can’t help loving it.


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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day three: The magic forests and the waterfalls of Samothrakis

I love the silence this morning. I can sense it in the semi darkness, before I completely wake up in the warm arms that I love. Then, when we later open the balcony door, cries of peacocks pour into the room, along with the baa of the sheep in the garden separating us from the sea.

I remember I had dreams of the bakery and pancakes and discussions about sensitive issues and I am amused by the reminiscence. The sky is clear this morning and the sun is shining. It’s a warm day and the bakery is waiting: warm bread, kritsinia, spinach and cheese pie and ice cream for breakfast, as well as mountain tea with lemon and honey, served on the balcony.

We are going to Therma today and up to see the waterfalls. There is just one sign pointing to the waterfalls and you have to guess or ask the way if you can speak a little Greek  (otherwise, I suppose you can just use your hands to explain). Carlota told us about a crowdfunding campaign on the island to mark trekking routes on the mountain and there are posters of it on the ferry too. “Samothrace walk with me” – check it out here and of Facebook here, as well as on Kickstarter here. As far as I can tell, it’s an admiring initiative and I do hope it works out for them.

I love climbing the rocks up the trail, the fresh view and the gurgling, crystal clear water, kissed by ultramarine dragonflies, butterflies, toads and lizards. Nowhere before have I seen such love between two different kingdoms. The trees and the rocks. The lovemaking seems to have been going on for centuries. They are perfectly fused together. Hard to tell which part is tree and which part is rock. A connection that breeds a new species into this enchanted forest.


Having gone up to the last waterfall, when coming back down we stop on the side of this rock pool and, since no one else is there, we take off everything and get in. The water is freezing cold, almost like the ocean last September in Porto. When we get out, a few minutes later, I enjoy  lying like a lizard on a rock in the sun, my proud bump looking up,  feeling so beautiful and free. No longer bothered by my imperfections, I am now free to simply enjoy the power this gives me. Speaking of power, the little fruitarian runner is meditating. He has every reason to. He is in the perfect place for it.

Back in Therma, after having apricots, sour cherries and wax cherries from the trees on the side of the road (fuel for the fruit runner, of course), we are searching for the thermal baths.

“This way, five hours up, four hours down. To the peak. But maybe is hard for you, with the…” the middle aged German tourist says, rubbing his belly, happy to finally have someone to talk to. “I am old, kaput”, he adds.

Rain starts so we head to the car and drive to this empty beach at the end of the road along the northern part of the island up to the most eastern point. The water seems too cold to take a swim, so we doze on the towels lying over the pebbles. The music comes from bells, goats, soft waves, crows (not seagulls) and the wind. The little fruitarian runner takes notice of the pebbles. I can’t help thinking it’s almost the end of our second day on the island and we still haven’t swum in the sea…

When it gets too windy and too cold, we get back to the car and drive till we get to a sunny spot. We stretch like lizards and enjoy the view of the setting sun. Having rested enough (i.e. having pressed my ribs against the pebbles to the point of pain), I assume a meditation pose and start a small meditation exercise. The little fruitarian runner suddenly leaves his usual meditative state and starts a series of swims. Perhaps the sound of the waves is reminding him of his swimming adventures in previous lifetimes.

In the middle of my meditation I get a strong craving for watermelon. No, I don’t have cravings, actually. I just think it’s a great idea. So I convince my travel companion it is the perfect spot and time for having watermelon. He eventually gives in and takes a trip to a nearby shop. He comes back victorious. I can’t help laughing at the image of him holding the big watermelon against the warm light of the setting sun.

I then come up with a newspaper article in my head, while eating the cracked melon, its sticky juice running up my fingers:

“Romanian couple savagely devour a watermelon on the shores of the Aegean Sea

In Samothrakis, the island of the great gods, a special place with pure waters and  high energy, having spent the day stealing fruit from locals’ gardens, a Romanian couple crack a watermelon against a sharp stone on the sea shore and savagely devour it, using their bare hands.

Witnesses state that the woman looks visibly pregnant. Authorities have expressed their concern about their parental skills. Social services have taken notice of this case. The Romanian embassy in Greece is expected to formulate an official statement for the Greek authorities.”

I must be crazy. Halfway through my first pregnancy, I’m going on long road trips, camping, trekking on mountain peaks, climbing rocks, skinny dipping in mountain pools, cracking melons on the sea shore. Which actually makes me confident about the next two (hopefully), to be perfectly honest. Brutally honest.

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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day one: Bucharest – Alexandroupolis

The little fruitarian runner starts his morning training just as we get into the car, finally ready to hit the road again. His soft, repeated kicks move me to tears. I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for everything in my life. I must be the happiest person on earth right now and it feels like I am melting into everything, no more borders, distances collapse and we all fuse. I seem to be the only one to notice, the rest of the world simply carries on. But that changes nothing.

The road to the Bulgarian border is short and wet, a blessing after all the heat in Bucharest. And then it takes forever to cross the bridge over the Danube, so we have a picnic in the car right in the middle of it, eating apricots and apples (fruit, of course, for the little fruitarian runner) and admiring the view from above the river. Being suspended on a high bridge over a big river, the car being shaken as if by small, consecutive earthquakes feels a little bit like being pregnant: all control systems are obsolete and each new breath and every passing second bring new experiences. Exciting!

An eternity and a half later, having been angered by the people crouched in their big cars cutting the line at the Bulgarian border, we are finally out of Romania. It’s amazing how different everything feels once you’ve crossed the border of your home country. Suddenly the pressure is off and it feels like karma is finally giving you a well deserved break. Or so it feels to me.

Crossing Bulgaria feels peaceful enough and the traffic is far from busy. Rather the roads seem underpopulated, giving the traveler space to contemplate the green fields, the fat trees and the gray clouds crammed up in the sky, rain pouring down from them in soft, transparent waves of a silk curtain, its hem ardently sweeping the road.

I will not discuss the apparent poverty of the Bulgarian villages, for they are filthy rich compared to the Cambodian villages I traveled through last year. A totally different world. Their simplicity is relaxing to the eye. So interesting how little connection I feel to this country. Not much difference compared to Romania, but still, to me it’s just a land in between, a space to be crossed, not a destination.

Having crossed the mountains through heavy rain and fog descending from the forest like the wise spirits of our deceased Indian ancestors, as we are approaching the Greek border the sun is shining and the temperature is rising. Farmers have already harvested their wheat crops and the lower, drier scenery brings back to memory Greek words and phrases for me to (ab)use in the coming week.

We come into yet another heavy shower as we are crossing the Greek border – a small, old place that appears as a surprise in the middle of nowhere. And the little fruitarian runner starts his afternoon training – a much softer version of his energetic morning training – pulling all my attention to my lower abdomen and bringing back images of colorful fish swimming peacefully around me while snorkeling in the Aegean Sea a few years ago.

Finally, we are in Greece! Back to one of our most beloved homes after a few years of absence. And yet it doesn’t feel like Greece yet. I look around searching for that unique, familiar feeling that softens the tongue as it wrapping itself around every word, sliding against the roof of the mouth with such sensuous determination. It’s still too green, too hilly and too rainy.

But as we are leaving Bulgaria farther behind, Greece gradually becomes more like her old self and l lean back, anxiously waiting for that exciting first glimpse of the sea. And finally the sun! Coming down like a blessing – a huge hand, its fingers all widely spread to reach as wide an area as possible. And there is such stillness. We barely speak a word. There is no need. A while later, old Greek music, with its coarse, serious, masculine tunes, fills the car, sweeping silence away and bringing back impressions from other lifetimes.

And then we get a little lost in a beautiful small village, taking the time to admire tiny, welcoming gardens and wondering where everybody is. Until we pass the local pub and see all the men in the village gathered there, sitting and drinking in silence, staring at the empty road. The women must be cooking dinner in their low ceiling white kitchens overlooking the back yards.

Finding our way again, we are greeted by a spectacular rainbow on the left of the road, before coming right into a storm, equipped with great lightening and all. There is no rush, so we can afford to simply be happy, our quiet company of three.

Alexandroupolis greets us a bit later, with its typically Greek narrow streets and Mediterranean modern architecture and I get my first glimpse of the sea from the harbor, which leaves me a bit unsatisfied. I get consolation by reminding myself I have a full week on an island coming up.

We check out the harbor and find a motorcycling gathering taking place. We locate the ticket office and then head to the camping. We have a ferry to catch tomorrow morning and, after the long drive today, just want to crash as soon as possible.

We put up the tent on soft, muddy ground, next to a beautiful birch tree, in spot 69, a square lined with tall pink rose bays, letting out their discreet sweet scent. Dinner is fish accompanied by butterflies, a black cat and a more rewarding view of the sea.

sea view at the alexandroupolis camping

And we finally call it a day.

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First week of the new year in Sweden. An identity loss/ change adventure


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

“Gott nytt år!” a tall, thin blond woman in a group in front of a house turns to us smiling as we’re walking down the street after the fireworks, about half an hour after midnight.

“Happy new year!” we’re both answering in English almost at the same time, as the whole group turns looking at us.

“You said they were not so friendly, didn’t you?” my travel companion asks me and we conclude they must be friendlier on account of the large quantities of alcohol on the menu on New Year’s Eve.

We’re walking, the two of us, along the narrow streets of Sollentuna, lined with their beautiful houses surrounded by quiet gardens hiding wild animals and numerous beings of the etheric realm, living peaceful undisturbed lives. This is our first walk together in the new year, hand in hand, quiet or talking in low voices, we’re looking around and inside. Every few steps we stop and kiss. And I can’t help thinking this is a beautiful beginning.

We then head back to the house and spend a couple of hours dancing and laughing with my cousins and our friends and playing foosball before I kidnap him. Later on, after we all wake up, we take our new year walk to the long and narrow golf in Sollentuna to visit the sea. Her majesty is quiet, cold and sunny. My cousin is taking pictures and I get my new year’s portrait and pictures of the two of us. Again, something new. I try not to think about it too much. Though that’s like trying not to breathe too much.

Stockholm is waiting for us after sunset and it does feel like I’m taking my travel companion on a trip through my life – showing him people and places and things that I like. If he likes it, he may stay, I think. If he doesn’t, he’s free to go. And I have nothing to lose, so I shouldn’t become too possessive or scared or controlling. I am just a guest house.

There’s this process of adjustment and disclosure and strings being tied between us as others snap with a sharp noise and a slap over bare skin. We’re reaching out, feeling and thinking, fearing, running away and returning, hiding and then coming out again. A hide and seek game of sore muscles and sweaty foreheads. Old wounds start hurting again and I remember this is what a relationship does to you – it changes you, it takes you out of your comfort zone completely, it molds you, it torments you, it makes you face your worst pain and your deepest fears and your worst flaws. I’ve forgotten… It’s been so long! Oh, and the happiness, too. Happiness is a terrorist planting suicidal bombs in every new lifetime. Plants bomb. Bomb goes off. Terrorist dies. Terrorist goes to the afterlife. Terrorist is reborn. Terrorist plants bomb… (You know the drill by now.)

Uppsala is as beautiful as I remember her and I love visiting Carolina Rediviva library at the university. The reading rooms here are making me feel like I’m taking a walk through a story in an English book and remind me of lives spent in monasteries, studying and writing and dusting manuscripts and feeling like I’m in the middle of a treasure, surrounded by so much knowledge a lifetime feels too little to take it all in. My skin so thin and yellowish like an old book’s pages. My eyes always smiling and my fingertips having orgasm after orgasm touching those hand written and beautifully decorated pages, rare and precious like fine jewelry. Now I’m just a tourist, my heart dancing as we’re quietly walking along these wooden floors, careful not to disturb the students lined at the tables, studying in perfect silence.

The day we go on a bike ride around the lakes in the natural reservation in Sollentuna reminds me of the summer and the ride with my friend, who was in love and so scared his lover might leave him for not being good enough that he was stopping every two minutes to send text messages and make short calls and scream. Am I now experiencing the same fear? I am stronger than this. Or am I actually experiencing the same pain? That of not being loved… Or have I finally met my match? Someone with a strength that doesn’t feel threatened by mine? Is it a shock? I need to let go…

Later on the same day we’re studying each other’s skin under the microscope at the Nobel Museum and I find it fascinating. Looking at those miniature creases, at the huge thick hairs growing like branchless trees in a desert, at bruises and scratches. We’re so vulnerable and pink at such a close look, so temporary, changing all the time… It’s such an illusion to think you ever really know somebody. Not even under the microscope can you truly know. So it’s like you’re with someone new every second, really. Exciting!

His blue eyes are laughing, his dry lips revealing his white teeth, one missing on the right side. Grey hair, weather beaten face, a two day white beard and gnarled hands. In his mid sixties, tall and thin, wearing a red fleece jacket and water proof pants over mountain boots, he’s talking to his friend who’s sitting on his left on the bus taking us to Stockholm central station.

“You know”, I tell him when we get off, “I was looking at those two old men next to us. You know, the ones chattering on the seats by the door…”

“I didn’t notice them”, he answers abruptly and I know that’s not true because I’d felt he was a bit uneasy about the attention I was giving them.

“Really? They were right there, how could you not have noticed them? Anyway, I was wondering… What’s making these people so alive and yet so centered, so calm in their apparent autism? I was admiring the life in them, their joy and ease.” I continue as he gives me no answer. “Is it sport? Is it the cold? Is it this place? Or is it a combination of everything?” I keep going as we’re making our way to the train station through the frozen snow.

The occasional solar plexus explosions are markers of fear and fighting to gain an illusory control over things. When one of us takes out his phone to send another text message, a silent workout of fine muscles takes place and pain takes over and the tension in the jaw bone threatens to smash a couple of teeth before it loosens up again and saliva can hydrate and soothe for a short, blessed time.

Only I can see the lesbian couple walking hand in hand in Gamla Stan as we’re walking from Vasa Museum to the Medieval Museum. Tall and thin and tough, they look like aliens come from outer space – invisible to everyone who hasn’t visited their planet at least once. A feeling of admiration and pride awakens in my heart and I’m feeling happy for their freedom. I clasp the hand of my boy and squeeze it harder and I don’t mention the aliens.

“I dreamed we had a baby. A very small baby boy. I was holding him at my chest. He was so small, I’d just given birth to him…” I confess one morning before even opening my eyes and right away I am met with the best way to start your day. This is new, too. I am careful with the ‘us bubble’, careful to allow it to be permeable, careful to look trough it and not seal it closed. It’s been so many years since I’ve traveled with a partner. Someone who’s not a friend, not a mere room mate, not a relative, not a stranger. The lover of the lover of the road.

On the other hand, my right eye insists on being swollen, itchy and ill every day and it’s frustrating because I don’t get it, no matter how hard I’m thinking. It’s been too long and I don’t get it. And on the last day, just as I wish I could disappear off the face of the earth rather than being betrayed again, my wallet goes missing. Lost or stolen. My ID, credit cards, driving licence, health insurance card, money and a couple of other things I cared about (such as a leaf from a Celtic church, a present from a dear friend) – all gone. The moment I open my purse and can’t find my wallet feels like someone has pulled the carpet from under my feet. I’m suspended, floating above the ground, nowhere. For a second, I believe I’m going to have a panic attack. But I don’t, so I have no idea how it really feels since I’ve never experienced one. I had my chance and I blew it. I’m crying as I make the call to the bank to block my cards and I feel the guy at the call center a little bit confused about how he should react. Professionalism wins in the end. Another first time.

Use me, lie to me, betray me! That’s what I should be saying instead of fearing so much and trying so hard to control what’s going on. On our flight back to Bucharest my travel companion shows me this story in his book about freedom. Someone was kidnapped and sold as slave and he didn’t fight back at all, but used his power in a much smarter way, dominating the others through going along with their plan and actually exercising a form of freedom people rarely know exists and rising on top of the situation. So now my sweet boy has actually managed to remind me that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to me that hasn’t already been done before. I am convinced fear is useless and I can always rise again, stronger than before.

Still, just as I’m writing these words, my heart reminds me not everything has already been done.

Related post: Leaving on a jet plane. Last time this year.

See the photos from this journey on Instagram.