“Just keep your eyes shut, it’s warm in here.” That’s all I could think. The eyes seemed to be cemented shut but the charcoal glow of the behind the eyelids place I found myself in was pretty alluring, so I wasn’t going to worry about it. I saw a few spots of glowing burnt sienna orbs floating past in the deep dark velvety grey before I realized that my head was wedged against something hard. And my neck hurt, and my body was cold. I felt a cool hand on my forehead and another pulling me up to a sitting position. I could feel the uneven cobblestones under me.
Without opening my eyes, I realized that I was sitting on the street and that I was in Maastricht, where I was set to teach for a week, starting the next day. I felt someone slip my knapsack off of my back as they worked to right me, that’s me the flopsy mopsy body, mentally becoming aware, physically not. The puppets started to come into focus in the deep grey – Karagöz was a bit less gleeful than usual, but did point out something I was grateful to hear”At least you didn’t pee all over the place!” Kenne smacked Karagöz out of the picture along with one of the orange orbs her “leave her be” not even necessary to utter. The little dancing lady chorus worked to pull my hair back into a presentable position, pulled my skirt down to a more decent level and generally saw to it that I did not lose my honor in this moment. These little ladies, they are really worried about me losing my honor in the form of my underwear showing or some such. “Does it count, I wonder, when you are wearing leggings?”
Outside of my closed eyes, what people saw was a not young and not old woman in a black A-line cotton dress, grey leggings and boots with an interesting scarf, splayed on the pavement unconscious. Perhaps they could intuit that she was foolishly carrying her knapsack on her back – in her mind proof that she could travel light but in her body proof that she wasn’t up to that anymore. They couldn’t have seen that she had already walked about 1.5 KM from her old to the new hotel as the booking was done this way by the University. They did see that she had passed out in a doorway in the toniest section of Maastricht, right by the Max Mara store. They didn’t see the Karagöz puppets taking care of me, like a little army of protectors in a difficult moment.
“You can open your eyes, you should open your eyes.” This was now what I thought. I could hear people speaking – in Flemish? I knew they were speaking to me, but the warmth of the dark was so comforting and elusive and why worry about that throbbing pain in your head when it is so warm in here? “You can open your eyes. YOU CAN OPEN YOUR EYES.” I heard the language shift, maybe that was French, then English? I am not really sure. I made an effort to move myself and heard some positive signs from the voices on the other side of the closed eyes. I felt dizzy and slumped back, the voices shifted accordingly. Hacivad, ever the voice of calm, told me “Remember those Sufi dancers, twirling and whirling. They say ‘Wherever you turn is God’ and while you are not sure about all of that, you can be sure that you are in safe hands now, it is ok to open your eyes. You can trust these kind people who have stopped to help you, it is the kind people in your life, known and unknown that will help you when you are dizzy, when you are losing your balance or the like.”
I opened one eye, the left one. The right one was stuck shut. They grey light of mid-day was silvery in golden tones of fog. I saw some lights flashing and as I regained my consciousness, finding myself sitting on the street, I realized I had passed out. Remembering my father’s good advice that when you don’t know what to say, the best thing to say is either “thank you” or “aren’t you nice” – especially when you don’t know what to say – I did just that. “Ah – you are American. You need to go to the hospital, madam, you have hit your head. Just relax now. Do you have someone traveling with you?” Kenne and Khadijah jumped in – whispering to me that I should not admit to traveling alone, that this was shameful, that they had not liked this idea one bit anyway, it is served me right, God forgive them, they said, served me right for traveling without my husband. A big sigh preceeded Celebi as he walked onto the scene. Celebi, the modernist of this Ottoman era bunch of puppets inhabiting my head, was always quick to wash old ways, old views and old mores out the window. “leave her alone – it’s a different time, a different role for women, especially here in 2011 in the Netherlands, where women’s empowerment is old hat.”
Before I could comment on anything to Celebi, I was whisked up and into the ambulance and off to the hospital a few blocks away. I just felt like puking I was so dizzy, but after a scan ascertained that I was fine, I went home to my new hotel in a taxi after a few hours. The puppets as well as M. convinced me to order room service and rest. M. became so worried the next day when I did not immediately text him back that he called all over creation to find me – convinced that he had “lost me” in some sort of melodramatic but heartwarming outpouring of true love and concern for a loved one far away. In fact, I had braved the spindizzy to head in to the University to teach, as I was only there for a few days to do so, and hated to cancel on the first day. For the first time in a long time, I delivered the lecture sitting down, but made it through. The spindizzy, exacerbated by jetlag, continued on and off and has still not left me, but I am muddling through the fog ok. The puppets and M. keep their watchful eye out for me.
So, this is just to get you up to speed on my three-week absence from these realms of the Internet. Slowly by slowly, I’m getting back into the swing of things. The stories are a little stilted and fuzzy, the puppets are a bit disjointed and still coughing, but they are making their way back.
- On comfort in a foreign land – or – comfort in a cabbage leaf (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- Karagöz: Consider this a formal introduction to himself (slowly-by-slowly.com)