The realities of traveling, walking and living as a woman.

american-girl-in-italy-1024x536
An American in Italy by Ruth Orkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

My poem “Changes” was recently published by The Rising Phoenix Review! This poem was inspired by my experiences moving through this world as a woman, sometimes empowered, sometimes lonely, sometimes full of life, and sometimes afraid.

Click here to read more:

Changes By Saskia Layden

How to Hike The Lycian Way

Discover the beauty of Turkey, one step at a time.

The Lycian Way is a 540 kilometer footpath along the turquoise coast of southern Turkey. The path meanders through pristine Mediterranean bays, peaceful villages, and challenging mountain terrains. This October, I spent a short four days on the trail but nevertheless came out with beautiful memories and a well fed body and soul.

The Lycian Way is a safe and accessible journey for any avid adventurer or hiker. To learn more about what one can expect on this special journey, click on the link to my recent article published on travelicious.com.au HERE.

 

Arriving, Loving and Leaving

airportrain

“Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.”

Dalai Lama XIV

The autumn Istanbul sky is cloudy and sullen. Rain pelts the wall of windows in front of me. It is 5pm in early November and I am seated on the floor of Sabiha Gocken International airport. My legs stretch out in front of me and my back presses against the cool metal of the dividing wall. I have manged to find a bit of privacy where I can slowly sip my third coffee of the day and contemplate the last month of my life. The month I chose to come back to Turkey. Over the past six months, I have used up the entirety of my 90 day Turkish visa but managed to leave the country just before it expires. 

There are a few places in this world where I am scattered, where bits of my heart will remain forever, frozen in the moments when I fell deeply in love. Moments of eye contact, slow dances, new words of new languages, painful lessons, sunshine on bare skin, and the most cleansing kind of tears.  

Inevitably, I always chase after a challenge. I speak three languages and have familiarized myself with the cultures of many different countries. Turkish is not one of these languages, but of course it could be. Or I could go home, get a job, be near my family, and maybe feel less alone. But in this way, my spirit is stifled. I don’t need to travel fast or far or see famous sights or climb the highest mountains. I can find my adventure in other ways – in Friday mornings at the market, using the new words I have learned to buy the things I need to make new recipes with new friends in new and beautifully unique places.

The past month in Turkey has satiated my hunger for the unknown, for the small adventures that feed my soul and make me cry but also make me smile until my face hurts.

But I want more.

I am tired of arriving and loving and leaving. I want to arrive and love and love and love some more. I want to find a home in a place that challenges me every day, even if it is in the form of loneliness and boredom and alienation. I want to live and breathe in another language, in another religion, in a way of life that is not my own. I want to make it my own. I want the world to always be a place that I can learn from and adapt to, no matter the challenges that lie before me. I want to grow every single day and from the lessons I learn, I want to source a life that is full and shining and wonderfully messy.

So today I will fly. But I would like to believe that I may have planted some roots during my time in Turkey. I would like to believe that perhaps these roots just might give me enough reason to finally stay.

I Want To Quit

Tonight I want to quit.

Everything in me is tired. For one year, I have moved my body around this planet, feeling my way through new environments, smiling, crying, and hand signaling my way through unfamiliar languages and countries. I left New York city for this. I wanted to get lost, submerge myself completely into a world where no one knows my name or my stories.

But tonight I give up. I want to go home and be held by the people who love me most. I want to quit this wandering, nomadic life and find a place and the people who are willing to hold me. I want to hold them back. I want to hold them and never let go.

I want to quit. Stay in bed all morning. Drink coffee with legs beneath these sheets. Cry until I fall asleep again.

I want to quit these stories of “should do” and “what if” and instead just be okay with being. I want to curl up around this pillow and hold it like I want to hold the person I am waiting to love. I want that person to be me.

I want to quit men and dating and sex. I want to forget about my education and work experience and resumes and cover letters. I want to quit feeling that I have a potential to live up to. Maybe I could work in a coffee shop and quit thinking that I always need to be challenging my brain.

I want to sleep forever and wake only if someone is there, waiting to take care of me. I want to be taken care of.

I want to quit being a strong, powerful, inspirational woman. I don’t want to be an example. To be an example requires getting out of bed, requires that I take steps in the directions of my dreams.

I want to quit my dreams. I am tired. Dream following is not for the lazy or unmotivated. I wonder what it would be like to quit and be one of those people who gave up long ago. Perhaps they continue dreaming, but the chase is over. They have settled and accepted and no longer is the prize hanging in front of their face causing them to run, to continue moving forward.

I want to quit walking, one foot in front of the other. I want to sit here and wallow and continue to wonder what the hell I am doing with my life.

But I don’t.

How can I consider quitting when the most valuable lesson I have learned about life is that IT GOES ON? And it goes on much more smoothly if I move with it, sometimes gracefully, sometimes stumbling, but I must move. Some days I make small steps towards my dreaming and other days I just get out of bed with the goals of eating, breathing, and hopefully feeling some sunshine on my skin.

So tonight I will not quit. Maybe I will consider it. Maybe I will cry and make decisions that are not good for me or for the people I love. Maybe I will forget to put myself first, over and over again. But I will not give up. Quitting means compromising and this year I have proven to myself many times over, that my courage is ever-expanding, ever-evolving and sometimes it appears at times and in ways I could never anticipate.

If my courage was a person and my desire to quit was a person, courage would sit tall, look at my quitting person straight in the eye and say,

“I love you. You can do this. Haven’t you learned? Bigger and more beautiful things are always in store. Be patient. Be calm. Take a deep breath.”

“Rest.”

“You can always begin again in the morning.”

When going to the market takes an unexpected amount of courage.

turkishmarket

I am not afraid. Maybe nervous, unprepared, uncomfortable, but I am NOT afraid. I take a deep breath as I walk out of the apartment door. The moment I set foot on the pavement, the late afternoon call to prayer bellows from the giant mosque next door. As a crowd of men gather outside the mosque doors, I cross the street, lift my chest and walk tall in an attempt to look as if I know exactly where I am going. I think I know the way and I have been to Turkish markets before but I have left the tourist section of town and I now share the dusty streets with women covered by their head scarfs, hand in hand with their small children. We are all headed in the same direction, to the Saturday food and clothing market.

After a short stroll on the shady side of the street, I find the parking lot filled with canvas-covered stalls and enter bravely. My light hair and skin give me away. The sunglasses to hide my blues eyes help to soften my blatant foreignness only slightly. I have left my jean shorts and tank top at home, trading them in for a long flowing skirt and loose T-shirt in an attempt to blend in as best I can. My clothing ripples in the breeze as I browse the stalls. A rainbow of giant pumpkins and melons, bright red beautiful tomatoes, long green beans, enormous heads of broccoli and cauliflower, fresh parsley and basil, walnuts and almonds still in their shells, and many varieties of olives paint the edges of the dry and stony walkway. Shopkeepers stare and momentarily watch me with their fleeting curiosity. I pass by them, scanning the local village produce. I wonder what it would feel like to have the generations of knowledge that the women around me have. What would it be like to know how to prepare every single vegetable in this place? I have lived on farms around the world, I have cooked the meals of many foreign cuisines, and yet my knowledge feels pathetic as I watch customers fill their bags with vegetables that I cannot even find a name for.

I buy some fresh strawberries and figs, using my limited Turkish, hand signals and a smile to communicate my wishes. The woman behind the produce smiles, mostly with her eyes, and bids me farewell with a slight head nod. She speaks softly, “Teşekular! Güle, güle!” Thanks and goodbye to you, too. That is what I wanted to say, but my nerves get a hold of me and I walk away too fast to return her words of gratitude and farewell.

I make a stop at the market’s small outdoor cafe, shaded from the afternoon sun by a makeshift yellow tent. I order a fresh glass of frothy yogurt ayran and settle into the next half hour of observing and devouring my surroundings. I watch and listen and allow myself to remember all of the reasons why places like small seaside towns in southern Turkey appeal to me. An afternoon at the market is transformed from a ritual, arduous task, into an opportunity for infinite learning — new words and vegetables, sidewalk strolls surrounded by the spiritual callings from thin and pointed minarets, and the chance to communicate with hands and eyes and smiles. I sip the cool and salty drink, filling my belly with the freshness while my heart fills with the colors and sounds of this small world around me.

Fear disappates as gratitude steps in. It is not so often that we are broken open and so raw to the world, just as we were when learning things for the first time as a small child. How beautiful it is to face my own vulnerability and emerge victorious, with a full belly and heart and a bag of fresh fruit as a reminder for when fear gently knocks on my door once again.

Coffee and Cigarettes on Bayloz Street

cafe

The romantic city of Istanbul.

Cobblestones and warm street cafes, colorful fruit stands, people taking their time to sip coffee and smoke cigarettes. Men with guitars sing the sad songs of lost loves and wasted lives. The penetrating gazes of dark, bearded, and well-dressed men.

Last night a Turkish man asked me,
“Are you alone in my country?”
Alone. In his country.

A country filled with the sounds of syllables and words I cannot understand. A country I know almost nothing about. So, yes, I am alone but do not ask me why I am here. Something drew me to this middle part of the world. Maybe it was these nicotine streets. Or the Mediterranean blue colored glasses that my romantic eyes would like to see the world through. Or maybe it was just the men.

Of course, I could always be more noble and less self centered,
“I am here to help the refugees!”

But in this moment, I am here to drink coffee and watch the man across the street park his motorbike and stop for a coffee next door. I am here to observe the owner of the bakery to my right as he lights his cigarette and gently leans his shoulder blades against the cool stone of the building behind him. I am here to feel the peak heat of the day as it embraces my my neck and slowly begins to creep down my spine. And like the perfect answer to my question, a cool breeze comes from the west, turning the street corner to my left and now arriving on my chest and beneath the layers of my hair, still messy from the last nine hours of sleep. The cafe owner here is a hard woman, hardened by life, by men, by too many cigarettes. But she has given me a place in her cafe to write and observe. As I walked down the busy street this morning, there were so many eyes on me as I moved my feet along the uneven stones and felt the morning sun on my skin. How is it that the weight of loneliness, of aloneness, can have so much presence in the midst of so much attention?

As I float through these streets, a perfect combination of beauty and ugliness, I remember that no one here knows my name, my age, my stories, or my reasons for leaving the apartment this morning. And then I realize that in my aloneness, as I experience it here on the summer streets of Istanbul, I have been stripped of all my superficialities. My ego is raw and naked and uncomfortable. When I have no one to share this moment with, does that mean it did not happen? Couples hold hands, friends laugh together, they are witnessing each others moments. What if I do not have a witness? Can I love this moment without obtaining any proof that it happened? No photos, no Facebook posts, no souvenirs. Only a coffee which will soon be gone, like this moment, like my name, my age, and my stories. Can I be settled in this raw aloneness without finding every attempt to escape myself?