Struggling as a nefelibata

I stand at the train station, holding on tightly to my orange-and-white-striped umbrella for fear it might escape with the wicked wind any moment. (And with a secret wish that it might pull me up into the sky like a parachute.) It is 8:42PM. I hear the train’s engine getting louder and louder. I see the blonde girl on my left, who had shared her left shoe was soaking in a puddle of water. We were on the bus coming towards the train station and I had no help to offer (besides a sympathetic “aww”) for my whole being was currently drenched as well. With fatigue.

The train is almost here. I watch a guy running on the opposite platform, trying to reach the staircase, go up and over the bridge, to get to our platform. I hope he makes it. I smell the fresh fragrance of rain and revel in my freedom. Thursday night has arrived, after a long day of back-to-back classes, an awful exam on natural hazards, and work at the lab. Finally, I have the weekend to take a break from running. It is exhausting to keep running, from one building to another (on a campus that seems like a small town) and from one step on the ladder to the other.

Perhaps most university students experience a feeling of captivation within a cycle of working hard at one thing, accomplishing it, and then, realizing the next step awaits you as soon as you breathe a moment of relief. However, tonight I look forward to a warm cup of tea and watching TV with my mom at home. Tonight, I remind myself that life is short and that we need to take a step back from time to time in order to revitalize our minds and hearts.

Yesterday afternoon was beautiful. It wasn’t sunny, but it wasn’t cloudy either. It wasn’t chilly, but it wasn’t warm either. It was a peaceful time where I worked on my paper, sitting at a bench outside the Social and Behavioral Sciences building on campus, munching on a squished chocolate chip muffin, and listening to Maher Zain. Little joys like these are abundant in daily life, but we just need to try harder to look for them, or rather to create them.

The last time I wrote a blog post was probably when I was in my mother’s womb. I enjoy writing, but often, our lives become so hectic that there is no time to pursue hobbies and interests that don’t serve the primary goal (whatever that goal(s) may be). Or at least that is often our justification. What I would like to attempt is to create that time into a crazy, daily routine; after all, the way we choose to lead our lives is to quite some extent, in our hands, isn’t it?

This past summer, I was fortunate to pursue my passion for travel by participating in a study abroad program in Turkey. There were so many moments during my two month long stay when I felt an absolute sense of freedom from all things mundane and routine. However, there is one moment which I would like to share with you right now.

My friends and I had tried twice before to visit the Rumeli Fortress. We had heard it was built in the mid-1400s by Sultan Mehmet, the Conquerer, before he captured Constantinople. Unfortunately, the first time, it was raining and we didn’t want to slip off the steep edges, and haunt future tourists as drifting souls. The second time, the weather was perfect (at least not as hot and humid as Istanbul’s summers usually are), but we couldn’t find the main entrance. We had followed a shortcut within our campus and we reached the back entrance which was locked. Defeated, we started walking up the trail back to campus. On our way back, we asked a security guard on campus for instructions, and I tried my best to communicate with my basic Turkish language skills. The guard clasped both his palms together and placed them on the left side of the face to make a sleeping gesture, perhaps to convey that the fortress had closed for the day.

The third time, we didn’t take any chances and took a cab. The taxi ride was like sitting on a rollercoaster. We drove through a narrow street, down, down, down the hill. Finally, we entered the fortress and wow, the walk up the stairs was intense! There were so many staircases that I felt I was part of an adventure. One of my friends was very anxious about climbing the stairs because there was no railing to protect you from falling off. We formed a line and suggested her to walk in the middle so there was always a person in front of her and one behind her.

I felt like the leader of my troop, battling sweaty and dangerous conditions to make it to the top. When we finally made it to the highest point, I realized it was completely worthwhile. There were different peaks depending on which steps you chose to take. But there was one from which you could see a painting come to life. I finally felt I was a nefelibata, a cloud-walker, both literally and metaphorically. The water and sky were merging together and I could almost touch the clouds. Standing on the highest point of the Rumeli fortress, I felt free and able to live in the clouds of my imagination and fulfill all my dreams. It would take hard work, but with prayers, determination, and the support of family and friends, I could prove to be a successful and content nefelibata.

Rumeli Fortress

Life can be seen as a period in which several staircases are to be climbed to reach different destinations. Remembering our trip to the Rumeli Fortress helps me come to terms with the fact that running and climbing are part of each day. It was us who had decided to pause for a few minutes in the middle of the staircase to take a breath because it was really hot. It was us who had decided to stop again to drink a few sips of water to rejuvenate ourselves. Finally, when we reached the top, it was us again who sat down for half an hour and took the time to captivate forever our accomplishment – a glimpse of the enchanting scenery – both with our smartphone cameras and our hearts. How you climb the ladder depends on you. Tonight, the ladder can wait while I tuck myself under a soft blanket and spend time with my mother analyzing how the lead actress in the Pakistani TV series we watch patiently tolerates her mother-in-law’s bitter criticism because of the unwavering love and respect the actress has for her husband.

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