Healthy, and Helping, Hands

Trip Start Feb 09, 2010
Trip End Jul 14, 2010

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Where I stayed
Reflections Camp

Flag of Turkey  , Muğla Province,
Saturday, May 29, 2010

Many times there are expressions in other languages that are summed up in one or two words, where in English we flounder with sentences and metaphors and get lost trying to express the same idea. I found a very beautiful example of this a few weeks ago while working in Kabak Valley. Apart from teaching yoga and tending to tropical plants, I was asked to re-paint the camp signs that would lead the weary hiker to Reflections camp. Armed with oil paints and a motley assortment of brushes, I put my steady hand to the test. Comfortable with my task, from months of house-painting jobs which helped pay for my trip, I completed six fresh signs. One afternoon, after putting the final touches on  my most prized sign, our cook took a break from chopping garlic to examine my work. “Very nice,” he said, “Eline saglik!” I looked at his quizzically, “Health to your hands!" he said. He explained that this expression was used when one truly enjoys the labors of others, whether someone has cooked a delicious meal, or created a lovely work of art. This has now become my favorite Turkish expression, a succinct compliment as well as a sort of benediction to your wellbeing.  So to all my friends out there, whether your hands are busied preparing food, making music, building a home or painting a canvass: Eline saglik!Not long after my 28th birthday I wandered away from our camp one night. My ears led me to a campfire, and in the orange glow I saw a family of gypsy musicians seated on log benches, dressed neatly in black pants and white shirts for their ‘gig’. This is a common was for Gypsies to make money around the eastern Mediterranean, moving from wedding to campfire to party. Their sounds drifted around the campfire filling the valley with mournful melodies of old folk songs: “I am like a star, so lonely on my path across the sky...” they sang. The sparks jumped up and out, straining to reach the sky, which was filled with stars shining their brightest because there was no moon. I felt this song, even though I only had a few words translated to me, fill my stomach with a longing for home. Like the melody alone conveyed the meaning of the song. It was a moment when the power of sound to reaches right into you and grips you, drawing out something you didn’t even realize was there. A moment when sound and vibration communicates directly with your body. And then the tambourine jumped, and the drums popped the sounds lifted my arms and fingers and pumped my feet, and instantly I was picked up and whirling around the fire, laughing in harmony. It was an incredible experience of pure joy and pure sorrow within the span of one single minute; that is power, that is beauty, and that is truly a universal language of sound beyond words connecting us all. I fell into my tent late that night satiated by this musical nourishment,  yet slightly distraught by the lyrics... 
Despite the night of dance and revelry I awoke and still felt like that wandering star, a cold freedom. My heart was here, within me beating strong, and inspired, but pulled, stronger every day back to where its wellspring is: family and home. I decided I needed a walk, to clear the mind and process my thoughts. I found my bearings leading out of camp and into the Taurus mountains: the red and white painted stones marking the Lycian Way, now indelibly etched into my mind. The Lycian Way is as a long-distance footpath, which takes its name from the ancient civilization that once lived here, and is 500km long, leading from Fethiye to Antalya, around part of the coast of ancient Lycia. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and the description read like I had cracked open a fortune cookie baked just for my trip:
“The route is graded medium to hard; it is not level walking, but has many ascents and descents as it approaches and veers away from the sea. It is easier at the start...and gets more difficult as it progresses.” Either I am reading too much into this, or Wikipedia has gotten really deep. Either way, its always nice as a writer to encounter another metaphor. So I set off on the ancient trail to contemplate where I was on my own path. I was starting to feel saturated and exhausted after being on the road for four months now, and the thought of the great distance I still had left to travel was at once still exciting, but now daunting. Then there were the riots and strikes in Greece, my next destination, to throw things awry, with the bus, train and airports striking at random. But more than this, deeper inside there was something else. I had been reading Camus’ ‘A Happy Death’ and identified with the protagonists sentiments  that, “Wandering seemed no more than the happiness of an anxious man. And deep inside himself he felt a dim exhaustion.” Yes, I still had questions and anxieties about my life back home and what to do, how to live it, but also new inspirations and motivations, plans and ideas. What was my heart really telling me? I hiked up to the small hidden waterfall, in whose frigid water spun delicate pink flowers. The ocher mountains towering above me, watching my every move, and under my feet, this ancient trail. I thought of how thousands of footprints over centuries had worn this path down to what it is now.  I thought of the thousands of travelers over centuries who had felt the exact same way as me at one point along the way. I thought of the lonesome star from the Gypsies song, wandering the cold sky. Then I realized that star is not alone but surrounded by thousands of others; and just like the thousands of travelers, past and present, and the billions of lives past and present, that star might be on a unique trajectory or journey, but it is never ever truly alone.Back at camp, I consulted my new friend Grace about my dilemma. “I feel like that turtle I saw the other day who had accidentally gotten himself flipped upside down,” I told her, “He had a plan, he knew where he was going, he knew what crunchy plant diner he was after, and then boom! He’s slipped down the hill, and instead he is lying on his shell, flailing his little legs around wondering what the hell to do!” “Well of course you feel like that turtle, we all do when we pretend that we can make plans 9 months in advance about where we will need to be along a major trip like yours, and then we get there and realize that life has other plans.” “But how will the turtle flip back over?” I asked. At one point, my only logical conclusion was that he would probably just die there. “Let me put it this way” said Grace, “There is a very important difference between being homesick, and being ready to go home. So what are you really feeling?” I contemplated this one through the rest of our meal of stuffed peppers, herb yogurt and roasted eggplant salad. “I feel ready to go home” I told her the next morning. “Good she said; so let’s rework your plan to fit the you now, not the you 9 months ago.” I gave my saving Grace a big hug. Thank god none of us are ever really alone. This goes for turtles too, because after finding that poor guy in such a predicament, I had picked him up, turned him over and put him back on his feet again.
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