Raison d’être from Kapadokya

As soon as I laid my eyes on you,

the ten-hour-long bus ride felt true.

You brought me into a novel world

of blues and browns, handsome herald.

Longed I to stand under your clear sky,

to confirm the rumors, to be nigh;

I knew not you’d give me the raison d’être

to forever guide my life, Kapadokya. 

Moments lived in your valleys lent

an escape, liberated breaths well-spent.

Fairy chimneys, hot air balloons,

an elderly couple selling ragdolls amid runes. 

Here I was on a simple escapade

away from society, its deceitful trade,

in search for a reason to live

not just to survive, to merely take and give. 

I found it in the reflection of a handicraft

as I left a pottery site, a magical shaft.

I saw myself in the misty, carved mirror.

I smiled back, a reason so simple, so austere.

Seen at the pottery site

Seen at the pottery site

One of the highlights of my stay in Turkey last summer was visiting Kapadokya (also spelled as Cappadocia). While in Istanbul, one can see water and people from every angle, Kapadokya is unique for its rocky terrain and peaceful silence. 

If you look closely, you'll see faces in the enveloped rocks!

If you look closely, you’ll see faces in the enveloped rocks!

Often, we experience ordeals that make us evaluate our existence. During these times, one fact we should firmly hold on to is: pursue what brings you happiness. The most magical blessing in the world is you. Live for yourself and those who care for you.

Grateful to have had the opportunity to visit and photograph this fairytale-like place

Natsukashii in the Dark

I sat down on the plump couch, still in doubt that I had followed through with my decision to come here. I mean, who in her wildest dreams would believe such a place existed in reality? A warm fragrance enveloped me as I attempted to focus on the shapes of other people who were chattering away. The night outside was cold and black, and now that I was inside, I could feel my fingers again, yet I was still unwilling to take off my coat. The dark had followed me inside, but there was a reddish stroke of light in the air here. 

Peculiar menus

“Here you go,” a man interrupted my quiet analysis as he placed a white candle on our square table and handed us peculiar menus. My friend smiled with her eyes, knowing exactly how fascinated I was with this place, The Witches’ Brew. Both of us are obsessed with reading the Harry Potter series and an opportunity to spend time in a magical place thrilled us. 

The Witches' Brew

While driving here with our eyes on a GPS that kept swerving us onto the wrong path, my friend joked, “Only those who know about The Witches’ Brew can see it.” Since we found the place, I like to entertain the notion that there must be some magic in us! The menu, bordered in cobwebs, was filled with the most unusually named drinks. Some of the teas that caught my eye were: “Once upon a time,” “Mandela Masala,” and “Eve’s temptation.” After much deliberation, I ordered a “Black Widow” espresso. 

As I slowly took my first sip, the distinct tastes of almond, chocolate, and coconut merged together to transport me six months back to a different country. 

Saray Muhallebicisi

This time, I was alone, but in a familiar place. I had been to Saray Muhallebicisi several times after dinner with friends because the assortment of deserts more than fulfilled my sweet tooth. But on this particular day, I had arrived late afternoon on my own. Although I was seated at the veranda, I hadn’t noticed the sun creeping out of sight. I would be leaving Istanbul in two days. Most of the friends I had made who were also visiting students had already left. And yet, I wasn’t fully prepared to embrace how quickly the summer had flown by. I was going to return to my last (most hectic) year of university. Living in Istanbul was a two-month long fairytale which I was not ready to end just yet. I had just finished my Caffè Latte and I was wrapping up my poem filled with memories collected over the past two months and thoughts on the near future.

Caffe Latte

Desert

Empty

My waiter, a friendly, short, bald man, took away the empty cup and returned with Turkish coffee. I told him that I hadn’t ordered Turkish coffee. In fact, at the beginning of my stay in Istanbul, I had vowed not to drink Turkish coffee again for I couldn’t take the bitter taste. My Turkish friends chuckled at this, but they knew I strongly preferred çay, Turkish tea. The waiter conveyed to me in gestures and basic Turkish (for he spoke little English and knew that I had insisted on practicing my Turkish since my first visit) that the coffee was on the house. 

Turkish coffee

At first, I adamantly refused, but he kept insisting. I gave in at the end and thanked him profusely. Perhaps he was aware of the emotions I had spilled onto the paper in front of me, of my attachment with this enchanting city and its hospitable locals. And what is more Turkish than a cup of Türk Kahvesi? He left with a smile and “Afiyet olsun” (bon appétit). 

“Hey, did you like your ‘Black Widow’?” asked my friend with a smirk, bringing me back to The Witches’ Brew. It’s magical how some smells, tastes, or sights can launch you into the past, right? 

Natsukashii (adj.): Suddenly, euphorically nostalgic, triggered by experiencing something for the first time in months 

Origin: Japanese

Forgiveness from the Bosphorus

The blue waters are blinding my sight.

My father, the Emperor, try as he might

couldn’t defeat Fate for she acts

as she pleases. Even our tower lacks

the power to buy time. Said the oracle,

“She’ll die at 18. Quite a spectacle.”

Father in his boundless love built

a majestic prison to stop my wilt.

If only he embraced life, its turns,

I’d be at peace with what Fate spurns.

If only I’d been allowed to walk

on land with others, to love, to talk,

the inevitable bite of this asp may

not have been as torturously gray. 

Sitting across Kız Kulesi, the Maiden’s Tower, I tried to imitate the way my Turkish friend ate ayçekirdeği, sunflower seeds, skillfully and quickly. Hours had passed since midnight. During one of our conversations, she described to me the legend encircling the Tower in front of us. It was my first time in Üsküdar, an area of Istanbul that was serene and magical. Just like the legend. 

Sitting across the Maiden's Tower

Sitting across the Maiden’s Tower

An Emperor had acted upon a prophecy – his daughter would be bitten by a poisonous snake – by isolating her in a tower in the middle of the Bosphorus Strait. Little did he know that he’d one day bring her a gift basket in which the snake had taken refuge. I tried to imagine the Maiden’s last thoughts as the venom brought her closer to death. Despite the fact that her father’s actions were guided be a desire to protect her, would she be able to forgive him for depriving her the right to live among people? Would she be able to forgive him for her solitude? Did she have enough time to ponder upon the complexity of life, emotions, and forgiveness?

The majestic Maiden's Tower

The majestic Maiden’s Tower

As the New Year starts, I hope we can appreciate the importance of forgiveness. A shattered hope. A broken heart. A rejection from your dream school. A loved one lost to illness. A decision you regret. Let it go, before it overtakes your happiness, before it leeches off your present life. I recently read a book that began with the following quote:

Difficult as it is to forgive, I believe we carry the capacity in our hearts to do so. Wishing you a year filled with peace.

Sonder in a Blue Country

Abundant carnations, striped, red, and pink

suffocate my memories of you, my only link.

I incinerated the deceptive, orange marigolds,

but they bloom again; on my soul, the grief holds.

Grateful, lilac bellflowers are ample as well.

The country who embraced me can tell:

the flame of hawthorns and hope has grown

into the stubborn seed of adversity life has sown.

Sure, the thistles have pierced me for years;

my veins throb with misanthropy and tears.

But I take pride in my inherent mistletoe:

my ability to surmount waves high and low.

The voyage may remain a vicissitude, but

a daffodil thrives in my heart, a dream to reunite.

A man of grass at the piano surrounded by flowers in the center of a park in Istanbul

A man of grass at the piano surrounded by flowers in the center of a park in Istanbul

In the humid summer of Istanbul, I was sitting on the tram chatting with my friend with my eyes on the scenery unfolding outside our window. The world was blue. At least it was in Istanbul. Placid, sad, blue waters everywhere. A city, where for some, shaking off the blues seemed almost impossible. When my camera lens captured the photograph below, I sincerely believe my heart had fully encountered sonder.

#BlueIstanbul #Perfection #NoFilter

#BlueIstanbul #Perfection #NoFilter

Sonder (n.): the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

While I may spend quite a large chunk of my life fretting over the GRE, my prospects of graduate school, and the morose difficulty of life, there are people out there leading equally intricate lives, if not more complex than mine. People who were forced out of their homelands. The Gender and Politics in the Middle East summer course I was taking at Boğaziçi University had cultivated within me – someone who used to get bored of politics – a desire to learn about the injustices happening around me. Picturesque Turkey was now home to over 1.6 million Syrian refugees, according to UNHCR estimates. My heart burned with sorrow and anger at the helplessness of a mother and son begging in Arabic for help outside the Sultanahmet Mosque.

A massive book welcoming visitors at Gülhane Park

A massive book welcoming visitors at Gülhane Park

For me, a person wrapped in a soft blanket, comfortably typing away in a heated home, it is indeed difficult to understand the plight of those who are struggling worldwide this winter, in countries that are foreign to their eyes. However, you and I together can surely keep them in our prayers and thoughts. My poem is a small effort to do so. I wrote in the language of flowers – a universal language – inspired from Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s novel and dictionary of flowers and emotions. By stepping into the worn shoes of a refugee, I tried to evoke the feelings he or she would feel: of loss, but also of hope.

Rollercoasters across 6 countries

Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania ♥ Florida, United States of America ♥ Karachi, Pakistan ♥ Dubai, United Arab Emirates ♥ Istanbul, Turkey ♥ London, England

Round and round, we turned. The goal was to keep our eyes on the cloudy sky. My best friend and I could never stop giggling. Sitting in those teapots, I lost sight of time and space. The only feeling I experienced was that of freedom. We didn’t go often to Luna Park; when we did, we savored each bit of it. This was over 14 years ago, when everything was black and white. The only worries in the world consisted of getting our homework done and agreeing on which game to play next. I don’t have any pictures to share from then because the age of smartphones had not arrived yet. Merely having a basic Nokia cell phone was considered a luxury. Only for special occasions, we used an actual camera, the kind you had to take to the photo studio to get “negatives” and hard copies of pictures.

That was when my family and I lived in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, a country in eastern Africa.

Living there, the strongest obsession my best friend and I spent time on was Harry Potter. We had both read the series several times, but I will confess she was better at recalling the spells. And she was the one who discovered an online network of fans like us who wrote stories about the Harry Potter characters. Since we enjoyed writing, we signed up under ridiculous pennames. After writing our stories but before publishing them on the website, we would exchange them with each other. She had the software to create beautiful headers with images inspired from the stories while I had the affinity to check for spelling errors and coherency.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the Harry Potter World in Orlando, Florida.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the Harry Potter World in Orlando, Florida.

It was this strong relationship we had established that made me miss her even more when I was fortunate to finally visit the Harry Potter world inside Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. At that time, I was too scared of rollercoasters and although I stood in line for a few minutes, I justified my decision to quit with the fact that the line was just too long! My family and I ended up riding other rides that seemed less life-threatening, one of which I’ll never forget: Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall. I had never seen the world from such heights before. But I will say, what impressed me most was seeing and touching the places I had only read about in books. Oh, and taking a picture with Hedwig!

Dr. Doom's Fear Fall

The only other similarly heartbeat-accelerating ride I had been on by that point in my life was in Karachi, Pakistan. I was a 9-year-old, thrilled to be celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr, a day of rejoicing for Muslims worldwide to mark the end of the month of Ramadhan, the special month of seeking nearness to Allah. In Pakistan, like in many other Muslim-majority countries, Eid equals a public holiday for three consecutive days. It was on the second day of Eid that we went to Hill Park where I rode my first rollercoaster. It was called “The Train.” I had clutched my poor cousin’s hand so tightly throughout the ride that it had nail marks at the end!

I took this picture of "The Train" the second time I visited Karachi, nine years later.

I took this picture of “The Train” the second time I visited Karachi, nine years later.

I was overcome with waves of nostalgia when I returned to Hill Park nine years later. This time, I went on the same ride with my uncle because my cousin (his daughter) had married and moved to another continent. I often wonder: when is the next time I will visit again? Will the park still be open because it seemed pretty rundown this time? If yes, who will ride the ride with me?

Do you think these rides are different from water rides? I do, or at least I did. I didn’t mind going on rides where we would sit on tubes because there was a sense of security. I don’t know how to swim (yes, quite embarrassing!), but I knew that at the end of the enclosed tunnel, I would reach the water safe and afloat on my tube. The best water park I’ve been to is Wild Wadi in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Since I was a child, I had heard it was the best in the world AND they had a ladies’ night. This meant I could take off my hijab (headscarf and loose-fitted clothing that some Muslim women wear). I was in Dubai for an exchange program through my university and I took advantage of the ladies’ night during my birthday week. I went with three of my friends: a Lebanese, a Nigerian-American, and a Pakistani-American. We went in the evening, my first time at a water park under a dark, velvety sky. Our favorites were surfing and the ride where the four of us sat together in one gigantic tube and almost fell into the busy highway outside the park, a skillfully created illusion.

My courage peaked during my next exchange program in Istanbul, Turkey. My aunt had asked me, “Have you visited the Disney World of Turkey?” I was confused until I realized that there was a massive theme park in Istanbul called Vialand. Getting there was an adventure in its own respect. Our cab driver took us to a rundown park with a similar name on the other side of the city. It took us forever to reach our actual destination because of the distance, Istanbul’s chaotic traffic, and the lack of our language skills. (To be honest, I was quite pleased with my Turkish language course because it helped me communicate with a local vendor who gave us the new address.) When we finally arrived, we were awestruck. An illustration from a fairytale had come to life. One of the proudest moments of my life was getting on the biggest rollercoaster of the park, one you could see from miles afar. I will confess that it would have been impossible without the support of my three friends who were study abroad students like me: a Bangladeshi, a Moroccan, and a Pakistani-American. They guaranteed that I would survive. And I did. Sure, my skin felt like it was being ripped off and I screamed like a madwoman, but the adrenaline rush was insurmountable.

Vialand, Istanbul, Turkey

Vialand, Istanbul, Turkey

All of these experiences prepared me for Thorpe Park and the Chessington World of Adventures in London, England. I went to both over the span of three days and wow! Watching my cousins who were younger, but bolder than me encouraged me further. Each ride carried its own thrill, but I will point out three. The Saw was where we were flung at a perpendicular angle both into the sky and then into the ground. The second one looked like a snake while we slithered on its body. And on the last one, which turned 360 degrees, I think I almost died.

We slithered on a massive snake. I guess, there's a first for everything, right?

We slithered on a massive snake. I guess, there’s a first for everything, right?

This was the only ride where I have turned 360 degrees and water was splashed onto our faces!

This was the only ride where I turned 360 degrees and water was splashed onto our faces!

Reflecting on my experiences across these 6 countries, I notice that each of these memories holds a special place for me because of the adventure infused with the company of my friends and family. What unites all these times is the sense of a temporary utopian world: freedom from a mundane life, with people close to my heart.

Kairos over two months

Kairos (n.): The perfect, delicate, crucial moment; the fleeting rightness of time and place that creates the opportune atmosphere for action, words, or movement

Origin: Ancient Greek

This past summer, I was lucky to visit London. I realized on the infamous London Eye that as we moved, the scenery changed, albeit to a small degree. Each moment was perfect in its own form. Over half an hour, I had seen different angles of the city. The sun was setting and our ride soon ended. Similarly, life is like a circular machine, during which we have the chance to experience the world for a period of time. It is up to us to keep our ears and hearts open to what the world has to give us at every breath we take.

I took this photograph when I was standing on the London Bridge.

I took this photograph when I was standing on the London Bridge.

For a little over two months, when I heard or witnessed details that lulled or accelerated my heartbeat for a few seconds, I jotted them down. Here, I have composed a choppy compilation of a few of those moments. Snippets from the lives of others weave together with ours to create a shared history. Through these connections, we give and gain support, a communal relationship which makes us human.

For years Angela worked hard at

a department store without fail.

One day we visited and heard that

she’d died. I couldn’t wail.

For her weapon was to always smile.

She’d once fixedly peered at my face:

“You’re lucky to travel for such a while;

new sights transform life’s pace.”

Her words echoed weeks later

as I hurried to my next class, Today’s Russia

pulling closer my purple sweater.

A swirl of leaves shot me into inertia.

132 children forever fell asleep

as Pakistan drowned in bloodshed.

My uncle and his wife in London weep

in joy at their newborn’s bed.

J, a teenaged participant as a start

shared with me her life’s content side:

love for lacrosse, her boyfriend, and art.

Then: a desperate attempt of suicide.

It’s hard to comprehend people’s lives,

their reasoning and reactions.

I must keep trying as the train strives

to prevent my photographing the swans.

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.