Miracle Number Two

Famagusta - Nicosia, October 2015

  Stefanie is with us now. We’re on our way to experience a music night in Nicosia. She sits in the front seat of Katerina’s convertible. Katerina drives and I listen to both of them chatting in Greek. Sometimes Stefanie turns to me and translates. She talks to me about embryos, feminine energy, how she broke her leg, and how frustrating it is to be living in her parents’ house with a cast on.
  We’re constantly told that French women have monopolized the je ne sais qoui quality for themselves. I’d say it’s Cypriot women who have got it. Or maybe it’s just these two wonder women. Stefanie is dressed casually but something about her says it’s never about the clothes, honey. Her long dark hair is put up in a bun to stay out of her rosy face. She has clever perceptive eyes that sparkle and dance in conversation.
  I’ve been given her crutches to keep here in the back seat next to me. The fourth passenger in the car is my invisible anxiety. The girls are not aware of it, of course. The cause of my anxiety confuses me: I’m afraid of the male sex. Among other things.
  I feel unsafe. And I keep it to myself. Katerina and I have been having a beautiful day today. Why is this here now? I sulk and fume. I just want this experience to continue to be blissful. Is that at all possible? Please? I beg my anxiety impatiently. But anxiety never listens.
  After the light show on the beach last night, Katerina and I went back to Yaya’s and fell asleep on the bed with the windows open. Katerina insisted on sleeping without the AC on, which means that it was going to get warm during the night and I was going to have to cover myself with only a light bed sheet.
  “I like to be covered with a blanket,” I told her.
  “I don’t know. I don’t feel comfortable otherwise.”
  “Is it a security thing?”
  It did not sound like she was curious about it. It was simply an observation which sent me spiraling into self-consciousness about my need to always feel safe. Was I brought up to feel unsafe in the world? Or was I brought up to feel too safe inside a tight zone of comfort? If you were the type of person who could sleep with an open uncovered body and wake up feeling refreshed, does that mean that you feel safe in the world? That you are present? That you are in harmony with all that is?
  Somehow I fell asleep, challenging my body to stay open underneath the light bed sheet*. The lull of the traffic outside and Katerina’s gentle breathing compensate for the lack of a weight on top of me.
  We woke up at dawn and chased the sunrise, barely catching it between rushing to get into bathing suits and gathering our scattered things. A bag of grapes for the road and we’re off to Katerina’s cove.

  It was a dark rocky cliff by the cerulean sea. We had to pick our way through a dirt path and down some harsh rocks. I was terrified of cutting my tender feet. I kept seeing pictures of my skin getting infected, unable to heal because of my diabetic system. Katerina wanted to feel the rocks as she climbed down. I wanted to feel them too, the sharp little stabs of pain with every step giving me a thrill, challenging the Earth as we tread it. But I kept my sandals on.
  I stood at the edge of a rock, suddenly invited into a prayer of gratitude. I opened up to the sky wishing I could expand my body enough to contain it. The water lapped my feet, warm and cool and buttery. I raised my arms and held it all in an embrace. Katerina the mermaid was already in the water. She watched me with her head bobbing in the wavelets. I knew she was joining me in prayer.
  We swam until our cup was filled. On our way back to the car, I wondered if the reason that people didn’t wake up this early is because they fear feeling the God Force stirring inside them. The they don’t jump into the sea, or run on a dusty pathway and fill their lungs with fresh air because their small scared little egos fear God too much, and I don’t mean that in a fundamental religious sense. Swallowed by God, by the Eternal Presence, is not how the ego wants to end up. Instead the ego stays longer in bed, day after day after day. When it does get up, it makes sure to gather all the thoughts necessary to play a redundant film that has no stop button as it goes about its morning routine. It makes coffee, and, so, continues for the rest of the day having secured custody of this human life.
  What if we taught ourselves to be swallowed by the God Force early in the morning and let it carry us through the day instead? How taller and wider and more lush would our lives become? Many of us practice prayer early in the morning but how deeply do we practice? How openly do we connect and receive? What if, even when we wake up late and lounge in bed, we can still find that aliveness within us, so robust, red, pink and yellow like the blushing gala apple?
  I slipped into Katerina’s space and she slipped into mine. We found a nice rhythm so that by the time we arrived in Nicosia, where her parents live, we meshed entirely. We spent the day walking and talking in the old town and eventually plopped into a precious little sofa by the window in a cafe and talked for hours about all things divine. And guys.

  Now, here in the car,  Stefanie and Katerina have slipped into a rhythm of their own, a familiar one that they must have shared for a long time. I retreat from engagement in the back. I’m dressed in my favorite green dress that makes me feel like I just came out of the tropics but I cover the slightly revealing top with a gray Gap zip-up sweater. Because I don’t feel safe showing myself off. This anxiety feels immature, unexplainable and I’m frankly tired of it. There are paranoias parading in the back of my mind and I pretend not to look at them. They’re the same paranoias that drove me to face my fears in Cancun (See Cancun Journal), the same paranoias I had in the middle of a breathtaking meadow in France. I’m not as high-strung as I used to be and I must admit some credit is due to myself for that but it bothers me that when we’re out to have a good time at a jazz night, I still suffer this malaise instead of being fun and flirty with the other girls. I swallow a ball of tears in my throat and tell myself to man-up! I leave the car and resolutely take off my sweater.
  I watch the men in my peripheral vision. Are they going to catcall? Are they going to approach? What if someone comes up to us and tries something? It's a quiet street.
  Here, I feel obligated to remind you that I grew up being taught for years that men were dangerous wolves and that we fragile and helpless women needed to be covered up to be safe from harassment or even rape. It’s time that I left these beliefs behind, way behind, but they are gifted with talons.
  We arrive at the music school. Katerina explains that this place was turned around into a rustic outdoor bar. I get a peek at the place, down in a quaint little alcove, sheltered from the street. There are twinkles lights hanging and wherever there are twinkle lights (or cupcakes) you’ll see me gravitating there.
  Katerina and Stefanie start giggling because Katerina claims that she can carry Stefanie down the staircase. And she does!
  The evening relaxes, or maybe I do. The music jangles louder than my anxiety and slowly I begin to feel the softness in my edges again. I let my hair down, in the literal sense.
  Just in time, a gentleman joins us. Simon of the long Golden hair. He comes with his bike and his leather jacket and his eccentricity dripping from his fingertips. Simon is Katerina’s friend. He is half Turkish, half British. A Turkish Englishman. An English Turk. And he speaks both languages quite fluently with an impeccable accent.
  I turn to this gentleman, very drawn to the way his sunburned face tells me how much he knows. It’s a wee bit intimidating at first, given that Simon is in his forties. I feel a little foolish talking to him about my experiences. But I see through our age difference and find an old soul who has traveled so much across this world, and in other lifetime, he no longer carries an identity. I don’t think Simon believes in reincarnation. I’m not sure what I believe about it myself yet but this man certainly wears layers of experiences that extend far beyond this life. And still he remains boyish. It’s very sweet. We talk about religion, film, Sufism, India and the possibility of camping on the beach in Karpaz, in the Northern part of Cyprus. It’s been so long since I talked so freely and openly, so non-stop, with a stranger before. I feel like I’m myself again.
  As my intellect runs off with Simon, the music speaks to my body and I respond to the hypnosis. Katerina and I get up to dance to the curvy Latin sounds. Letting it all go… but for one bead of resistance.
  “You’re a good dancer,” Stefanie says to me when we sit down, flushed.
  With a thoughtful tone, Katerina asks, “Where you fully present when you were dancing?”
  No, answers a voice inside before I can stop it. I realize I was a little self-conscious as I was dancing. Showing off maybe. Aiming to please. Aiming to seduce. It makes me wonder how much of our lives as women are performed to “please” someone, a man, other women, an audience. Why did I feel the need to please? So it’s either fear or pretend with us? Is that how men relate to women too? They are either afraid of inadequacy, or of getting hurt. Or they pretend to be “manly” or "charming" or "unbreakable" because that is what is expected. Where is the truth?
  I open up to Stefanie. I tell her how I’ve been feeling this evening. I tell her my fears. I tell her some of the past experiences that led to those fears. We end up with an impromptu energy reading. I learn from her that she teaches Cypriot women to open up to their feminine energy and their sexuality. She pulls at me like an inevitable stream that gives me no choice about where to flow. Have I fallen into the right hands?
  Katerina flutters close and pulls me out of my chair. She wants to show me something special. In a cozy anteroom off the dance floor, there’s a small art exhibit. There are chairs and tables here but no one has found this nook yet.
   She takes me on a mini tour and we observe each painting and photograph like morsels of raw fruit. The art is made by various unknown individuals and is, therefore, honest and unpretentious. I feel surrounded by how genuine and by-the-people this place is. As we revel in that, an Argentinian tango breaks out on the dance floor.
  “Oh look!” Katerina gasps. We look into the dance floor through the archway in the anteroom. A beautiful woman and her beautiful partner have gotten up to dance. I’m not sure if I really think they’re beautiful or if it’s just the passion and the intensity of their bodies moving.
  We cannot go back to our tables because we would be interrupting the dance. So we grab two chairs and sit close to the archway to watch. The dance seems, from where we are sitting, like something that was orchestrated exclusively for me and Katerina to watch, framed as it was by that archway. Though this spontaneous dance is improvised by random people who were having a good time at the bar tonight, it felt like a synchronicity that opened up for just the two of us to watch the two of them.

   The man and the woman cling to each other like they would fall apart if separated but each quite strong and poised in their own presence. Their temples touch and through that connection, passion pools downward and across into their limbs. He brings her this way and she knows to come before his arms need even pull. She leans back with the music and he knows where to touch her. He makes room for her to kick her heels, for her sculpted legs to spar with his. Their eyes don’t meet but they don’t need to. They feel. They communicate with intentions, lust and love.
  It makes me wonder about what holds us back from feeling our way around the opposite sex with an open heart like this, with pure intuitive connection and love that transcends the needs of survival and the grunt of everyday life. What if we could just let go of our fears, doubts, reservation, pretenses, defenses, and opened up our bodies with the opposite sex? What made us like this? Why is it always a joust, whether it’s on a street, in a living room or in bed? What would happen if masculine and feminine both just…surrendered and danced?
  “You know what I’m thinking?” Katerina whispers to me.
  “This is the continuation of last night’s show.”
  I smile. “The second miracle.”

  * It was only later that I found out that there are weighted blankets made specifically for people who are prone to anxiety. So there must be some science behind my need for a blanket when I go to sleep!

Disclaimer: the pictures used in this post are not mine. The first picture belongs to Stefanie Nicolaou. The rest are taken from google images. I'm sorry for having to use them. I lost all the data on my phone after that trip so my own Cyprus pictures are gone. Thanks to all who are contributing pictures of Cyprus to me. If you have pictures you want to share please feel free to contact me in the comments sections.


Miracle Number One

  Larnaca - Famagusta, October 2015

  “I want to do my pilgrimage in Cyprus this year,” I type on the facebook window that Katerina and I share.
  “Hayatiiii” she says, “Yes, let’s do it,”
  It’s a tryst that instantly flies up to the ether, young and shivering. While the pilgrims flock to Mecca at the pinnacle of Hajj season, Katerina and I will have our own pilgrimage to God. Items needed: figs from the side of the road, Mastika, temples in the sun, sea waves, and a lot of quiet where we just listen.
  I am already in love before our trip even begins.
  Katerina is my Cypriot friend who lived in Saudi Arabia for two years, working as an instructor at Effat College. She taught the girls English and probably much more than that. I heard about Katerina from a friend of mine who described her as a hippie who sometimes doesn’t wear underwear because she wants to feel life flowing down there. I giggled when he told me that. I was also a little bit jealous. I felt like I was wearing a tight corset in comparison.
  Katerina, when you first meet her, gives you the impression that she has spent so much of her life soaking sun and moon, rosemary and Cypriot seawater. She has a wiry frame. You could break her into two with a snap of your fists if you tried. Her hair makes up for it though, wild black, furious, and cannot be tamed either by society or by a hair band.
  Katerina’s face is stunning because it is an infusion of feminine vulnerability and the fierceness of Greek Goddesses who have walked through raging seas to save drowning ships. Her almond eyes have a melting quality, like dark honey is dropped into the pupils every morning when she wakes up.
  In 2015, She arrived at KAEC, where my group of friends and I were having a boho picnic. She and I had been having a magnetic correspondence for a while. With the shyness of a blossom, she greeted me with a kiss on both cheeks. Very European I thought, my head tingling. I later learned that she had that tingling effect on everyone else. Katerina put her hands on people’s heads and sent potent torrents of love that went to where ever the pain was. She had healer’s hands and a healer’s embrace.
  I arrive in Larnaca in the afternoon, journal ready, pen poised, cells wide open for miracles. Katerina certainly knows how to hunt for those.
  She meets me outside the airport with her red convertible, small, worn on the inside, and just perfect for excursions of devotion. She helps me with my luggage and we’re off.
  “We’re staying with Yaya tonight,” she says. Yaya, of course, is Katerina’s Grandmother. I have never stayed with someone’s grandmother in a foreign country before. My appetite for entering people’s lives starts to gape wide open. I want to meet Yaya. I want to chat with Yaya. I want to drink tea with Yaya - Greek coffee, I later find.

  The roads swirl through the landscape as we drive to Famagusta. It’s sparse. It’s lush. It’s withering old. It’s vivacious. Such a conundrum, the place. I love it immediately. I am completely swept away by the cypress trees, my favorite kind of tree. I’ve furnished most of the fantastical settings in my would-be novels with Cypress trees. I plan to have them surrounding my dream cottage, someday, along with bitter lemons.
  Something feels odd though. I did not get the chance to spend much time with Katerina when she was in Saudi because we were rarely in the same city, or she was often not in the mood to go out. Now that I’m here in a car, with this enchanting creature, I find that there is little to talk about and the time-old social obligation to keep a conversation going rears its frowny head. What if we really don’t have much to talk about? I will be spending a week with this young lady with hardly a thing to say. She will find me boring and will wonder why on Earth she invited me here. We will drag our little pilgrimage along and instead of it being two steps up toward enlightenment, it will be a perfect chore. That’s what I tell myself, my heart torpedoing steadily downwards.
  We arrive at Yaya’s charming little house. It’s not far away from the seashore. There is nothing glamorous about Yaya’s town and not much either about the house. They both seem to be sliding along in a pleasant dance with time. There’s not too much expectation and an abundance of simplicity.
  We enter through a tiny kitchen that barely fits five people. The inside of the house immediately reminds me of Egyptian apartments. I am taken back to that trip to Cairo when I was five years old and I was sick with a stomach flu and unable to sleep because of the donkeys that brayed at night on the streets. I felt uncomfortable in those apartments, like no chair or bed was willing to welcome my little body. I wonder if my initial discomfort here stems from that memory? Enough psychobabble.
   As we go inside to put our luggage down, I get glimpses of fondly kept furniture, picture frames, small lacy things, and, also, the soul of a woman who has made a home here and needs nothing from life but companionship.
  Katerina introduces me in Greek. She chats with Yaya for a while, probably about her day or about the rest of their family. I understand not a word, of course, but I can hear in Katerina’s voice the intonations of endearment; endearing her grandmother to herself and herself to her grandmother. It is lovely to observe because I’ve used those same intonations with my own grandmothers.
  These women, these Yayas and Grandmothers and Sittos, they all have one thing in common: you can see that child from long ago still sitting in their eyes, swinging her legs. That child looks back at you with the soul of a sage. The cycle of life is complete in them and the price was the body. They know things now. They have probably always known things but people didn't believe them.

  Yaya is not very tall and she grows in the house like a squat little oak tree except that she’s much smoother and rounder. Her hair tumbles in silvery white waves about her head and her face looks like it was about to be a man and then realized it was a woman. But there is so much tenderness in that face, and benign sarcasm too.
  Katerina leaves me alone with Yaya and Pambos (her grandfather) because she has a class to give and will be back in two or three hours. I sit with her grandparents at that small table. I am a paper cutout. Am I real? I’ve woken up in this strange kitchen with elderly folk who are looking at me waiting for a conversation to start with no spoken language to connect us. But we try.
   My skin crawls because of how foreign everything is. It’s a kind of skin crawl I feel whenever I’m in a new country in someone’s home and the sights are different and the smells are new and my body is simply adjusting to the reality change.
  I adjust to it surprisingly quickly, before dread comes up and seizes the stage. When will Katerina be back? But the conversation flows in a patchwork quilt of unfinished words and sentences. A contribution from me in English, a donation from Yaya in Greek and we make a lopsided limping conversation with the table between us to support it.
  “You married?” she asks with a rolling “r”. Oh that word she knows!
  I shake my head, cornered. Will I have to explain why? I get the feeling that she will not understand my reasons anymore than my own grandmother ever did. And just like my grandmother, her lecture about the importance of marriage comes fast. In her case, it is brief because of the lack of words.
  We have a small lunch consisting of roasted chicken, a green salad with lemon and olive oil, and - this is new to me - real authentic Greek yogurt (not Chobani or Fage). It comes out of a luscious tub from which you could scoop it out like ice cream and feast on tart creaminess that compliments basically anything; fruit, chicken, vegetables. Greek yogurt with figs would later become my favorite. I wish I could grill some figs right now as I write this and pipe some Greek yogurt on top through a piping bag and then drizzle some honey and crushed walnuts…
  I make myself at home because Yaya’s house is begging for it. I know I’m foreign to you, it says, and this is not really your family, but for now it is. This bed is yours, the bathroom and towels for you to use, the window shutters to crank closed. Come to sleep. You’re tired.
  I am tired. I fall asleep into a surprisingly refreshing nap on a hard mattress. Katerina and I have some reveling to do when she gets back.
  I’ve known contentment before but never like this on a small porch with greens all around and a cup of Greek coffee - I refrained from writing Turkish, here - and the prospect of a swim at sunset. I sit on the swing bench feeling the moist air mellowing down for the evening. I don’t even feel left out when Katerina and Yaya lock heads and speak in Greek for half the time.
  Later, we swim in a drab little cove beneath a hotel that is hopping with Taylor Swift’s and Miley Cyrus’s best. It is dark. In the water, we take off our bathing suits. There is hardly anyone around, except for the moon and it's the only nasty bastard that’s craning for a peek at our nudity underneath the black surface.

  Katerina emits her usual sensual mmm-ing and Aaah-ing, the kinds of sounds my mother would be horrified if I made in public. I feel like we’re two glistening beings gifted with the sense of touch for the first time in our lives. I slither in still water, a ripe mango swimming in juice. I’m all sighs, all smiles on my skin, and, eventually, I become nothing.
  I remember the first time I went skinny dipping. It was in Jeddah at a popular chalet resort. It was dark. I was twenty four at the time, I believe, and it was a perfectly a scandalous thing to do. In society, I was expected to cover up from head to toe when outside the house, but there in the water, I was untouched by all that. It was during a time in my life when I was obsessed with the song “Age of Aquarius” because the age of Aquarius was rising within me, making gentle cracks in the proper world I knew and adhered to.
  There it is again, Katerina’s absence. I try to engage her about our pilgrimage but she brushes me off by showing only interest in the water lapping her sides.
  Later, we feast on Mexican food downtown like ravenous wolves who had just had a hearty swim. She brushes me off again as I try to glean from her some interest, excitement, or just plain old suggestions for our journey together in the upcoming week. I look for it, like a child looks for a hint of a “yes” in her mother’s face. I saw no yeses, only…”what about it?”
  Katerina takes me to a seashore where it’s quiet after dinner. No one is around here either. I’ve already clamped down and crawled back into my disappointed shell. There will be no pilgrimage. The idea, when we spoke online, it seems, was just a floating thing to her, while to me it is my heart inflating to a bursting point with yearning. Yearning for love, yearning for the heavens, yearning for the unknown - and also fearing it - yearning for what is beyond the veil, yearning for God, for the creator, the oneness. Yearning for everything. And also, yearning to share this yearning with someone who I’ve come to think of as more than a friend of flesh; a being of light, a spirit.
  She goes to sit on the shore far away as I lie on one of the recliners on the sand and I feel even more abandoned. Then, I turn to my side and hold myself in an embrace. I begin to the see the hurt child that was clinging to her this whole time. Loneliness washes over me louder than the shushing of the waves. I hold myself tighter and cry. I see it now, the hollow, my blind spot. It hurts. It really hurts and I don’t know why. Why is it here? Will it eat me up?
  Maybe I’m idolizing Katerina too much. Maybe I’m clinging to the romance of a pilgrimage because I’m running from this horrid hollow that I see and feel now. Katerina doesn’t hear me over there so I let the sobs come hot and fast. She might be a healer, but in this moment, I am my own. I hold myself until I am quiet again, until I’m here again and the loneliness is only a whisper. I can hear the waves sending me ointments and salves. I let my foot sneak down to feel cold silky sand.
  I decide I’m ready to Join Katerina. I sit beside her and we stare ahead across the water at an inanimate scene with the moon behind us for protection. We are quiet in delicious repose. No need for words. Just breath.
  Then, our first miracle comes. In the silence across, there are thick heaps of clouds hovering over the water at the horizon. We cannot see them, of course, because it is too dark. A single wondrous flash of light appears that was not lightening but a yellow line vibrating across the sky. It sends a shimmery haze all around, cupping the voluptuous curves of the clouds. We both cry out in surprise.
  The flash is proceeded with another. Then, flashes come together to create an orchestra that deepens in the sky so that the yellows are accentuated with deep maroons, grays and faint purples. They come fast one after the other, ethereal, silent, but loud in their impact, like Beethoven is sitting in a chair somewhere in there banging his elbows on the piano keys because he thought no one could hear.
  The sight makes us delirious. We make those ecstatic sounds with every flash because we are in a state of wonder too sacred to interrupt or question. We witness the genesis of a little universe. For what feels like half an hour we cannot not keep our eyes away from the orgy of pleasure the sky is having. And the pleasure it breaks loose inside us!
  Somewhere throughout this miracle, Katerina puts a hand on my heart and love passes between us through the conductor of knowing, of connection and belonging. We don’t need to speak about our pilgrimage. It is already happening, in its own unruly way.
 This is my gift to you both, the Universe seems to say. Are you ready?


Note: All pictures above taken by Katerina Kyriacou. http://katerinakyriacou.weebly.com/

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