Things I’d Like To Do Again.

It is 8 AM. I have been up since 5.  The last three mornings I have woken up just before the call of prayer. I hear it, and for a second I think that maybe God wants it to soothe me, but right now God can go and fuck right off. The pain is unbearable and I am pacing from room to room, as if I can walk away from it. I both, long to be free from it and can’t stand the thought of the pain ending because it would mean I was able to let him go. How could I let him go? What I can do, is make a list (I love lists) of things that I would like to someday be able to do.

Eat. Guys, food is disgusting and I don’t know why we put that filth in our mouths.

Yoga. First I have to remember how to eat, because yoga is hard.

Teach my writing class on Sundays again.

Dance. This one is extra hard because dancing is how we fell in love. We do it together wonderfully. He does it on his own even better.

Sleep past 5 AM. Or wake up at 5 because I am happy to start a new day.

To not feel like I am dying.

To not be in pain for a full minute and then an hour and then a day.

To remember that this is not all of my fault and that he is the one who left.

Read. I tore up and threw out my books of Rumi and Neruda poetry because that is also how we fell in love.

Give the tiniest of shits about someone else’s day.

See a happy couple and not want to stab them.

Not care where he is every second of every day.

Water my plants. He hates plants.

Wear red lipstick. He hates red lipstick.

Kiss him

Wake up next to him and see his halo of chestnut curls and be completely and utterly happy.

 

I Am Afraid.

My partner, my sweet, kind, gentle partner left me yesterday. In my grief, I didn’t call him sweet or kind or gentle. I called him a liar, a monster and a coward. After he left I howled for hours, my friend holding me, rocking me, stroking my hair as I went around in loops of bargaining with the universe and asking why and how he could do this.

This is it. This moment is the thing I feared more than anything else in the world.  After I ended my marriage I felt that there would be a price to pay. That the grief I caused my husband would have to be answered for. And so I spent two years living in fear, waiting for my punishment. In the meantime, my fear caused me to be unkind to the person I didn’t think I could stand losing. I didn’t trust myself and I didn’t trust him and ultimately, I let fear guide me right to the thing I dreaded with all of my heart.

What I wouldn’t give to go back and love him fiercely rather than cautiously. What I wouldn’t give for all of this to be a dress rehearsal.

The other night when we were still a couple, I got a wave of terror. I was home alone and I couldn’t figure out how to make the feeling stop. I felt trapped with my fear. And then I sat down to write. And I wrote my way through it. And the fear became smaller, uncomfortable at having been found out. So I kept writing and I wrote down everything I am afraid of. What I didn’t write down, because it was too big to name was losing the person I love with all of my heart. Here is the amended list.

I am afraid that this pain will never stop.

I am afraid that I am totally and completely unlovable.

I am afraid that I will miss him for the rest of my life.

I am afraid that he will find someone better than me in every way and be happy, while I spend my life shut off from love.

I am afraid of dying. And more than the fear of being dead, I am terrified of  my death causing pain to my loved ones.

I am afraid that I won’t be able to ask them for forgiveness for causing them such suffering because of the being dead part.

I am afraid that someday, just when I think I have conquered my snake phobia I will find a python curled up in my toilet.

I am scared that this mangled limb of grief I carry makes me unacceptable.

I am scared that someday I will have to say goodbye to everyone I love for good.

I am scared that there is no afterlife

I am scared of an afterlife where I won’t be able to taste chocolate, feel my mom’s well-moisturized  hands and say “wow, your hands are so soft! What are you using?”

I am scared that someday I won’t be able to hear her laugh through her tears, as I know she is doing as she reads this.

I am scared that I will never fully know what service my existence provides and how users would rate this service on a scale of one to ten.

I am afraid that I will never be strong enough for this life.

I am afraid of torture.

I am afraid of sleeping alone in my apartment.

I am afraid of growing old.

I am afraid of losing my beauty.

I am afraid that I will never be able to open up to anyone again.

I am afraid of flying.

I am afraid of drowning.

I am afraid of my cat dying, and now I am afraid that if I leave Istanbul, I’ll have to leave him too.

I am afraid of staying in this city where everything is a reminder of him.

I am afraid of leaving this city and never seeing him again.

I am deathly afraid that I will never feel safe alone. And now I have to find out if I can.

Making Vegan Panna Cotta. Sort of.

Tonight I made Vegan Panna Cotta.

At least I feel like I made panna cotta. I only finished the cooking part five minutes ago and panna cotta needs hours to cool off, so only time will tell. Also, the strawberries for the coulis or whatever are still defrosting in a saucepan.

Nevertheless, I am triumphant and proud of the effort and ingenuity it took to get here. This was a hero’s journey and I would like to share it with you, step by step.

 

Dissolve 2 teaspoons agar agar powder in 4 tablespoons of cold water. Set aside

What is this again? Something about seaweed maybe? Doesn’t matter. All I need to know is that this is the thing that makes panna cotta wobbly and vegan.  

Istanbul is not the easiest place to find agar agar powder because veganism is not something Istanbul has embraced, unlike fidget spinners and man buns. Luckily, this means that there are only five shops to check in a city of 15 million people. I went to three of them asking  “Do you have agar agar?” in Turkish. I left “powder” out of the description because I don’t know how to say powder in Turkish. The shopkeepers first looked confused and then hopeful, waiting for me to expand on what agar agar is so that perhaps they could offer an alternative.

“A vegan substitute for gelatin to make wobbly desserts” is what I could have said if I did my Turkish homework consistently. If it isn’t clear, I don’t do my homework at all, so I just ran out of each shop.

My happiest moment today was walking into a shop saying “agar agar,” and watching the shopkeeper silently move towards the glass jars of spices and herbs, and apparently agar agar powder, without demanding any linguistic displays from me.

 

In a saucepan combine 15 oz. coconut milk and 15 oz. coconut cream

There is no way I am putting the entirety of my coconut cream contraband, smuggled in from Russia into a stupid Panna Cotta that I’ll probably fuck up anyway. I’ll give you 7.5 ounces, Vegan Panna Cotta, 7.5 and no more.

 

Add 1 fresh vanilla pod

Nope. Syrian vanilla sugar is what this Panna Cotta is getting. How much of it? I dunno, I started with half a small paper packet. Then got nervous and sprinkled some more. Then got even more nervous and threw in a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup. And then I licked the spoon. Why did I carefully measure out an ingredient that is not even in the recipe? You tell me.

 

Add zest of one lemon

Alternatively, add all the lemon zest you were able to zest before you got bored with the zesting.

 

Bring everything to a boil before stirring in the agar agar/water mixture

I can do that.

 

Strain the mixture into a bowl

I don’t have a strainer. Aren’t you glad I didn’t zest the whole lemon?

 

Carefully ladle out the remaining mixture into porcelain tea cups

Glazed terra cotta pots okay?

 

Let cool for an hour and meanwhile make the fresh strawberry coulis

First of all, my fresh strawberries are frozen. Second of all, following (hahahaha!) the panna cotta recipe depleted my attention span, so I have no idea what else is supposed to be in the coulis. Also, isn’t coulis just a fancy jam? And is’t jam essentially sugar, berries and water?

I do have one secret ingredient to add- it’s dried basil.

“Hey Masha, you don’t seem like the kind of person who would have dried basil on hand!”

You’re so right!

Two weeks ago I went to Russia and left my boyfriend alone with my healthy plants, including one fine looking basil.

My soon to be ex-boyfriend “forgot the plants were even here.” It’s not like he looked at all the plants and said “you’re all going to die now.” He just forgot that they existed. In the office, the bedroom, the living room, the balcony and literally eye level above the kitchen sink right next to the dishwashing liquid, which judging by the clean dishes, he obviously used.

Tonight, while the panna cotta was bringing itself to a boil, I picked up the carcass of the basil plant, tossed it in the garbage and felt the fragrance of their dying leaves. And then I thought, vegan panna cotta with bits of lemon zest, topped with frozen strawberry coulis and dried basil dished out of the trash sounded quite lovely.

 

Start Where You Are, Do What You Can.

Two years ago today I started my yearlong quest for spiritual enlightenment, a sense of belonging and to find “the thread of humanity that binds us together.” I found it, it’s there. No question—we are more alike than we are different. People are wonderful, people are compassionate, people are good people.

I shared that first year with you earnestly, sometimes desperately and self-indulgently and always with a bit of slapstick comedy thrown in. This last year, I’ve stayed away, processing and observing and reeling. As promised, I moved to Istanbul. As expected, I kidnapped a kitten off the street and made it live with me. I write, I edit, I dabble in yoga and Turkish suffixes. I make new friends and try to hold on to the ones I left in New York. All in all I’m doing great— confident as I strut around Istanbul in my skinny jeans, last night’s sock bulging out around my calf. I haven’t changed much. I promise I’ll tell you all about it, but first I want to introduce you to someone really special and really hungry.

This is Farhan. He is my friend and like most of my friends in Istanbul he is Syrian. And like most Syrians, he had to leave his country. He is fantastic, also like most Syrians I’ve met in Istanbul. He is warm, sincere, creative and fluent in absolutely fake French. He makes movies; he gives the best hugs, and will make you laugh about one second after you meet him. He makes jokes about the time the Security Forces arrested him and his father, and that other time he was kidnapped and beaten by the opposition in a case of mistaken identity. “I can’t win!” If he’d had a chance to finish his studies, he would have been an archeologist by now.

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This winter was really hard for him. The love of his life, also Syrian, also a shining example of a human, was given residency in France and had no choice but to leave him, for now. Their separation was unbearable to watch. He felt, “like I’m in a cage,” and at first, he rattled the bars, jumping from one impossible option, to another—“I’ll go by boat, I’ll go through Bulgaria, I’ll go back to Syria.” And then, he was defeated. For several months work and home were the only places he could be found. Dragging him out for tea or dinner was nearly impossible.

A few weeks ago something changed—Farhan became inspired. He’s traveling to Gaziantep to make a short film there, he’s reaching out to people, he’s asking for help and he’s on a hunger strike. That last detail is scary. He has now not eaten for two weeks. At the same time he is still going to work, still making jokes and still giving great hugs, though there’s noticeably less of him to embrace.

The reason for Farhan’s hunger strike is multilayered. The ambitious and immediate reason is to bring attention to and stop the seige in Syria , in areas like Daraya, Douma, East Harasta and Moadamiyah. Without access to medical supplies or food, the people in those areas are dying. If you follow the news, you know that today aid was set to be delivered to besieged areas, but without the support of Assad’s government the international community got scared off. The last time humanitarian aid got close enough to Daraya government Air Forces shelled the area where civilians had gathered in anticipation of the convoy.

Farhan knows that if the starvation of more than a million people won’t move the world to act, his own hunger doesn’t stand a chance at convincing any government. What Farhan really wants is to get people to acknowledge what is happening in the besieged areas in Syria. “I just want people to know.”

Farhan’s hunger strike has had a different effect on me. It showed me a tangible, inescapable consequence of my own inaction. He had told me about his strike  just two days after he started, almost two weeks ago.I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t do the little that he asked me to “maybe you can share it on social media, something, just to let people know.” I thought about him every day. I talked about it with  our mutual friends and my mom but I didn’t do anything because I thought I couldn’t. I’ve been hibernating. I don’t even remember my Instagram password, and is Twitter still a thing? I’ve hardly been on social media let alone built an engaged audience that could have any impact. SoI did nothing, while Farhan’s already slight frame became slighter.

Two days ago, my friend Claire was over for a visit when Farhan dropped by. He looked so small but still bright-eyed. I offered him juice as as Claire and I sipped wine. The last time Farhan had been over he had wanted a glass of wine, but the only bottle I had at home had a measly few sips left ad I was too embarrassed to offer so little.  So we both drank beer, which neither of us really wanted. And here he was again, in my living room nursing an orange juice while Claire and I drank from our full glasses. I don’t like to think of myself as an asshole, but I really felt like one in that moment.

To not offer Farhan that half (quarter?) glass of wine because it was less than what I wanted to offer is similar to me not doing anything to help my friend because I felt my power was equally miniscule. Neither time did I confer with Farhan to find out if he thought it was enough.

I know Syria seems too far away to ever really reach you, but if it happened to me, it can happen to you. I hope it happens to you. My Syrian friends, including Farhan and his accident-prone, bubbly baby sister are as close to my heart as the ones I’ve met in New York, Paris or London. They’re the kind of people that make me look good by association. I need them, I love them and I wince anytime someone in the news discounts their worth, denies their right to seek refuge and education or treats them with disdain and suspicion. And I worry for their families, their future, and their ability to just live.

Today I remembered one of my favorite sayings—the law of floatation wasn’t discovered by contemplating the sinking of things. I realized that I have you guys, I have this sacred space and this amazing community that I know will listen. I can tell you about this person who is so dear to me and I can ask you to do what I couldn’t do until today—whatever you can, no matter how big or small you think it is.

Can I ask you to do one small, tiny thing right now? Can you leave a comment for Farhan here, or on the Unlikely Pilgrim FB page? It can even be an emoji, a small token acknowledging that you know that you are more alike than you are different. Maybe you have a question for him about Syria, about his hugging technique or archeology. Ask away, and I will pass it along.

Maybe you can take some time, like I did and find your own way to support the friends you didn’t know you had halfway around the world.

If you want to do more, here’s a note from Farhan:

“In solidarity with the besieged areas and to highlight the suffering of the people inside Syria, we, a group of Syrian youth are on a hunger strike until the siege is lifted in all regions in Syria. This protest may be without any result if it is not accompanied by media and civil support from people in all countries who can put pressure on their governments and help the Syrian people who have survived through 5 years of war. The hunger strike is one of the means of solidarity with the besieged areas. There are many other ways in which you can show you support for the Syrian people. Spread the word through social media, by publishing articles that show what is happening in Syria, making videos that show your solidarity or by organizing demonstrations and sit-ins to put pressure on governments to help break the siege in Syria. “

 

 

 

 

 

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